I’ve been vegan since 2005. Even though I was a late bloomer to some extent (I ate meat occasionally until 2003, and dairy and eggs every so often between that year and 2005), vegan products always fascinated me as a child growing up in the 90’s. I would often go to Costco with one of my parents (who always ate relatively well as semi-vegetarians for health purposes) to shop for things like granola bars, whole grain bread, and yogurt in large quantities.
So, due to my over-active imagination, I viewed myself as the James Bond of Costco, escaping for mere minutes to secretly investigate the frozen food section without anyone noticing (aside from my younger brother, who stalked me in those aisles to find out exactly what I was doing). I was a vegan wannabe spy, looking at the labels of packaged foods that basically no one in Sonoma County had heard of at the time, such as rice-based “ice cream”, soy-based “hamburger”, and god forbid things that were vegan in and of themselves rather than an imitation of some SAD (Standard American Diet) staple or novelty.
I dreamt about this last night. It was like a movie, and it literally involved running through a Costco and looking at labels, trying to avoid being caught and realized during those undercover efforts that I could discontinue my consumption of poultry and milk products by simply asking my parents to purchase them for me. My Mom was cool with it, but my Dad was skeptical–and told me he would not buy me soy milk and boca burgers because I still ate fish. Mad props, Dad, because that was the day I went vegan. Everything finally came together in an easily explainable equation– one that didn’t require any math. If I wanted soy milk, which at the time was considerably more expensive than cow’s milk, I shouldn’t be eating fish. Because that would be rather petty, considering most non-vegan people who drink soy milk or almond or rice milk (or as of last year, coconut milk) are either lactose intolerant or have a medical condition for which part of the therapy regimen is to cease consumption of dairy products.
So without further adieu, I would like to bring back and recognize the aforementioned 1900s vegan products that intrigued me and inspired my transition from lacto-ovo vegetarian to vegan in the mid 2000’s.
1. Boca Burgers
Boca burgers were my dietary staple while transitioning between semi-veg i.e. ground turkey meat and vegetarian (meatless burgers). I was made fun of a lot for this within my family (lovingly so, but still) because bringing vegan meat to a party is kind of hilarious to people who have always categorized BBQ with animal flesh. This was probably the pivotal point in which I started to accept my “crazy vegetarian weirdness” and by the year 2000 I was completely acceptant and proud of the fact that I could unabashedly bring alternative “meat” to the party. Granted, few people were brave enough to taste-test the boca. Regardless, I have much respect for the product considering it was a significant part of my transition to vegetarianism.
2. Rice Dream
I think I was given my first Rice Dream sandwich at age 5. I knew, somehow, that the oatmeal cookie-sandwiched ice cream was not of the mainstream kind; rather, it was something alternative and different (probably because I knew what an It’s It was but never was allowed to eat one). But that doesn’t matter; I never really wanted an It’s It (until I first tried one at 15 and after one bite couldn’t understand why so much sugar would ever need to be present in something the size of a hockey puck, before which I passed out for an hour due to the trans fat overload). But Rice Dream was a novelty– a reward for things like getting a high score in my Gymnastics class or Reading Comprehension test. I really prefer the old logo, though. The new one is kind of lacklustre:
3. Dr. McDougall’s Instant Soups
I’ve been aware of John A. McDougall MD since I was 7 or 8 years old. His products are the brainchildren of his diet (The McDougall Program) and have been on the market throughout Santa Rosa, CA and adjacent cities since the early 90s. I now live in Oregon, where McDougall soups and other products are always in stock at natural foods stores and speciality/gourmet shops.
Post 1990’s I’ve read a lot about the McDougall diet, especially when I worked at Whole Foods Market when 2-week dietary rehabilitation seminars were offered to certain employees (one of which was a McDougall program).
Here’s the contemporary packaging:
Ahhh, Tofurkey. The brunt of all Thanksgiving jokes. I most often brought stuffed bell peppers or acorn squash to Thanksgiving, because the “omg what will Kelsey bring, Tofurkey? hahaha” banter made me despise Tofurkey before I ever tried it. I did try it once when a friend made it, but only because she asked me to humor her. I don’t really like Tofurkey, and I still bring stuffed vegetables/squashes when and if I make it to Thanksgiving– but if someone were to ever bring a Tofurkey I would take a bite and compliment them for bringing a dish that is protein-rich and doesn’t involve an animal carcass.
5. Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies
The quintessential, vegan by default, Girl Scout cookie. I was a dedicated, devout girl scout from 1997 until 2011, thanks to my rockstar Mom who started a new troop because the one at my school was full at the time. I’ve sold a lot of of cookies in my day, and only now realized that Thin Mints are vegan. Accidentally vegan, like Oreos and Nutter Butters, but vegan nonetheless.
Yes VH1, I do love the 90’s.