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rabble Vegan Challenge Diary: Shopping vegan at the grocery store

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Follow rabble staff and contributors as they take the 2013 Vegan Challenge in our rabble Vegan Challenge Diary, where participants will chronicle their experiences eating vegan throughout the week! Read on for the first instalment on Day One of the Challenge.

Today is Day One of rabble.ca's Vegan Challenge. It's also the first day of my Vegan Challenge.

I'm a dedicated omnivore -- I'll eat just about anything put in front of me. Sure, I buy organic when it's local and in season, buy halal meat whenever possible, love fresh veggies and fruit, but I must confess I do love my animal products. Meat, cheese, milk, eggs -- it's all good, so this Challenge is going to be, for me, a genuine challenge.

I can live without meat. Sure it tastes great, but after a winter of heavy stews, soups, roasts, etc., I'm seriously ready for all things that are fresh, crunchy and colourful. With this in mind, I set off for my local grocery store, list in hand, in anticipation of an adventure in healthy and ethical food. I took my 11-year-old daughter with me, thinking I could slip in a relatively pain-free educational experience for her.

My first stop, the produce department, was disappointing. Not only was there no local produce (hothouse-grown this time of year), the variety was limited. How can a major grocery store chain not have alfalfa sprouts? What am I going to put in my sandwiches? Oh, the humanity. I suppose I could pillage my guinea pigs' stash of alfalfa and sweet timothy hay, but it just isn't the same.  At any rate, I did pick up a bunch of veggies that I like (I could live on avocado) and will consume with enthusiasm.

Moving on to the refrigerated food section, I paused by the display of meat-free processed foods. Most of these foods are designed to simulate meat and dairy products, and are laden with sodium and various intimidating and unpronounceable ingredients. Many of them also contain dairy products. 

I looked for an adequate substitute for one of my favourite foods -- cheese -- and found a package of something that looked like shredded newspaper. I picked it up because the word 'mozzarella' was on the front. The young woman re-stocking the section warned me against spending money on it. "My friend and I tried some. It was really awful." This statement, which was followed by a gagging noise, confirmed my decision to give the fake cheese a pass.

Before we fled the meat-free section, my daughter picked up a package and said, "Mummy, can we have chicken nuggets tonight?" I said, "honey, those aren't chicken nuggets." She gave me a puzzled look, so I elaborated. "The closest that package got to chicken was passing a KFC on the way to the Superstore." Her response was to make a show of slowly backing away from the display with a look of fear/disgust on her face (where DOES that girl get her sense of humour?).

Next stop, tortillas. We usually have some on hand for wraps and burritos but I was pining for some spinach wraps. They had a great variety of flour tortillas but unfortunately every one of them listed the possibility of milk and soy ingredients. What, don't they know for sure what they put in them? It's like some kind of vegan crapshoot. Maybe you'll get the ones with milk, maybe you won't. I decided to live dangerously and picked up a package.

My last stop was the "natural foods" section. Here you can get a wide variety of organic and gluten-free foods, but they're all heavily processed. My goal? Find soy milk that looks like it might stay down after I drink it. I chose the organic chocolate soy beverage. It's loaded with fat and sugar (oh, but it's 'cane sugar', which I guess is supposed to be better than the usual sugar that comes from processed sugarcane) so I happily bought three cartons of the stuff.

And so ended my vegan shopping trip. I have to admit I felt a little smug as I pulled my cart up to the checkout. That smugness immediately evaporated when I realized I'd forgotten to bring my reusable enviro-bags. I am surely going to environmental hell.

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