Thursday, September 12, 2013

VeganMoFo Day #11: Vegan Grocery Shopping (if you can call it that) at the local supermarket

I'm LOVING VeganMoFo, are you? Am I covering topics you hope(d) to read about? I'm dying to hear from you about this.... post a comment here or on Facebook. I'm just not that tech savvy, and don't know how to put up widgets, notices, post on Twitter (Twitter? I have a flip phone with an antenna!) and all the great things that so many other people are doing. Next year I think I can have things like that figured out, until then, thanks for finding me here, and sending in your feedback!

Big Pine Key (my island) is what I consider the center of commerce between Marathon and Key West. There are scattered businesses and restaurants once you leave Big Pine and make the drive into Key West, but once you leave Big Pine, there's no large supermarkets until you get into the City of Key West. There ARE small grocers on the way down, and I intend to make a couple pit stops and check them out (I've been in most of them, but it's been a while, so let's see what's new.... another day), but as I wrote about a couple days ago, the larger chains are in Marathon, on Big Pine and in Key West (see that? we say "ON" Big Pine, not "IN" Big Pine.... that's something that can tip off those of us who live here possibly knowing you aren't from here.... unless you've got some other great big tip off like a gorgeous Irish brogue). Anyway...

Let's get to it. There's a Winn Dixie on my island. It's off the highway, tucked back about 1/4 mile off the Overseas. It anchors a strip mall which has a luncheonette, a laundromat, an art gallery, 2 great ladies boutiques, a bagel shop, our library, DMV, and a few other things. I am not a fan of this particular grocery store. I will do my best to temper this post with what is good about this store, as well as where I feel it's lacking and how it can be improved.

First, the good. It exists! I live on an island. I marvel every day at the fact that I have electricity and running water when truth is this is the middle of an ocean. Yup, I really do think about this EVERY DAY, in the context of how grateful I am for these conveniences. So, being all islandy, I'm happy to have a grocery store on the island (we'll talk about Good Food Conspiracy another day). There are some people who live on this island who do not own cars or scooters. So, they have to walk or bike for everything they need (not including the bus, as some people may not even have enough discretionary income for bus fare on a regular basis. We're just like many other towns/cities in this country in that there are many socio-economic levels in the mix). For them, having a grocery store on island really makes their lives (hopefully) less of a hardship.

When I first moved here, I explored all the food stores. I felt obligated to. Even though Winn Dixie is a chain, I'm sure that there are some people in there who live locally (although let's face it, many large stores like this in the Keys bus people in from the mainland, for their own "economic" reasons...) and so by me shopping there, I support (maybe?) to a certain degree the local economy. The store has been through many managers over the years, some good, some not so much. It's relatively important to me to establish a decent relationship with owner/managers of businesses down here. They're my colleagues. Winn Dixie corporate structure really doesn't make this feasible, whether it's through all stores, or just this one I would have no idea.

At first, this local grocery store seemed willing to work with me for some special needs items. I could put requests in, they wouldn't promise something would come in, but it seems a real effort was being made. There were some items in there that I couldn't get anywhere else either, including our little health food store. Then, they began to price gouge me. I'm not kidding about this. I tracked 3 items that I was buying in quantity... the prices crept up and up. I was the main buyer of these items, this I also know for a fact. I kept buying, and watching. Then, it reached a point where it was so obvious what was going on, I simply stopped buying... and over a relatively short period of time, the prices dropped. Seriously?

As if that's not bad enough, I watched as the already slim "whole foods" selections began to dwindle. I honestly think that this particular store, as the "only game in town" thinks they can simply stock what they decide we'll eat, and the little drone robot consumers will buy it without question. I am aghast at the level of processed foods in that store. The amount of freezer cases wouldn't be as horrifying if they were stocked with more things like organic frozen fruits and vegetables. They're not. Instead, they're packed with sodium filled, fat laden, heart attack frozen entrees of dead animals in a box.

This store does NOT have our better interest at heart. I will not address the fish, meat and dairy selection as this is VEGANMOFO, beyond saying I have indeed walked down those aisles to acquire information. What they are selling to consumers down here is pathetic (as all meat, dairy and fish products are, but you'd have to go in there to really understand what I'm saying... don't want to spend any more time discussing the animal torture and death they offer for sale).

I stopped shopping at the local Winn Dixie quite a while ago, years. I spent a lot of money in that store, and when I have a complaint that goes to corporate, it should be handled, regardless of if I spend $20,000 a year in there, or $20 a year.... customer service matters. They don't get that.

I feel a little sad saying that because, you know, there are/were some really nice people in there. The bakery ladies were always so kind to me (back in the day, the store carried a brand of bread that was vegan, all natural, and shipped frozen from New Jersey, then baked in store. They would sell it to me by the case frozen, so I could bake it "fresh" myself. Then they discontinued it....), the people in produce (especially Charlie, what a gem!) tried their best to help me with the organics I needed so desperately. And, I used to take Pop in there every week to do his shopping. Pop loved it, he knew EVERYBODY and it was a fun social outing for him. Since Pop does a lot less walking these days, he leaves the shopping entirely up to me now no longer venturing on those outings, that was just another reason for me to skip Winn Dixie.

Vegan offerings are available.... if you really take time to read labels (what vegan DOESN'T take the time tho read labels?!!) The organic produce has good days and bad days. There are some organics that they seem to have quite regularly (potatoes seem to be a staple, as does lettuce) but mostly beyond that, you're at the mercy of what they will put out, which I cannot figure how they decide what organics to get (kiwis? Tons of kiwis? How many kiwis can one eat, even if they're organic!?)

Look, I am happy there is a grocery store on my island to serve the community to whatever degree it does. But, they really need to step it up in food quality over there. Childhood obesity and diabetes is skyrocketing in this country, and based upon what I see at this market, I know why. This store makes it far too difficult to make sound and healthy food choices for the average person. They overstock cheap, unhealthy, canned, packaged and frozen foods in ridiculous varieties and quantities, much more than other markets I visit.

Right or wrong, this is my opinion of what's going on over there. If you visit this area, being vegan you can certainly go into that store, and cobble together a decent picnic lunch or dinner. I found whole oats, which you could buy, mix with water, let soak overnight and have oatmeal in the morning without even a stove. Then, you could purchase some almond milk, and even pick up a container of Florida Crystals vegan sugar if you have a sweet tooth for your cereal. You could probably find a "packable" type of organic produce, be it a banana, apple, or orange.  For lunch, you can pick up a pack of pitas, and buy the store brand of organic peanut butter and maybe find one jar of organic jelly for a picnic. If you live here, you will find very few organic brands except for their own "store brand" Winn Dixie. They sell their own brand of organic canned beans, organic rice, organic canned tomatoes, and things like that. If you stick near the produce section, you will find a small "natural" section where they have a smallish section of gluten free products, some of which are vegan as well (Lucy's cookies, gluten free pasta, things like that). You would also find a very small selection of vegan salad dressings and sauces, mixed in with conventional.

Here in photos is my recent trip to the Big Pine Winn Dixie; the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The "good." They HAVE organic produce.
The "bad." It's pretty limited.
The "ugly." There's non-vegan mixed in with the processed goods in produce here.

At least there are a few vegan offerings, despite being so processed.
Even vegans want a "hot dog" every now and then, let's not mention GMO's and sodium here...

You can find some gluten free vegan pastas on the shelves.

Even Gardein has found it's way into this store!

They sell non-dairy milks (Silk is owned by a major dairy conglomerate)
They do NOT sell ANY non-dairy coffee creamers.
They DO sell their own store brand of non-dairy milk, which
typically I find their store brand, even though organic,
will have more sugar & sodium than non-store brands.

This is just one of the bunch of rows filled with frozen "food."
If you want Lean Cuisine, Stouffers, or any other choice of
heart attack in a box, this is the place for you.
I could not find one bag of organic frozen fruit, and
I forgot to check for organic frozen veggies.
VERY poor selection, overall.

Canned veggies are my last resort. First I choose fresh, then frozen, then canned.
Canned foods typically are so over salted they're simply not the best choice.
This store has an amazing array of canned foods.
Perhaps they'll use the excuse we're "island" so fresh and frozen cost more to import?
Trust me, down here ANY food costs more.... don't kid yourself and fall for this excuse!

I found a canister of whole grain oats!

And, I found 2 bottles of this syrup!
There were NO other 100% maple products offered.
You DO realize those "Aunt Jemima" type products contain
no maple syrup.... right?

I was faced with a dizzying selection of Pop Tarts.
More Pop Tart choices than organic produce choices most likely.
These shown are indeed vegan.
Perhaps not the best choice though.

They do offer other "milks", but finding unsweetened was a problem.
All the offerings I could see were flavored.
Which means SUGAR.

Not organic, but pitas like this are my "go to" choice if I need a picnic lunch on the fly
when I travel.

Believe it or not, this is vegan. And gluten free.
Not a brand I'd ever seen before.

Sorry to say the only organic rice offered is in small bags, store brand.
If you want to buy in bulk, you'll get conventional.
I'll stick with the health food store for my bulk, thank you very much.

The only brand of canned beans I could find were these... store brand.
Canned is very expensive compared to dried.
On a budget, buy dried, cook your own. Don't be lazy, there's a HUGE price to pay!

Store brand, but at least organic.
If I were traveling, I would buy this because its high in protein, travels well,
is available, and PB&J is one of my favorites.
Since I live here, I either buy organic peanut butter in bulk which ONLY contains peanuts, or...
I will have the health food store make peanut butter in their Champion
(OR make the peanut butter myself in my own Champion).
Ditch the sugar!

Exceptionally small selection of non store brand canned tomatoes.

Yay! Vegan!

I always check out the "ethnic" foods anywhere I shop.
So often there's more vegan choices in the mix than one would expect.
This store carries Asian, Latino, and even a small selection of Kosher
(during relevant holidays).
Hooray for that!

I have a LOT more photos I could post, but hopefully I've given you a decent idea of what's going on in that local "super"market. There ARE vegan foods in there, although for a "super"market, I find the choices available painfully lacking. Yes, I shop there if I need something and the health food store is closed. It's only my store of last resort. I'm happy they're here, but this store could be so much improved by offering more certified organics, more variety of organic foods in general, and being more "user friendly" in it's management and corporate structure. We're ISLAND down here.... it's in our better interest to be kind and support each other. I'm hoping this company finally figures that out.

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