A Cook's Tour of Vegetarian Food Sources
Adapted From: Vegetarian Cooking For Dummies®
Vegetarian kitchens are among the most interesting because vegetarian cuisine draws from many different cultures. A kitchen stocked with wholesome ingredients for meatless meals means cupboards, fridge, and freezer full of delicious, varied foods and specialty products from around the world.

Vegetarian foods are also among the highest-quality foods. Vegetarian kitchens are brimming with whole-grain breads and cereals, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, beans and peas the colors of the rainbow, and a wide range of herbs, spices, and flavorful condiments.
Deciding where to shop
Shopping for these foods is half the fun of vegetarian cooking. Where you shop is up to you: It depends on what's available in your area, the kinds of foods you like best, and the shopping environment you prefer. The choices are extensive.

Plain-vanilla supermarkets: The supermarket merits mention because some people think that you have to shop at a natural foods store (see the following entry) to maintain a vegetarian diet. Not so. You can get everything you need to make delicious vegetarian meals at your neighborhood supermarket. Plain-vanilla shopping will do just fine — just steer clear of the meat.
Regular supermarkets are dramatically increasing the number of natural brands and specialty foods they carry. If your neighborhood supermarket doesn't carry a product that you'd like to be able to buy there, speak with the store manager. He or she may be able to begin stocking it or special-order it for you.

Natural foods stores: Those odd little health food stores of yesteryear have morphed into colossal natural foods superstores that are modern and bright and rival the most mainstream of supermarkets in the range of products they carry and the level of customer service they provide. Natural foods represent the fastest-growing segment of the food industry.
Natural foods stores typically carry a wide range of nonfood products as well. Many are available as vegetarian or vegan choices, and most — if not all — have not been tested on animals.

Food co-ops: Food cooperatives or co-ops are similar to natural foods stores but are usually smaller and are managed and run cooperatively by a group of people or members. Food co-ops usually buy natural foods, locally grown seasonal produce, and other foods in volume and pass the price breaks along to their members.
Food co-ops can be especially useful in small or rural towns where people don't have access to large natural foods stores. The rules vary among co-ops, but members usually have the option of working a certain number of hours per week or month unloading the truck; stocking, bagging, or delivering foods; or running the store in exchange for discounts on purchases.
To find a food co-op in your area, ask among your friends or check with your local vegetarian society.

Ethnic food markets: A trip to an ethnic food mart is an education. You may feel as though you've been spirited halfway across the globe. Ethnic food markets thrive in cities of all sizes where there are pockets of — or even large numbers of — people from other cultures who have dietary traditions that U.S. and Canadian supermarkets don't readily accommodate. In ethnic markets, they can buy the spices, canned goods, dry goods, and fresh produce that they can't find elsewhere. Some foods, such as exotic fresh fruits and vegetables, are flown in from overseas. Some stores stock specific preferred brand names and even specialty household goods.

Gourmet and specialty shops: Gourmet and specialty shops carry lots of foods that vegetarians enjoy. You often can find interesting products here that you aren't likely to find at either a natural foods store or a regular supermarket. For example, gourmet shops carry a variety of flavored vegetable oils, salad dressings, richly seasoned soup bases and marinades, syrups, jams, preserves, gourmet mustards, pesto and other pasta sauces, and interesting varieties of crackers, breads, pasta, and baked goods.

Mail order and online catalogs: A convenient way to buy vegetarian specialty foods as well as organic produce is to order it online or through a catalog. The upside is time saved and accessibility to foods that you may not be able to find locally. The downside is that you can't see what you're getting until it arrives.
Shopping strategically
Grocery shopping isn't rocket science, but if you've never given your approach any thought, this may be the time to do so. Your shopping habits influence what you buy, and what you buy ultimately dictates what you eat. If you're trying to eat more healthfully, or you want to ensure that you have what you need on hand to fix the kinds of meals you want, you may want to think about the manner in which you shop.

Smart shopping habits can help ensure that you have the right foods on hand when you need them, and that you shop efficiently and waste minimal time at the grocery store. With that goal in mind, consider the following advice:

Shopping at the same store each week can become boring and make you dread the task. Instead, rotate your shopping trips among several supermarkets and natural foods stores. On occasion, stop at a specialty store, a gourmet store, or an ethnic market to introduce fresh ideas and interesting new products to your kitchen.

In season, make it a habit to go out of your way to shop at a farmers market or a roadside produce stand occasionally.

Keep a running grocery list on the kitchen counter or refrigerator door. Take the list with you when you go to the store. It'll keep you from forgetting the ketchup, and many people find that focusing on a list helps minimize impulsive purchases of foods they should avoid.

Spend extra time in the produce section and experiment with new fruits and vegetables often.

If you have trouble resisting junk foods and sweets — or any other food that you tend to eat in excess — go to the store after you've eaten. Going to the store hungry increases the chances that you'll make impulsive purchases and decreases your resistance to temptation.
On the other hand, if you're in a rut and want to introduce some new foods into your routine, going to the store hungry can make you notice foods that you hadn't noticed before. Going shopping when you're full but not feeling rushed is another possibly less dangerous strategy.