In a perfect world, every item I buy would be organic, locally grown, freshly picked at peak that morning, fair trade, non-GMO, and so forth. I'd also make nearly everything myself from scratch.
Unfortunately, I don't live in a perfect world. I also don't have the wallet size to make that my reality all the time. My mantra, as you know, is progress not perfection and doing the best you can.
I always emphasize that last part, especially at the supermarket: Do the best you can. I wrote about this concept in detail in my new book, Happy Herbivore Light & Lean. The idea is to do the best you can in the situation you're in, and forget about utopia.
Whenever I have the option or ability to buy organic, I do. Yet sometimes organic is out of my price range, or it's not available at all.
This past week, for example, Scott and I were on vacation with my parents, his parents, his sister and her three children. The kids absolutely love blueberries and I couldn't find organic blueberries at either of the two stores in our area so I bought conventional. Yes, we could have very well lived without blueberries, but not without hearing a barrage of complaints from the children. They're also very picky, as most kids are, and taking away one of their favorite foods, that is a healthy food no less, didn't seem sensical to me. I knew without blueberries, breakfast would be a huge challenge, and that wasn't how I wanted to spend my mornings or our family vacation. Other parents or aunts may come to a different conclusion, but that was mine.
Similarly, a few years ago, when Scott and I were living on a small island in the Caribbean, the only whole-wheat bread option available to us contained a little bit of honey. The bread was made fresh, without preservatives, and without oil, but they did use honey. The vegan police bopped me over the head about it and it's one of the reasons I stopped identifying as a vegan.
While we could technically live without bread, it would have just made our household more stressed, and living there more difficult, especially when the stores ran out of beans and vegetables (which happened all the time, for weeks on end) OR when a storm came and I couldn't do much with water or electricity.
My husband also couldn't eat at work, there was nowhere to go out to eat, and the lunch he did take had to be portable (something he could keep on him) and something that didn't need heating or refrigeration. A sandwich (PB&J) was an easy solution.
When I first openly blogged about this, there were a lot of comments about how I was just making excuses to justify my choices. I suppose you could say that -- but I don't feel bad about my choices or feel the need to justify them. I did the best I could in my situation.
Maybe someone else would feel or do something differently if they were in my situation, and as my mom would say, more power to them, but I refuse to hold myself to someone else's standards.
I see no point in making something so difficult that you can't do it. My diet and lifestyle is about making it happen, making it possible. If that means I buy a whole-wheat tortilla instead of make it myself, I do.
That's the beauty in doing the best you can.
Everyone has to find their own balance and where they draw the line. That line might change over time, too.
I don't think anyone can be 100% perfect, and there's always room for improvement.
I try not to get caught up in guidelines or rules or fantasies and instead I just LIVE my lifestyle.
Political rant over ;) here are some things to think about when shopping.
First, don't get caught up in the "buzzword" trap:
Healthy! Organic! Natural! Vegan! Gluten-Free! Light! Don't Get Caught in the Buzzword Trap and How to Read Labels
Next, keep the 5-finger rule in mind: if there are more ingredients than you have fingers, you probably shouldn't buy it.
Also, remember that just because it's vegan, doesn't mean it's healthy.
I know "GMO" is a hot button topic, here's what Dr. McDougall has to say:
GMO Foods: A Potentially Disastrous Distraction
Paleo, Gluten Free, and GMO Distractions from Real World Food Problems (video)
I also covered this topic once before in the Herbies 101 Series: Soy & GMO.
Finally, as promised, here's a link to a *FREE* shopping list PDF: Happy Herbivore Basic Shopping List.