Suggestion Box: Processed Vegan Foods? It's Complicated

Norman Weiss, Weavers Way Purchasing Manager

Greetings and thanks for writing. As usual, suggestions and responses may have been edited for brevity, clarity, and/or comedy. In addition, no idea, concept, issue, remark, phrase, description of event, word, or word string should be taken seriously. This also applies to the previous sentence.

Plant-based food products. CBD-containing products. Ketogenic diet products. These are some of the current trends in the natural food business. Seems like every week we get pitched on new products of these types. Occasionally, we bring some in to try. The latest success for the plant-based category at Weavers Way is Dodah’s, a vegan food company from D.C. with a few savory and sweet products. So far, they are pretty popular.

Echoing the new popularity of plant-based food is Giant’s new Heirloom Market in South Philly, where you’ll see a fluorescent sign above refrigerated freezer doors that contain a few hundred plant-based products. Most of the products are the likes of Upton’s, Lightlife and Gardein versions of what were once meat-based items such as bacon, bologna and chicken nuggets.

As mentioned in Vegan Alert, it’s interesting to me that these products have become so prominent in the natural foods industry, as most are highly processed and highly packaged, with numerous ingredients. This is far from where the natural foods industry started, originally emphasizing products that were whole, minimally processed and minimally packaged. Progress is funny — vegan food was once kind of in the lunatic fringe of the natural food movement, but it’s now becoming more accepted and mainstream as the health and environmental benefits become more of a motivation. As our food system recognized this mainstreaming of the fringe, it responded by “veganizing” the meat-based foods so many people got used to eating.

There are lots of forces at work here, but the main driving force is still money to be made on what people eat. Now I’m thinking we should recognize the reality of our food system, and if we’re going to create concoctions of ingredients in industrial food kitchens and mass-produce them, we might as well cut out the packaging and marketing and just create edible money. We could use existing formats of coins and bills — we already have things like fruit leather and chocolate coins, so it seems like a transition wouldn’t be that difficult.

Speaking of food systems and natural food and money, our fair city has a 501(c)(3) called “The Mayor’s Fund” that has budgeted around $125,000 for someone to create an “Urban Agriculture Plan” for the city. It’s estimated that Philly currently has more than 600 community gardens/urban farms. It’s also estimated the city has more than 40,000 vacant lots, not to mention many vacant industrial buildings. We were asked to help get the word out, so visit if you know anyone who might be interested. So far, most urban farms are plant-based, as few herd animals are comfortable in urban settings other than Phillies fans.

suggestions and responses:

s: “Please consider alternating your current choice of So Delicious Dairy Free Bars — Dipped Coconut Almond for the unbelievably good same-brand Dipped Mocha Almond Bars. I guarantee they will sell out every time!”

r: (Matt MA) I’ll see if we have the space necessary to expand our So Delicious offerings.

s: “The other day, you had Alden’s strawberry among the flavors in the ice cream section. So good! Today, none. Could be you’re just out, but if it’s not among the regular flavors you stock and it could be, please add it to the lineup. Thanks!

r: (Matt MA) I’ll consider the strawberry when we revisit our ice cream offerings as it gets warmer out. In the meantime, Alden’s is packed three per case if you wanted to pre-order a case.

s: “Loving the new Soom Tahini 16 oz., perfect for recipes.”

r: (Norman) Thanks for the recommendation. Soom is a local company. They source their sesame seeds from Humera, a town in the northwestern Tigray Region of Ethiopia. Soom chooses White Humera sesame seeds because of their oil-to-“meat” ratio and their nutty flavor.

s: “I used to buy Rosa extra virgin olive oil at DiBruno’s, and their San Marzano tomatoes, too. For years, I’ve been hunting around for an oil with an identifiable fruit flavor, at a reasonable price, which I always thought the Rosa oil was, but to no avail; not even the Greek oil in the Weavers Way bulk department. Then I happened to be in the Mariposa Co-op, and lo and behold, they had Rosa extra virgin oil in a three-liter can for $25.99. When I went back last week, they told me that they were all out. One thing led to another and I found myself down on Grays Ferry Ave., engaged in a lengthy conversation with the folks [at Rosa] about the sorry state of oil in our fair city. They happened to mention that they’ve been in touch about selling to Weavers Way, but so far nothing has happened. They asked me to give them a plug, and so I am. I’d love to be able to buy Rosa olive oil at Weavers Way, and their canned tomatoes, too. I’ll continue to go to Mariposa if I must, but I’d much rather buy it in Mt Airy.”

r: (Norman) Thanks for the tip. I am familiar with Rosa; we came close to bringing them in a few years ago, but ended up deciding there was too much duplication with Cento, one of our long-time suppliers. We work with Mariposa on some things (we wholesale them Zulka sugar and a few other items), so if this oil is special, I can see if they will wholesale it to us. I’ll have to get to Mariposa and bring back a tin and see what people think, now that you got me curious about an “identifiable fruit flavor.”

s: “Long time reader, first time asking a question. I’ve noticed other stores offer weekly ‘meal deals,’ all of the ingredients that you need to cook the meal that week are on sale. I think you guys could do it better. Has this been considered?”

r: (Norman) It hasn’t been considered yet, but we’ll run it up flagpole and see if anyone salutes, thanks.

s: “OMG, Vietnamese cinnamon is amazing. Tried it for the first time and will never go back.”

r: Vietnamese (also known as “Saigon” Cinnamon) is stronger because it contains more cinnamaldehyde, the essential oil responsible for the sweet, savory and woody flavor. Who knew cinnamon had its own aldehyde? Aldehydes do not pop up in conversation much, which is too bad because they are interesting substances. For example, formaldehyde has a rough time as it’s the simplest of the aldehydes and gets picked on by the more complex aldehydes in the schoolyard such as acetaldehyde, especially lately as acetaldehyde is plant-based.