The China Study – A Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet (Shopping!)

If you missed it or want a refresher on why we’re changing our eating lifestyle to a whole foods, decease plant-based diet, page go HERE.  You can find all the posts in this series HERE.

If you would like some suggestions on where to find foods that fit into the WFPBD mantra, rehabilitation we’ll share some of the work we have done.  Obviously local variations mean you will have to adapt your shopping to where you live, but some stores are ubiquitous enough that this info should at least be marginally useful to you.

Unless otherwise mentioned we buy the unroasted, unbleached, unsalted, wholest version available, and I think the most important order to try to optimise your food purchases is:

1) Plant-based (avoid health problems associated with animal proteins)

2) Whole food (ensure we are getting all necessary nutrients, all the constituents together that our bodies are used to, and in the right ratios)

3) Price (we all have this constraint)

4) For produce: locally grown (minimise transport time and freezing, gassing, etc.)

5) Organic (some health benefits in some cases, but not worth the price in most cases)

So in other words find stuff that fits into #1 and #2, then start comparing prices.  Most baking stuff fails #2, but is necessary if you want to bake.

I am a cheapskate and we have found that this way of eating will actually be cheaper than eating a meat supplemented diet while still giving a ton of variety to cook with.  I can count the variety of meats that humans eat on one hand, but there are more types of vegetables than I can shake a stick at.  Produce is perhaps the most surprising aspect of shopping around, as most places that you would expect to have better prices (like Costco) were actually more expensive.  Your local supermarket probably has the best produce prices and the freshest stuff.

Living where we are we don’t have access to the stores like Whole Foods, but we can do quite well with what we have.

Costco: is great for frozen, dried or prepared foods.  Because of their business model, they specialise in large quantities which, almost by definition, precludes produce.  Produce needs to be consumed fresh, and they need stuff with shelf life.

Calimyrna Figs

Dried Calimyrna Figs

Foods: (dried) Organic Calimyrna  Figs, raisins, (dried) apricots, many different varieties of cereals (whole grain, most containing nuts and seeds), honey (creamed or smooth), agave nectar, brown sugar, olive oil, (frozen) blueberries, frozen beans, frozen strawberries, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pecans, almond butter, organic peanut-only butter, falafel balls, whole grain tortillas, organic quinoa, whole wheat spaghetti, whole wheat rotini, brown basmati rice, spelt flour (whole grain), apples, (fresh) snap peas, canned tomatoes, natur-a soy (septic), fruit+veggies juice, mango juice, chia seeds, vanilla beans, cacao

Real Canadian Superstore: Has excellent ethnic content, and us whities have forgotten how to eat and prepare vegetables.  Countries like India and China have a much higher percentage of vegans, so they have more practice cooking with those foods.  I learn something everytime I walk down the ethnic food aisle.  Produce is good sometimes, but quality is often sketchy.

Flaxseed Meal

Flaxseed Meal

Foods: cashews, peanuts, carob chips, coconut milk, (frozen) edamame, steel-cut oats, crushed tomatoes, organic cane sugar (for tea :D), organic whole corn nacho chips, honkin can of chick peas, canned corn, canned beans (black, pinto, mixed, kidney), tofu (when needed only), curry mixes, green lentils, red lentils, yellow peas, dried beans, coriander, cumin, garam masala, curry powder, amchoor, tumeric, paprika, 7 grain cereal, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, ground flaxseed

Safeway/CoOp: These stores have lots of varieties of meats, processed foods, easy-to-prepare microwave dishes and stuff that generally doesn’t fit into a WFPBD.  Their produce, however, is usually quite good and worth the trip (especially the spinach).  This is nice as these stores are the easiest to access and find, so it is easy to restock the crisper or fruit bowl.

I grew up shopping in these stores, and helped my mom carry the groceries out from CoOp every week.  I think they reasonably represent what the gen X&Y-ers think of when thinking about food.  Melanie and I used to walk to Safeway almost every day.  But if I only had access to these stores I think this would be an almost impossible task within a reasonable budget.  WFPBD staples like whole wheat bread are cheap and available, but things like brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat couscous and dried lentils are either deathly expensive or not available at all.

Lindt Dark Chocolate

Lindt Dark Chocolate

Foods: some whole flours, maple syrup, margarine, pulpy orange juice, dark chocolate (non-dairy like Lindt), black bean and corn salsa, produce, and… uh… emergency purchases.  I swear almond butter is more than twice the price here then at Costco (literally).

Community Natural Foods, and other boutique-y stores: in general you only go here when the larger chains fail you, as you are paying a 25% premium just for walking through the door most of the time.  They are great for finding those weird things you need to do vegan baking, but generally I found the prices are atrocious.  They also seem to spend more time worrying about organic/free-range than whole foods – which is the wrong order for WFPBD.  There is tons of junk vegetarian/vegan food in these stores and lots of non-whole stuff.  Just because it charges you like it’s a health food store, you still need to read labels.

Dried Mission Figs

Dried Mission Figs

Foods: some bulk spices, whole nutmeg, arrowroot flour, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, tahini, mission figs, whole wheat couscous, whole wheat pitas, 12 grain cereal, curry packages, unground wheat, agar powder, stone ground organic corn (Bob’s Red Mill)

Notes on produce: Plants are used to getting eaten.  They have developed natural defences to protect them from invaders, such as skins, pods and chemicals.  Meat has not, so it spoils quickly and most guidelines talk about how many hours you can leave meat out before having a problem.  This means that in general produce is hardier, lasts longer and easier to handle/cook with (that said, examine the skin of produce you purchase for obvious invaders like fruit flies or bugs).

It also means that your dishes should keep longer in the fridge, or you can even leave them on the stove overnight if there’s not enough room (we do it all the time).

Different stores quote prices in $/kg or $/lb, or give a price for a bag of something.  If you’re a cheapskate like me, write down these price and know what the going rate is in your town for common produce that you consume.  Remember that 1 kg ~= 2.2 lb, so if you need to do a quick conversion between the two just multiply or divide by 2 and fudge

Pineapple

Pineapple

it a bit.

As fruit ripens, it releases a bunch of chemicals into the air around it, that causes a chain reaction in the fruits around it to ripen as well. (hence the old adage about one rotten apple ruining the bunch)  If you have some overripe fruits and underripe ones, you may want to keep them separate (or together) to modify the speed at which they ripen.

Along those lines, supermarkets (or food distributors) often pick underripe fruits, transport them chilled (or frozen), then gas them at the point of delivery to ripen them suddenly – this allows us to have apples from New Zealand.  This is one of the reasons that people should (and do) try to find more local produce, as the chances of it having been frozen are lower (remember that freezing destroys some of the goodness), although it is almost impossible to tell.  Further, if you live in a climate that is non-growing for 8 months of the year (like Calgary), there isn’t much choice at times.

This also leads to a distinction between two classes of fruits: climacteric and non-climacteric fruits.  Ripening, chemically, varies between various fruits and veggies, but in general is the conversion of starches into sugars inside the produce.  Climacteric fruits can ripen after picking, so they can be picked green (like bananas) and will auto-ripen, whereas non-climacteric fruits “do not” ripen after picking.

Ripe Pineapple

Ripe Pineapple

Well, as a physicist I can’t help but take issue with the “do and don’t” nature of the classification – it is more of a rate question.  The rate at which climacteric fruits ripen after picking can be up to a thousand-fold higher than their non-climacteric bretheren.  I had a famous argument (at least in our household 😉 ) with a friend of mine who claimed that pineapples do not ripen after picking.  I knew from experience that they take about a week or two after purchase to go brown and inedible.  So after years of bantering back and forth, I spent a couple hours googling and came across this classification for fruits – which basically talks about how some fruits ripen much faster on their host plants than on their own.

The moral of this story is that some fruits, if purchased unripe, will take forever to ripen and never taste quite the same (as they are missing the final injection of nutrients from their host plant), whereas others will ripen very quickly.  And buying a super-green pineapple will probably yield you a bitter disappointment after several weeks when the bottom is moldy but the inside is unripe – so buy pineapples more ripe than not. 😉

CalimyrnaCalimyrna

  One Reply to “The China Study – A Whole Foods, Plant-Based Diet (Shopping!)”

  1. October 13, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    Hi! Saw your comment on my blog – nice to find someone else with a new baby who eats well, isn’t a fanatic, AND lives in the cold!

    What a great guide you’ve got here for Canadians. A lot of people complain about grocery shopping, but I usually enjoy it, especially if I’m at the co-op (not surrounded by nearly as much disgusting food as the big box store) and getting lots of great quality stuff I know I’ll enjoy eating and is good for me… and I’m not even much of a cook!

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