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Saturday, May 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Powered by Plants: Navigating these dark times as a vegan or vegetarian

This pasta aisle at Super 1 Foods on the South Hill is a typical sight for patrons as they navigate COVID-19 pandemic panic buying. (Jonathan Glover / The Spokesman-Review)
This pasta aisle at Super 1 Foods on the South Hill is a typical sight for patrons as they navigate COVID-19 pandemic panic buying. (Jonathan Glover / The Spokesman-Review)
By Jonathan Glover For The Spokesman-Review

I get it – it’s difficult to think about a diet in times like these. Especially one that relies and thrives on the type of shelf-stable commodities that have recently become caloric gold.

No more pinto beans. No more chickpeas. No more rice. And no more … tofu? I’m still scratching my head at that last one.

If you’re like me, walking the aisles of the grocery store has become a depressing exercise of anxiety and uncertainty. Sometimes, you’re optimistic the vegan bread you like isn’t sold out.

Other times, you’re wondering who in the world was so desperate for mac and cheese, they’d grab the box of vegan alternative, unknowingly about to open a packet of yellow goop that smells like a foot.

It’s their loss, I suppose.

But even as COVID-19 wreaks havoc on our country’s health care system, economy and sense of safety, you don’t have to give up a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Here’s why:

Avoid large, shop small

As the reality of the coronavirus pandemic set in, it seems everyone in America did one thing: hoard all the toilet paper under one arm and all the doomsday-prepper-approved food in the other.

Last week, in fact, I drove around the South Hill to see what food and toiletry options were still available. A lot depends on when you get there compared to when the last shipment arrived. Unsurprisingly, Super 1, Rosauers on 29th Avenue and Safeway off 29th and Southeast Boulevard were wiped out.

But Trader Joe’s? When I was there, shelves held plenty of pasta noodles (and sauce). Stacks of cartons of eggs (for you vegetarians), and giant sacks of cheap rice. They even had hand soap.

Two employees were standing at the automatic doors tallying the number of people allowed in at any given time. On a Wednesday afternoon around 5:30 p.m., they were near useless – it seemed the stay home, stay healthy order had worked, as the store was as empty as I’ve ever seen it.

The newly opened Natural Grocers on Southwest Boulevard, too, was fully stocked, and I may have been the only shopper inside. Staff there seemed almost surprised to see me. And, yes, they had paper towels (sorry, no toilet paper).

Don’t neglect your vegetables

It’s no surprise that vegans tend to spend a lot of time in the produce section. And if that’s the only place you visited in “insert grocery store here,” you’d probably assume life was normal. Almost too normal.

Full displays of vegetables, fruits and berries. Some on deep discount. People, it seems, just aren’t interested.

And that’s to your benefit. According to food and public health experts, there’s little evidence to suggest coronavirus can be transmitted by food. That is, if you’re cooking it.

So while it’s natural to feel skeptical of buying that apple (after all, anybody could have coughed on it, touched it after rubbing their nose, etc.), don’t let that stop you from buying produce you’d normally cook.

And you can still buy the fresh produce you’d eat raw. Just wash it as soon as you get home, and remember to wash your hands (you should be doing that regularly anyway).

Keep exercising, and take that vitamin, too

It’s difficult, but experts agree it’s important to remain upright and active, within reason. While Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered us all to stay home and healthy, he still encourages us to go for walks and bike rides. Perhaps a run, even. Just do it away from others.

Continue to exercise and continue to eat a balanced diet. That includes taking a multivitamin. Anything to help your immune system function properly.

Support your vegan restaurants

I could probably count on one hand the amount of times I ordered delivery food through Uber Eats, Grub Hub or Postmates. That all changed last week.

While I still prefer to cook – even if I can’t make some of my favorite recipes as easily – we owe it to our local vegan eateries. Places like Rut, Cascadia Public House, Allie’s and Saranac Public House all have delivery options. And nearly every restaurant in Spokane has some sort of takeout option.

And when you order, please tip your driver.

Embrace the fake

Now, ignoring the previous sections, here’s my parting advice: Embrace the fake.

What I mean is, you know that section of the freezer filled with all sorts of vegan frozen goodies? The fake chicken nuggets? The fake bacon (facon?). Or farther down, the nondairy ice cream?

Well, if all else fails, indulge yourself. It seems to be just about the only thing not completely sold out across the board. It’ll probably make you happy, too.

And while I wouldn’t recommend eating it for every meal, it’s perfectly OK to fry up a Morningstar hamburger for dinner. Yes, it’s processed and filled with sodium. But life is weird for all of us right now.

Live a little.

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