Vegetarian & Vegan

Vegetarianism – At The Start, And At The Heart Of Your Local Health Store

When you visit your local health store, one of the first things you will notice is how many products are available for meat free eating. And there’s good reason for this.

Vegetarianism is right at the heart of how health stores started. Over 100 years ago, James Henry Cook championed the message that there was no need for meat. Creating a hub for like-minded people, he began producing foods himself and pulled in all kinds of new product innovators to give people meat-free alternatives to enrich their diets with flavour, colour and texture.

What a fantastic movement was nurtured. And it still is today.

For many vegetarians and vegans, their local health store is still their focal point products, information and advice. And, if you’re new to the idea of eating vegetarian, or becoming vegan, then you’re sure to find a whole community of people who’ll be able to give you some really practical help.  Your health store noticeboard or newsletter will keep you up to date with local events and will stock books and specialist products to help you to prepare and cook the many specialist foods found in store.

We know, from research on food psychology and nutrient levels, that motivation to prepare and cook foods is a large determinant for a healthy, balanced diet. For you, this means constant ways to spice up the way that you’re eating so it stays interesting and fresh. 

We asked Mike Abrahams, from Wild Oats in Bristol, to tell us a bit about how vegetarian and vegan foods have changed over the years, and gives you the head-up on 5 products you can buy as meat-free staples.

“We first opened for business in January 1981, although people were buying stuff at the door during the months we were fitting out and stocking up in Nov/Dec 1980. In those days, vegetarian food generally was thought of as quiche, nut roast and anything with just cheese and or eggs (macaroni cheese or omelettes anyone?).

Vegan food was not really on our radar, but being interested in macrobiotics, which was essentially vegan, we found it necessary to source our products directly from the continent, where, driving to Holland, France and Belgium we stocked up on a wide range of Japanese and oriental foods such as miso, tamari, shoyu, tempeh, cold pressed oils, sea vegetables and rice cakes and local fermented foods (anyone remember “Bread drink”). Meanwhile brown rice was becoming more widely available, as were pulses such as beans and lentils.

From the beginning, we had a small cafe in which we showed people how to cook for health with these novel ingredients. In those days, with vegetarian restaurants offering only quiche or nut roasts, omelettes or salads, if any group had a meat eater in it, a vegetarian restaurant would have been out of the question. We found that although we were offering Indonesian, Japanese, Indian, South American and North African vegan menus, we had few customers, and those that came in tended to choose the lasagne, nut roast or quiche options.

Over the years these habits changed and it is now possible to get a vegan meal in Chinese, Indian, Mediterranean and European restaurants as the demand rose. This has also influenced food markets and nowadays you can buy vegan products in most food shops. If you’re just embarking on a meat-free diet, five useful things to try would be

1.       Sea vegetables – ensure a good supply of essential and trace minerals

2.       Naturally fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, yoghurt (soy or coconut if you’re vegan), Tempeh (a fermented soya protein), Kombucha (a fermented tea drink) or Miso all keep your tum ticking over.

3.       A good multi-vitamin complex – this would be good for everyone, because as the nutritional content of our food has reduced due to industrialisation of farming and food processing, we need to make up the shortfall.

4.       Vitamin B12 – essential for vegans, especially the older ones, because very little is present in vegetables (a little in some sea veg and fermented foods) and our ability to absorb it decreases with age. Choose a high dose in a form that offers high absorption, such as a sublingual spray.

5.       Zinc –needed for so many processes in the body and especially for men. This could be included as part of the multi-vitamin and mineral complex of (3) above, but in general the levels are relatively low in these products and a level of at least 15mg would be advised.

Want to know more?

Read our feature about how health stores started here.

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