Friday, January 30, 2009

Can you really eat on a dollar a day and NOT be hungry?

With the economy slumping, we're all looking for ways to tighten our belts. A recent widely publicized blog had a young couple trying to eat on a dollar a day each to see what it was like and to bring attention to hunger. (Admirably, they donated proceeds from the publicity and from the difference in their food budget to charity.)

But one of the things I noticed about what they did was that even when they were trying to eat cheaply, they used at least some refined, processed foods, things like fresh strawberries, tofu "turkey," and so on. Those are pretty expensive foods when you're trying to eat cheaply. And they drank Tang, which is a pretty pricey drink for what it is, that's mostly water and sugar. Myself, I drink water or generic koolaid I buy from a store called Aldi, and I sweeten it with stevia. It costs me about $0.10 to make two quarts of koolaid that way.

Using inexpensive, whole foods to cook from scratch

Now, I've been a "lazy vegan" for 25 years, and I've been doing most of my own from scratch cooking for about a dollar a day since about 1995, when I really rolled up my sleeves and got down to work learning how to use a crockpot and bread machine. Actually, from about 1995 to about 2005, I really did eat on a dollar a day (and not starving or dieting at all) or a little less, without even trying.

Not quite a dollar a day, but close

For about the past … say, three years, I haven't been able to quite squeak by on a dollar a day. It's more like $1.20 a day. Food prices have gone up substantially and I'm not willing to be really hungry (nor is it healthy to do so) or to cut back unless I really, really have to.

The point of this is, though, you really don't have to starve or go hungry to eat on about a dollar a day or a little more -- and you don't have to dumpster dive like "freegans" do unless you want to.

You do have to do most of your cooking from scratch and cook from healthy, whole ingredients instead of from prepared foods. Prepared foods are what cost you money, and that includes so-called "fake meat" for us vegans. Stick with whole, "can't get any simpler" ingredients like beans, whole-wheat flour (make your own bread by using a bread machine) and other whole grains like brown rice, fresh in season veggies and frozen veggies, fresh and frozen fruits without sugar added, some meat if you need it, and so on.

I've posted about it here before, but I've got a website at that I started before I started this blog; really, this blog replaced it. There are some simple recipes there to get you started, tips on using a crockpot and bread machine to make most of your meals for you, and a basic explanation of the "lazy vegan" lifestyle as it relates to cooking. It's vegan-based, but I've tried to include substitution tips for people who eat meat too.

I personally hate to cook and do everything I can to avoid it, but using a crockpot and bread machine lets me eat as though I bought all my meals ready made without the expense, and not much more work. And it's healthier, too, since I can control the ingredients in what I eat.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The economy, veganism and vegetarianism (including part-time), and weight

If you've been reading about the economy and the papers lately, one of the things you might have noticed is that pundits are actually thinking a bad economy might make us as Americans MORE obese, not less. That sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? You'd think with less money, we'd have less money to buy food, and therefore, we would all lose weight. But that's not necessarily true.

Why? Because "cheap" foods like white flour, white bread, and macaroni and cheese stretch food dollars further, that's true. However, they are also nutritionally bereft of just about everything but calories.

There's another point to this, too. With empty calories, your blood sugar zooms up and down, which leaves you hungrier sooner, and therefore likely to eat more. What can you do instead?

Stretch things with beans

No, no, I'm not saying you have to become completely vegetarian or vegan if you're not one. But here's the thing; beans are a whole lot cheaper than meat as a protein source, and they fill you up, too. And because they have both soluble and insoluble fiber in them, they're going to help you get and stay "regular," and they'll actually help you lower your cholesterol, too.

So instead of trying to stretch your food dollars by buying "empty calorie" foods, stretch them by using beans along with some meat to bulk up your protein sources, and then spend a few bucks on some fresh or frozen vegetables, too.

Your budget

Try this: Give yourself a food budget of, say, $100 a week for a family of four. (If it has to be less, that's okay; you can just buy a little less meat and a few more beans, vegetables, fruit, complex carbohydrates, etc., than you would with a little more money.) You'd be surprised at what you can get with that if you're careful. Concentrate on buying the fruits, veggies, and beans first (along with some dairy as applicable), and then buy the meat as the last thing you get.

You'd be surprised at how much food you get for $100. The meat can flavor the meals you make with other protein sources like beans so that you still feel satisfied, but they're a lot healthier with a few beans tossed in and a lot cheaper, too.

Using a crockpot

Crockpots are one of the best ways to make hearty soups and stews with a little bit of meat thrown in for flavor, but stretched with beans and veggies for the best value and good health, too. And, they make cooking easier. Give them a try.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oh, and Puritan's Pride stevia …

… has no aftertaste (thanks to FeedBurner for showing me my keyword searches, although this probably won't help the person who was looking for that info). It's as good as any other I've tried, and generally clocks in at about half the price of other places. (NAYY; I just like Puritan's Pride.) Hope that helps someone!

Ain't it the truth?

I read other people's blogs a lot, and on one blog I'm following (hey, BJ :-) ), the writer talks about how friends and family were all about appearances and spending a lot for Christmas, even during these tough economic times.

The thing is, that's been true a lot for me, too, only I've never really been a big spender before this, and I'm uncomfortable with this value system that says we should have to try to keep up with the Joneses, always have been. I don't necessarily get nasty reactions from people when I don't; it's more, "Oh, that's too bad you don't have enough money." That can be a little frustrating sometimes, considering that the people who say that to me probably don't have enough money either, but they do it anyway. So I've always been a bit out of step with what at least seemed to be the general mindset of, "Spend, spend, spend" before this little economic crash we're having.

A "good" thing?

I get a lot of people riled up when I talk about how this economic recession or depression or whatever you want to call it might actually be a "good" thing, in some ways. Not the massive loss of jobs, no, but the so-called "credit crisis" in general. You see, the so-called economic "health" we've been experiencing has actually been built on debt in large part, for a long time. Our own debt, our government's debt, and so on. Fake money, in other words. So maybe this correction we're undergoing is actually going to put us back in the mindset our parents or grandparents had, which is that you only buy what you can afford and nothing more, using real money that you actually earn before you spend it.

In some ways, I'm lucky because I'm single and I've never had to discuss my finances with anyone else, so my money has always been my own to earn and spend, without having to worry about what others might think. (I do have a boyfriend, but he feels exactly the way I do about spending and is just as frugal as I am, so we have no disagreements there.) And freelancing can be spotty indeed, with good times and bad times, so I've experienced my own economic "depressions" when the rest of the country was just flush and fine, which makes me a bit of a (dare I say it?) maverick that way, too.

Anyway, I just wanted to say, "You rock!" to all the folks who follow sensibility and don't spend money just to keep up with the Joneses, but only in things they truly want or need -- and can really afford.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A new day!

I am as beleaguered as anyone by the state of this economy, the lack of affordable healthcare, the loss of jobs, and the grind of ongoing war, but today, I have hope.

Mr. Obama's election means renewed hope in so many areas, but one of our most pervasive needs, when looked at from a global perspective, is a need to return to honor in the way we treat even our enemies.

One of the most stirring parts of Obama's inauguration speech for me was when he hinted at our need to return to the nation we once were in our dealings with the rest of the world; we have given up our ideals and our place of honor to take shortcuts in the name of fighting terrorism, something I have never felt was right. Obama alluded to it when he said:

"As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals…. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake."

Bravo, Mr. Obama. Bravo.

(What does that have to do with being a lazy vegan? Nothing much, I guess, except I consider myself a bit of a "peace monger", too. Meaning that we can treat even our enemies humanely -- even if they wouldn't show us the same humanity if the situation were reversed. That doesn't mean we don't have to fight terrorism, of course, but we can do so honorably, in part by following the rules of the Geneva Convention, something that the previous administration largely ignored in the name of "protecting our safety." Today, I hope we have that "moral center," for lack of a better phrase, back.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

A new day is about to dawn

At least, I hope that's what's going to happen with Barack Obama's inauguration tomorrow.

I always prided myself on the fact that I could get by on very little when compared to other folks who ate meat. And in fact, that's probably still true; I probably still spend a fraction of what most people who eat meat spend on groceries (and some vegans, too, if they rely a lot on expensive "fake" meats and other foods to fill their nutritional needs).

But admittedly, it's quite a bit more than it was, and even though I'm still doing okay, I know what it means when people say they're hungry; best wishes out there to all the folks who have lost their jobs because of this declining economy, and here's hoping that this new administration will begin to correct that situation as fast as possible.

Green jobs?

One of the things I find exciting about this administration is that it has been talking about developing lots of new jobs (here, in the United States) that focus on "green" energy development. The United States is woefully behind the times when it comes to reducing its dependence on fossil fuels (another "vegan" passion of mine), and this bodes well for our future and for that of the planet, too.

So, as we await the inauguration of Barack Obama tomorrow, I'm excited for us and for the possibilities the future seems to suddenly hold. Time will tell.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Now I'm in a "mixed" relationship, too

Right around the time I started this blog, I met a couple online who live in New York City and who are a "mixed" couple. One of them is vegan, and one of them had been a meat eater, but was struggling to try to adopt her boyfriend's vegan lifestyle, with mixed success. She wrote about struggling with her cravings for meat. (Joselle, how's that going?)

If you've read this blog at all, you know that I don't advocate, necessarily, that everyone become vegetarian or vegan. In fact, I truly believe that some people need to eat meat, based upon individual physical needs. My focus has been on getting people to try veganism or vegetarianism part time and/or reduce the amount they eat, so as to cut down on consumption, and to also make changes in the meat production industry, so that the animals who are raised for food are treated as humanely as possible.

And here we are. :-) Almost a year ago, I began dating a wonderful man whom I have a lot in common with. And no, he's not a vegetarian or vegan, and has no intentions of becoming one. It helps that I've never expected him to (although I have helped him up his veggie consumption).

Surprisingly, though, he has gone "meatless" a couple of days a week when we've been together; he says he doesn't miss it for those couple of days, but he does get cravings for some meat after a few days, and just has some when that happens.

It's been tough to be around when he's cooking meat, such as when we eat dinner together and he includes meat in his stirfry, for example, but I just leave the room when he's cooking it. I can pretty much handle it when he's eating meat during the meal, since of course I haven't lived in complete isolation and have had to be around other people eating meat during certain occasions. And of course, I've had to handle my own cats' meat (I feed them both cooked and raw meat as part of their diet) through the years, so it's not like I haven't been around it.

Still, it's been interesting and has been something I've had to get used to. I'd be interested to hear how other "mixed" couples handle their dietary differences, too.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Veganism and the economic crisis

A friend of mine has a blog wherein she talks about finding old friends and enemies from high school (remember high school? Yech) on Facebook, and being tempted to compare herself with those who have apparently become "more successful" than she in the ensuing years.

I've thought about this a lot myself, since I live a pretty simple life. I always have lived a simple life, either by necessity or choice depending on current circumstances, and sometimes I'm tempted to compare myself to "more successful" friends and colleagues and find myself lacking.

But here's the thing. Especially as a vegan, I've learned to pay very close attention to how my behavior impacts the environment especially. What I noticed is that often, those with "more" money also spend more money, sometimes wastefully and sometimes in ways that cause more trash, "keeping up with the Joneses" behavior, et cetera. One of the reasons our current economy is in collapse is because appearances became more important than whether or not we as a country actually had the money to live the consumptive lives we were living.

What's my point? I don't think the current economic crisis is necessarily entirely a bad thing. It's taught us to revamp our priorities, scale back unnecessary spending, and most of all, not to spend money we don't have. We were doing that as a country and as a government for a long, long, time, and the piper finally came calling.

Don't get me wrong; I know lots of people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own because of this economic collapse, and people are hurting -- including me. That's tough, and it's going to take a lot of time to recover from that. But maybe, just maybe, this will sober us up as a country so that we learn where our priorities are once again, spend only on what we really, truly want and need for ourselves instead of to impress others, and learn how to take care of the planet in the process, too.

And that doesn't necessarily have to include becoming a vegan or vegetarian for everyone, but maybe the economic crisis will also have more people turning to this gentler and more environmentally friendly diet at least part time because it also happens to be cheaper. So maybe that's one more silver lining, too.