The first time I ever walked into a Whole Foods supermarket, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I remember saying to my husband, “This is like the Disneyland of food!” The produce department was where I spent the majority of my time was huge. The shelves and freezers were filled with so many vegan brands and products that it made my head spin. But then we moved and there is no giant supermarket in my town or anywhere near us. All we have is a small natural foods market where they have a very small selection of vegan products (which they call “weird”) and won’t do special orders. Whenever I see new products on social media, I know they won’t be available in my neck of the woods. I also know I’m not alone. Not everyone lives in a big city with every vegan product they could ever want right outside their doorstep. It feels awful but it’s not the end of the world. Here are my tips on how to survive when you don’t live near a major supermarket.
1. Shop for Whole Foods
I may not be able to shop at Whole Foods but I can certainly shop for whole foods. Most of the products unavailable in small towns without a major supermarket are packaged foods. Maybe I can’t get the latest vegan burgers or ice cream everyone is raving about but I can get fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and legumes. Most markets, big and small, sell tofu and tempeh. With access to fresh, whole foods and pantry staples, the number of amazing vegan meals we can make is unlimited. It’s also healthier to eat whole foods rather than most packaged foods. Read Vegan Food Versus Whole Foods: Here’s the Difference and Why It Matters and Why Eat a Whole Foods Diet? Here are 4 Good Reasons to find out why. When you make the switch to whole foods, you won’t miss the packaged stuff as much. Check out 10 Tips for Shifting from Processed Foods to Whole Foods to help you make the transition. This Vegan Starter Shopping List has items that can be found in most markets.
2. Farmers Markets
More and more towns have farmers markets in or near them and that means local, fresh produce for less money. It also means that you have access to products from small, local businesses that people in other areas don’t have. Many companies start out by selling their products at farmers markets before they get distribution in major stores. Search the web to find the nearest farmers’ market near you. Even cold areas of the country like Chicago, Iowa and New York have winter farmers markets. Not sure about how to get the best buys for your dollars? Read Shopping at the Farmers Market: Your Questions Answered and How You Can Go Local This Growing Season for tips.
3. Join a CSA
Find out if your town has a CSA you can join. CSAs, or community supported agriculture, are like buying a subscription to a local farm. Members pay a fee and then receive a share of the produce grown. Many CSAs offer winter produce to their members as well. By joining a CSA, you get local, organic produce and you may even get a few fruits or vegetables you have never tried before. To learn more, read Community Supported Agriculture: Why Inconvenience is Better and Community Supported Agriculture: What it is, and Why it’s Awesome.
4. Online Vegan Stores
Ok, let’s be honest. Eating a whole foods diet is great but it’s not fair to miss out on all the fun of trying the latest vegan products. Why should everyone get to try that new vegan cheese but you (and me)? Watching everyone post their new finds on social media is enough to make you feel like you live in a cave! Thankfully, there are several online vegan stores where you can order the latest goodies and have them delivered right to your door. Yes, it’s a bit more expensive since you have to pay for shipping but if you just have to try that new vegan cookie dough, this is an option. Online vegan stores you could try include Pangea: The Vegan Store, Vegan Essentials, and Food Fight Grocery. Even the “largest vegan grocery store on Earth,” Viva La Vegan Grocery, is planning to expand to have an online market. Be sure to check as some online stores offer free shipping with orders that reach a certain minimum. Some online vegan markets like Vegan Cuts and Urthbox let you order the newest brand-name products at special prices or subscribe to get a whole box of goodies delivered to your door every month. It’s even possible to have whole meals delivered to you. Check out these 10 Amazing Food Delivery Services.
5. Meet Up
When I lived in New York City, I knew hundreds of vegans, had dozens of vegan restaurants to patronize and could buy vegan products almost everywhere. Now, it’s just the opposite. If you feel like the only vegetarian or vegan in your town, there are probably other people who feel that way. Look online for Meetup groups of like-minded people or try to attend one of the many Veg Fests held in the U.S. Host a potluck dinner in your own home. Even chatting with some vegans online can provide a wealth of support. The majority of vegans I now interact with are online. The vegan community can be very helpful, friendly and supportive. There are even groups where vegans send “care packages” filled with vegan goodies to members across the country. Read Finding Community as a New Vegan for more tips.
6. Speak Up
Every vegan knows how important it is to speak up for change. Ask your local stores to carry more vegan products. My local store will only order products by the case so if you can get together with other plant-based eaters who want to chip in, it might be possible. Stores run by non-vegans may not even know which products are all the rage in the vegan world. Show them how popular certain products are and that you are willing to consistently purchase them and they might give some a try. Many companies have request forms on their web sites that you can print out and give to the store manager. It may also help to speak up to the companies themselves. Granted, they make most of their money from the big stores in the big cities but vegans everywhere deserve to be acknowledged as well. Ask companies to make more efforts to get their products into smaller stores in smaller cities and towns. Personally, I feel offended when companies don’t seem to care about customers outside major cities. Perhaps if enough vegans in small cities speak up, the companies will listen. We count too!
When I can’t get the latest vegan brands and products, I head to the kitchen and try to recreate them myself. It’s easier than ever to make your own vegan food and One Green Planet has all the recipes and tips to help. If you can’t get the new vegan cheeses available, make these 10 Vegan Cheeses that will Make You Quit Dairy Forever. Who needs packaged, frozen veggie burgers? Read how to make The Healthy Homemade Veggie Burger and Tricks for Making Veggie Burgers That Won’t Fall Apart. Make your own vegan sausage, vegan “meat” crumbles, and perfect seitan. Make your own vegan bacon from eggplant, coconut, tempeh and even beets. Are you sad that you can’t buy the vegan “chicken” everyone is posting about? You can make it yourself! Try my recipe for V-Chicken, a gluten-free and vegan meat replacement. Don’t waste time being jealous of the desserts people are buying. Learn 7 Ways to Make Ice Cream without Dairy, how to make Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Bites and Raw Peppermint Oreos Dipped in Dark Chocolate, and not one, not two, but 20 Mad Awesome Vegan Cheesecake Recipes. Snack lovers, rejoice! You can make your own versions of the latest snacks everyone is talking about like these Spicy Kale Chips, Healthy Vegan Cheeze-It Crackers, Vegan Goldfish Crackers, and Veggie Chips. Get even more DIY recipes in How to Make Vegan Versions of Your Favorite Brand Name Foods.
Believe me, I feel your pain. When everyone is posting pictures of their latest haul from the big supermarkets, I get green with envy and it really makes me appreciate how easy I had it. But you know what – being vegan when I don’t have every single product within arm’s reach just increases my dedication to eating healthy and cruelty-free food. It also makes me more creative and resourceful and that’s something you can’t buy anywhere.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!
Lead Image Photo: For the Newbie Plant-Based Eater: Your Vegan Starter Shopping List