Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sorry about that!

It was brought to my attention yesterday that there was no "comments" section in my blog. (I don't get very many comments anyway, so I didn't notice. ;-) ) I've been tweaking my blog set up a little bit and somehow the "comments" section got turned off. It's back up and running and yes, I do want your comments if you want to submit them.



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When life's a struggle

Tough economic times are ahead for a lot of people right now because of the state the economy is in, and it's no different for vegans, either. Yes, we can eat more cheaply than most people, but we still have other bills to pay just like most folks, and sometimes the money just isn't there, or it's going to be delayed.

When it gets to that point, I really start taking things one day at a time; is there any choice? Freelancing sets you up to have this skill, anyway, because it's a pretty spotty way to live, financially, for most people. You have times of plenty when you put away the extra (and long for sleep ;-) ), and times of scarcity when you coast for a little while on what you've got saved (and hope the next job pops real soon, even as you catch up on sleep). And usually, if you're lucky and frugal enough, the next job(s) pop before the money runs out.

Tunnel vision can be helpful

At that time, it's helpful to have tunnel vision, because there really isn't anything you can do, so you just look at what can happen the next day. If you're going to be okay the next day, the next week, bravo. Time to concentrate on finding some work. And if you're not, well, usually, you still get by.

Thing is, this too shall pass. We've got a good President, as it appears, in office who just might bring us out of this; if relatively similar circumstances in the '30s are any indication, we've been through this before and are set to prosper even more after things have settled down. I watch every news conference he holds with excitement and hope. He's not a god, to be sure, and he can't fix everything, nor can he do anything overnight. But he does appear to be listening to people and focusing on what needs to be done, and that's a good sign.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are there any "cants" when it comes to being vegan?

Being vegan is a very personal choice, and if you've decided to adopt this lifestyle, you might think that now, you're suddenly bound by a strict set of rules that says you can never have animal products at any time, either in your diet or in your life in general.

However, that's not necessarily true. Because being vegan is such a personal choice, yes, you're going to find people who strictly adopt being vegan in every single segment of their lives. And if so, bravo. That's their choice, certainly.

However, that kind of strict focus can be detrimental, too. If you've decided to become vegan and adopt a purely strict vegan lifestyle in every sense right away, it can be quite difficult to live your life. For example, there are many, many products you wouldn't otherwise think of that have animal byproducts in their makeups, including even such things as some elements of computer ware. Most strict vegans, too, probably unknowingly use at least some animal byproducts occasionally simply because they're largely unavoidable in modern society.

The "danger" of strict veganism

What's perhaps "dangerous" about strict veganism, especially those who are newly trying it out, is that it's so strict it may be impossible to keep up, and may tempt you to give up the veganism altogether. If that's you, then I would encourage you not to be so strict with yourself. "Mostly" vegan is still better than "not" vegan, as the situation applies to you.

Instead, do the best you can and start out slowly; cut out animal products from your diet if you can so that at least you know you're not consuming animal products this way (this is where the bulk of animal products' consumption comes in), then slowly look at the rest of your life, too, and make changes there as you can. (By the way, many of we vegans have vegan diets, but still use animal byproducts in the rest of our lives, such as to feed our pets; this means that many in the vegan population are not purely strict with their veganism, in that they use absolutely no animal products whatsoever. This is unrealistic for many people, and therefore not everyone follows this focus.)

Remember that even "a little" is better than nothing. If you can't be perfectly strict in your veganism at least at first, that's okay. You may find as time goes on that you can cut other products out of your life comfortably once looking for alternatives becomes a way of life. And that may be the best way to live a comfortable AND conscientious vegan lifestyle.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fitting in

One of the things that being vegetarian or vegan for most of my life has taught me is that it's really okay to be different. I came to vegetarianism relatively early in life (18), which is just about when you're stopping your quest to "fit in" and beginning to find out who you really are.

This was really good, because when you're "different," people tease you and sometimes are outright hostile to you about what you believe. Or, they expect you to be hostile to them because they don't ascribe to *your* beliefs. It certainly gives you a backbone and gets you used to handling people who think they can embarrass you or otherwise take you back to those days in junior high when bullies really did embarrass you just for fun and think it was "cool."

That's true of a lot of things that happen, of course, but being vegetarian (or part of any group that's outside of the mainstream) puts you a little bit outside of everyone else and can make you do two things. Negatively, of course, it can make you feel as though you're superior to everyone else because you ascribe to this "healthier" and more "responsible" lifestyle. That's not really true, because vegetarians too have bad habits, no matter how hard they try.

Positively, though, it can give you a sense of independence that lets you think outside the "groupspeak" when you have to. Not all the time, of course, but you already know you're living a different life than a lot of people are, so you're used to being at odds with others sometimes and are comfortable with that feeling.

It's not perfect, of course, and even as an adult I'm still tempted to be embarrassed by people who try to make me so for whatever reason. For example, some of the comments I get on this blog are attempts to embarrass me out of my mindset that not everyone, necessarily, should be vegetarian, or that I should be ashamed because I think that way. And yes, sometimes, I can be as tempted as anyone to act that way, too. But I'm glad I've had the training (if you can call it that) to be able to stay outside of that type of behavior a lot of the time when it pops up. Just another advantage to being vegetarian. :-)

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Keeping things secret?

Most of the thinking I do about being a vegan or vegetarian comes from, of course, my perspective and those of my friends who share this lifestyle with me. But I've noticed that there's kind of a funny conundrum going on sometimes.

Whether or not you want to be vegan or vegetarian full-time, most people would agree that doing so least part time is good for your health. That assumes, of course, that you eat veggies, beans, whole grains, and (if vegetarian) low-fat dairy as part of your efforts to go vegetarian/vegan, not that you simply load up on the cheese pizza, potato chips, and anything else that can classify as "vegetarian" but is still junk food.

But there's almost sort of a … not guilt, but a propensity sometimes to try not to be found out that you're actually going vegetarian part time by your more diehard meat eating friends. After all, you might get a little razzed for being a "tree hugger" or some other such namby-pamby term.

So it's really funny, because I've had more than one person over the years, especially recently, kind of sidle up to me and whisper, "I eat vegetarian three days a week," or something similar as though it's a big secret. And I guess it is, really.

The point is, I wish people didn't have to be embarrassed about the healthy, conscientious food choices they make. If they are, though, then I guess keeping a secret is worth having one more person jump on the veggie wagon at least part-time and therefore save their health, our friends in the animal kingdom, and of course the environment.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Lazy Vegan and the "latte factor"

If you've been to visit my website or have read my blog before, you probably know that I ascribe to something called the "Lazy Vegan" lifestyle. And as far as finances go, I keep my grocery budget, among other things, as small as possible. It's pretty easy to do, and it can even help you get out of debt.

The latte factor

How so? There's something financial experts sometimes call the "latte factor," meaning incremental expenses that nonetheless add up over time and that could be cut pretty painlessly from your budget. Things like that latte from Starbucks on your way to work (take coffee from home instead), eating out (bring your lunch to work), and so on.

But the latte factor applies to more than just small expenses that you don't need and could come out of your budget fairly easily. It's something you can do with your grocery budget, too. And that's where the "Lazy Vegan" element comes in.

Take a look at your grocery budget

Take a look at your grocery budget once. (And if you don't have one, this might help you out even more than someone who already has a budget.)

How much of the food you buy could either be made much more cheaply at home (and isn't right now), or could be cut out altogether? Chances are a lot of it could.

Getting out of debt the Lazy Vegan way

Now, I've got a challenge for you. If you're in debt (or just watching your finances very, very carefully) and you want to get out, there's a way you can probably cut your expenses and then apply that extra to getting out of debt. Unless you've already cut your grocery budget to the bone, I'm going to wager that you don't currently feed yourself or your family for, say, three dollars a day per person, maybe less if the folks in your family happen to be vegan or vegetarian.

Now, take a look at your grocery budget again. How much do you spend for groceries in a month? Take that three dollars a day per person, multiply by the number of people in your family, and then multiply it by 30 (an average number of days in a month). Is the figure you get less than what you currently spend on groceries?

If it is, guess what? You just found a relatively simple way to save some money and maybe conjure up some extra cash for yourself (and to pay off those debts).

It may not happen overnight, but you can teach yourself how to cook from-scratch healthy meals for very little, and you don't have to like to cook either. (I know; a common theme here, but bear with me.)
So the first month you try this, take the Lazy Vegan master shopping list (on the Lazy Vegan website at:, tweak it to remove foods you absolutely hate and add ones you need and like (like meat, different vegetables, etc.), and go shopping. Again, give yourself a budget of three dollars per day per person, times the number of days you're shopping for. So if you're shopping for a week for three people, that's nine dollars a day time seven days, which gives you a budget of $63 for the week. Four people, $12 a day times seven is $84. You get the drift.

So that's your challenge. Now, take a look at the shopping list. You'll notice that just about everything on there is about as basic as it gets, meaning it's not processed, prepared, packaged, etc. (except for things like peanut butter and canned tomatoes, things like that; no mac and cheese, though).

I'll bet you that you can fill up your shopping cart with enough food for everyone in your family and stay pretty close to your new grocery budget. Depending on where you live in the country (like New York), you will probably have to pay more, but in some cases, you might even be able to pay less.

Now what?

Now, you've got lots of ingredients so that you have to cook from scratch, and that's where things like the crockpot and bread machine come in. If you can't afford a crockpot or bread machine and you don't already have these, you might be able to buy one with what you've saved in groceries, or you can borrow them temporarily to give this a try and then get your own once you know this works.

If and when it comes time to invest in a crockpot and bread machine and you don't have them, check thrift stores; they're notorious for having these things very inexpensively. I have two bread machines, I got them for $10 each at Goodwill. I paid $20 for each of my crockpots new. Freecycle is also another good place to get what you need, for nothing. Check their website at for a group near you.

Try it

I'll bet you be surprised at how easy this is once you get the hang of it. (And I'd be interested to hear how you do with this if you decide to give this a go, too.)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A "little slip"?

I've occasionally heard vegans and vegetarians talk about having "a little slip," or sometimes a major one, if they jump off the vegan or vegetarian bandwagon temporarily and indulge in the land of dairy or even carnivorous delights before going back to usual plant-based culinary pursuits.

Usually, this pronouncement of having a "slip" is done with a fair amount of guilt. It's as though being a vegan or vegetarian is a full-time religion that one simply must pursue to perfection, no matter what deprivations must occur to be successful. And if one fails, self-flagellation must occur. Right?

Well, not so fast, I think. Now, I'm all for having a conscience, and I'm certainly aware that eating a healthy diet is necessary. I'm also all for being vegan or vegetarian if that's what your body needs and it's important to you. And yes, I do think that even those people who decide they must continue to eat meat can probably cut back pretty substantially and therefore save both our animal friends and the environment a lot of grief, even if they can't give it up altogether.

But what is it with the guilt, already? Do we have to define an occasional dabble in dairy or even meat as failure if we decide to pursue a veggie lifestyle? I don't think so; I've said before that I don't think we know everything about the human body or what it needs, so maybe an occasional craving like that is just a means to make sure we get something we need. Or maybe it's just that you have a sudden craving for meat or dairy after X years of not having it.

So, why not indulge -- without the guilt? Chances are it's something that's going to happen only occasionally anyway, unless you decide one day that a completely veggie lifestyle isn't for you anymore. People have been known to change on that, too.

Regardless, though, it really is true that most veggies (full or part-time) are conscientious about food choices, as well as the impact they have on the environment and on the animal population. That really does put us ahead of the crowd, to my thinking. And that careful sense of responsibility we carry with us should be enough to assuage the guilt for an occasional "slip," if it happens.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Can you be a vegetarian or vegan if you don't like vegetables?

I can go in on my blog site and look at keywords people are using to search with when they find my blog (whether they're actually looking for me or not), and it gives me ideas sometimes on what I can write about. One particular keyword search I saw recently asked something to the effect of, "Can you be vegan if you don't like vegetables?"

Yes, you probably can be, but here's the thing; you'll have to eat the vegetables anyway, because you can't be a HEALTHY vegan and not eat vegetables. (Really, though, you can't be a healthy omnivore, either, and not eat vegetables.)

Now, I realize people really, truly do have aversions to particular foods for what are probably valid health reasons. For example, I really, truly can't stomach meat. It makes me ill to both smell it and to try to digest it. My particular physiological makeup not only does just fine without meat, but it does better without it than it does with it.

Can the same be true of vegetables? Maybe for a specific vegetable, but what I'd ask the person who doesn't like vegetables in general is whether or not he or she has really tried to eat them; I ate meat, for example, for 18 years before I became a vegetarian, and during that whole time I ate meat, I didn't quite feel right but I thought you had to eat meat to be healthy. Once I removed the meat from my diet, presto. I instantly felt better.

Age has something to do with it

One of the reasons vegetables can taste bitter to younger people especially is because as we get older, tastebuds develop and get more mature so that you begin to like flavors you didn't previously; for example, a lot of vegetables have both bitter and "astringent" flavors to them that often take a bit of tastebud maturity to really begin to like. So if you're a young person and you don't like vegetables, wait a bit. As you get older, it's likely that you will like at least some vegetables, and you should always give things another try every few years to see if your taste buds have changed, assuming you're not actually allergic to them. (I love most vegetables, but two I still can't stomach despite trying to get used to them are brussels sprouts and rutabaga; I do give them a taste every couple of years, though.)

Lots of choice, so lots of things to experiment with when it comes to vegetables

With meat, you've only got what are probably four main choices of meat (poultry, fish, beef, and pork). So if you don't like meat, you're pretty much out of luck when it comes to choices. With vegetables, though, you've got lots and lots of different choices; if you don't like one type of vegetable, you've still got lots of choices to try. Chances are, you'll find at least five or six vegetables you really do like if you give it an honest shot. You can put those in your diet first, and slowly expand out from there as your palate gets used to the taste of vegetables.

Masking the flavor healthfully

If you really can't stand the taste of vegetables at least at first, there is a way to mask the flavor healthfully (no butter or excess salt). Put just a drop or two of stevia in them to give them a bit of a sweet flavor that's healthy. Not a lot, just a drop or two, then mix very thoroughly (stevia is VERY sweet when undiluted). It will give you time to adjust to the taste so that you can stop using it once you've learned to appreciate the taste of vegetables. (And of course, you can always make sure you get a couple of servings of fresh fruit a day right off the bat even if you don't like vegetables at first.)

If a vegetable dislike sticks with you

If a particular vegetable you're trying still doesn't taste good to you after you've given it a fair try (assuming you don't already know you're allergic to it and therefore shouldn't try it at all), I honestly do think your body's trying to tell you something and that you shouldn't have it. I think our bodies are smarter than we are about a lot of things and really do know when something isn't good for us if we listen to them. That said, though, there are still a lot of choices available to you that you should try even if you find you don't like a particular kind of vegetable. Happy eating!

More on eating for about a dollar a day, "lazy vegan" style

Yesterday, I posted that I ate comfortably and well on a little more than a dollar a day without having to cook much. I can do that because I buy only whole ingredients (except for an occasional treat), cook from scratch, and only eat nutritious foods, for the most part (no junk food). I also use crock-pots and a bread machine to make most of my meals so that I don't spend a lot of time cooking. And, I bulk cook and freeze a lot so that I can cook two or three days a month if that and then spend the rest of the month eating the results without having to do any other cooking.

It's really easy to cook this way, but you don't necessarily have to do it exactly the way I do it to be successful at it. I bulk cook and freeze most things, but you don't have to; a small crock-pot and a bread machine are still going to get you some really decent meals very cheaply even if you have to do it more often than two or three days a month, for very little work. I can bulk cook and freeze far ahead because I have a 13 cubic foot freezer (bought specifically for this purpose), but I realize a lot of folks aren't going to have that.


I've been asked to post some recipes and shopping tips, and instead of reposting everything here, I'll just direct you to my website. Again, that's at:

It's not very well organized right now because I originally started writing the content there as a newsletter; I just posted back issues of the newsletter in chronological order on the website so that people who didn't have them could go get them. Every issue has a recipe, cooking tips, shopping tips, etc., but if you're looking for something specific, it's a little hard to find it the way things are organized right now. I will reorganize the site so that cooking tips, shopping tips, the grocery lists, and all of those things are easy to access from the blog itself.

Some tips on "lazy cooking and shopping"

For brevity, though, I'll just outline a couple of things I do here so that I can eat for what amounts to a little bit more than a dollar a day now.

· I shop once a month, which forces me to really think about what I'm going to be buying and stay within a budget. (You can buy fresh, hardy fruits and vegetables that keep and frozen fruits and vegetables for variety, which means you don't have to be running out to the store every minute; that can cause you to spend more.)

· I basically buy the same ingredients as staples month-to-month, but have learned to make different recipes from them.

· I bulk shop at a local stock up store (here, it's Aldi) for nonperishable things like canned goods, coffee, generic koolaid, etc., every three or four months. They're about half the price of the local grocery store even for its sale prices. Then I just hit the local grocery store for items that won't keep long term.

· I have perhaps a dozen entrĂ©e recipes that I can just throw together and then freeze, plus a favorite bread recipe and several healthy dessert recipes that I work with most of the time. I don't get bored easily when it comes to food, so having a relatively limited menu works for me; you could spice it up for yourself if you need more variety than I do.

Finally, my "master shopping list" is on the Lazy Vegan website here:

It has all the ingredients I purchase and just keep in the pantry, fridge and freezer all the time to make the meals I always have on hand. When I made the list, I also included blanks for folks to put in things they need that I don't (like meat if they don't happen to be vegan or vegetarian).

That should get you started if you're interested in giving this a try, and again, I'll try to get the website organized this week so that you can find recipes and other tips more easily than you can now.