A planet-strong guide to shopping when you're following a plant-based diet

You’d think that shopping vegetarian was no more complicated than just sticking to the fruit and veg aisle in your local supermarket. Turns out it’s a little more complicated...

A typical meat-free shopping trip might yield a mix of vegetables (Sweet potatoes, eggplant and zucchini tend to make up the bulk of my weekly meals, with staples like onions, tomatoes and carrots able to be adapted to a huge range of recipes) but don't neglect fruit! Avocado is a great source of healthy fat as well as Vitamin E (great for your skin), while citrus fruits such as oranges, limes and lemons providing a rich source of Vitamin C, which is great for helping your iron absorption.

Those following a plant-based diet will also find lots of great options in the dry foods section. Rice, quinoa, barley and oats help to bulk up meals and help you to fill full and satisfied. Most of these are super adaptable, for example rice can make a great accompaniment to vegetable curry, but could also be stir-fried with eggs or tossed with salad.

Tinned food is also a handy staple for those following a plant-based diet. Lentils, beans (kidney, cannellini and black) as well as water chestnuts, baby corn and peas can all be found in my cupboard at home. The tins help to make sure that you've always got a standby meal available (kidney bean nachos, anyone?) and also keep food fresher for longer, so you can stock up when you find a good deal.

Don't completely ditch the frozen food aisle. Naturally, don't binge out on ready-to-cook meals and bags of frozen chips. Instead, look for items such as frozen peas, corn and beans.

In fact, there may even be some benefits to frozen fruit and veg. According to Eating Well, "fruits and vegetables destined to be shipped to the fresh- produce aisles around the country typically are picked before they are ripe, which gives them less time to develop a full spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Outward signs of ripening may still occur, but these vegetables will never have the same nutritive value as if they had been allowed to fully ripen on the vine." Of course, if you are able to, buy fresh, in season and ripe!

The dairy and deli section might also have some delights for you in store. If you're eating animal byproducts, pick up some tasty feta, which serves as the perfect topping for soups, salads and eggs. For the 100% plant-eaters, try sundried tomatoes, olives and other marinated veggies for adding an extra layer of flavour to salads and pastas.

How to find out if a product is free from animal products

Learning to read food labels is a handy skill for anyone, not just those following a plant-based diet. In Australia, it is a legal requirement for food packaging to declare, among other things, the presence of meat, egg, fish, milk and crustaceans. This is very handy for those wishing to avoid these ingredients, such as vegans.

Some products may say "suitable for vegetarians", but this is not a legal requirement, therefore products without this label may still be perfectly fine for those following a plant-based diet.

Products to watch out for

These products, believe it or not, are NOT suitable for those avoiding animal products:

Worcestershire Sauce contains anchovies, but you can find animal-free brands.

Marshmallows and other lollies often contain gelatine, which is made from pig or cow skin, bones and other animal pieces. You can, however, find vegan alternatives, such as Jell-it-in for making jelly and animal-friendly lollies.

Beer and wine are sometimes processed using gelatine, fish bladder and bone marrow. This list of animal-free brews is a must-read for anyone on a plant-based diet that enjoys a glass of red.

Where to get more info

PETA has a list of ingredients that contain animal products, which is a super-handy standby for decoding ingredients lists.

Vegan Outreach has a number of resources for shopping, including a glossary of plant-based foods.

The Cruelty-Free Shop is a great destination for online shopping for those following a plant-based diet.

Other shopping considerations

As well as sticking to a plant-based diet and cutting your consumption of meat, there are a few other choices that you can make as a consumer to help to reduce the carbon footprint of your meals.

Firstly, buying local can help to boost the local economy and supports local growers. It's also a great way to connect with the community and a sure-fire way to know where your grub has been grown!

Buying organic might seem like playing into the health-food fad, but "organic" is more than just a buzzword. Food that is organic claims to be produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals. This means that your produce is closer to what you would expect to find growing wild. Be careful though: if a product claims to be organic there's a certain amount of trust involved between producer and consumer. Are you getting what you are paying for? Also investigate whether the produce is genetically modified (GM) in order to avoid pesticide use, which may affect your purchase choices.

Buying cruelty-free seems like a no-brainer: why buy eggs produced by birds locked in tiny cages when you can buy free range? The milk industry is another area you might like to investigate: do you want to switch to plant-based milk in order to avoid the animal rights concerns surrounding the treatment of dairy cows?

Buying Fairtrade and ethical may seem outside the realm of what vegos strive to achieve in terms of a better deal for animals, but aren't humans just as deserving of ethical treatment? Choose products made without forced, child or slave labour, or under brutal working conditions. Find out more about Fairtrade here

Images: Shutterstock

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