Happy Herbivore Blog

Vegan on $15 a week

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Advice

My friend (and past inspirational interviewee!) Natala, created a challenge on her blog, Vegan Hope, to spread poverty awareness and show that you can eat well (and vegan!) on the smallest budget. I was moved and inspired by the challenge and decided to participate for a week. I also wanted to see if eating on $21 a week was possible here in NYC where a carton of soymilk costs $4.59.

That's right ---$21 per person (the U.S. food stamp budget) and only using equipment that costs $15 or less.

Since I planned to use spices I already had on hand, I reduced my weekly budget to $18 and then I reduced it again to $15 knowing I'd use a tablespoon of flour, a teaspoon of cocoa, etc. here and there. That left me with $15 for the week -- a little more than $2/day. $21 seemed doable but $15 seemed down right impossible... but, I'll risk it all and tell you right here: I did it.

The first thing I realized was that I couldn't just go to one store and get everything I needed. Normally I just buy what I need, regardless of whether it's a dollar or so cheaper somewhere else. I figure, the $1 isn't worth my time... but on this budget? I had to price items, look at sales, check for coupons online and go to five (five!) different places to get my groceries because pennies mattered.

I also realized some 'staples' I'd come to love were convenience foods --- like soy milk. I could make my own rice milk (a recipe in my upcoming cookbook!) for less than a quarter, which saved me $4.34! I also had to skip over (convenience) canned beans ($1.39-$2.29/can) and buy dry, which was only $1.00 for a rather big bag. Organic was out, too -- but fresh was still in.

These produce carts are all over New York City and while you're never quite sure where the produce comes from (local? California? Mexico?) you can bet it's not organic. Still, fresh fruit is fresh fruit so I kept the dirty dozen in mind (sorry strawberries--I'll miss you!) and bought whatever was the cheapest. I also went every day and spent only $0.50. Sometimes this meant I could get two bananas. Other days, just 1 apple.

After my 4th daily visit the worker took pity on me and threw some extra (free!) produce into my bag. Who says there isn't kindness, compassion and generosity in NYC? I also relied heavily on my garden for fresh vegetables. During the week I harvested more than 50 cherry tomatoes, 4 zucchini and 1 cucumber which were all essentially free. I also bought some vegetables off the farmer stand. Fresh produce in all the supermarkets was well outside my budget but generic (non-organic) frozen produce was a bargin. I caught a sale at one store and came home with 4 12-ounce boxes of frozen mixed veggies for $3.98 (it was "buy one get one free" at $1.99 each).

I also stumbled across tofu on sale---2 for $1.00! So I ate a lot of tofu, a lot of beans, a lot of frozen veggies and a little bit of fruit. (For the record, 3 out of 5 stores did not sell frozen fruit and the ones that did, it was out of my price range).

On my $2/day budget every meal had to cost less than $1.00 -- and to my surprise (squee!) a lot of Happy Herbivore recipes made it possible (some with a few modifications).

For breakfast, I usually had one of three choices: HH's tofu yogurt, HH's brown rice breakfast or one of HH's smoothies. One morning I had tofu scramble with leftover black beans and tomatoes from my garden---nom! I def. didn't feel like I was eating cheap that day!

For lunch I tried to stick to a salad with beans, carrots and raisins, but I grew tired of the redundancy and started eating HH's zucchini sticks, which were practically free and sandwiches consisting of homemade bread, tofu cream cheese, cucumber (free!) and tomato slices (free!).

Dinner was a stir-fry every night: tofu or beans, with frozen mixed vegetables and a sauce. I kept it new every night by using a different sauce. I tried making an orange sauce, a ginger sauce, I used teriyaki sauce twice and when all else failed: soy sauce. I served it over a big plate of rice. Had it not been summer, I probably would have mixed it up with soups. Then again, had it not been summer, I wouldn't have had all my free, fresh produce, either.

At times I felt constrained (mmm that mango looks good! why is it $2?) but for the most part I found it fairly easy to do -- and I'm convinced had I lived somewhere else, I would have been able to have more variety. If anything, this week taught me the true value of the dollar and how delicious simplicity can taste. I urge everyone to give it a try and if you can't -- volunteer at your local food bank.

Inspirational Interview: Courtney

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Herbies

Today's inspirational interviewee is someone very special to me... she's my sister! But that's not why she's being interviewed. Courtney's story is one that will make you go hmm.... It's a reminder that we really are what we eat.

 

HH: Let's start with the millon dollar question: How long have you followed a vegan diet and what made you go plant-based? 

Not long; almost 4 months completely. I did try to work in a few vegan meals a week before I went completely vegan. I was motivated by my allergies. 

Allergies? 

Yes. My allergies were the main reason. 

What kind of allergies did you have? 

After a lovely series of allergy testing, I found out my food allergies are black pepper and cottonseed, and my outdoor allergy was to Bahia grass. 

What kind of symptom did you have?

I couldn’t breathe, ever. When I called my doctor for a visit to talk about my symptoms, the woman that answered asked how long I had been sick! I told her that I wasn’t sick, I just couldn’t breathe. My nasal cavities were so swollen and blocked that the specialist wasn’t able to use a nasal endoscopy. 

How did these symptoms affect your life?

I had problems breathing. This also caused problems sleeping. I would constantly wake myself up throughout the night, and in the morning my mouth would be dry and yucky. I had problems working out because I wasn’t getting enough air. I couldn’t breathe through my nose at all. 

So why not just take allergy medication for the grass and avoid the foods you were allergic too? 

I did! First I was on allergy medication from my regular doctor, but when it didn't work and I got fed up, I went to a specialist. The specialist diagnosed my allergies and gave me 2 prescriptions. He also encouraged me to avoid food containing black pepper and cottonseed oil, which were what I was allergic to. 

Cottonseed oil? I've never even heard of that. Sounds like a pretty easy thing to avoid, right?

That's what I thought too. I knew cottonseed oil was in some peanut butters and processed foods, but I already avoided those foods for my health. Avoiding black pepper had its challenges, but it wasn't impossible. The specialist also gave me a handout about cottonseed allergies, which said that I should avoid milk and conventional produce. 

Why would you need to avoid milk and fruit? 

Since cottonseed cakes are fed to cattle, it is excreted in their milk. The handout also said that some fruit stands polish their fruit with cottonseed oil. So I decided to avoid cows' milk and non-organic produce. 

So you started feeling better then? 

No. After eliminating those foods and trying to use my prescriptions for a few months, I still didn't feel better. I still couldn't breathe. 

So what did you do?

I did more research online. That is where I found out that the cottonseed not only comes through cow's milk but that it was also stored in their meat... beef. After finding that out, I had set my mind up to go completely vegan. I thought I was able to avoid cottonseed by looking at the ingredients of something, but where do you get the ingredients of a filet? I never thought that what the cow was eating, I too was eating. It gave a realistic meaning to “you are what you eat.” 

Once you eliminated all animal products from your diet, did you experience any relief in your symptoms? 

Yes. I went off all my indoor/food allergy medicine about 2 weeks into being completely vegan, with no negative side effects. 

What about your outdoor allergy?

Knowing that Bahia grass is very popular where I live, I was more reluctant to stop taking my outdoor allergy medicine. Then one day, I decided that I would start a local honey regime daily. I did that for about a week before I stopped taking my outdoor allergy medicine. I still have a spoonful of honey daily, but I have not taken any allergy medicine in about 3 months. I also don't have any symptoms. 

Have there been any other benefits from your dietary change? 

I generally feel better; my energy is greater. I’ve become more regular. My mom said she could see a difference in my complexion, and that was only a few weeks into me going vegan. 

Although you're free of symptoms, you're not “cured” of your allergies. You're still allergic to black pepper and cottonseed. A lot of people think having allergies makes veganism hard or impossible. Has it been difficult for you?

I find planning ahead helps. I also try to bring food with me, or eat ahead of time when I'm going somewhere that probably won't have food I can eat. For example, when my mom had a little get-together, I brought food for myself. Sometimes it’s hard though. I went to a lunch buffet that had steamed veggies, without oil or butter, but they were seasoned with spices including black pepper! 

How did you first learn about veganism and its abilities to cure allergies?

(laughing) From you! Having you and happyherbivore.com as a resource has been a blessing for me. I also saw a speech that Alicia Silverstone gave on YouTube (search Authors@Google Alicia Silverstone). She was talking about how her complexion and allergy problems were solved just by changing her diet. That motivated me to do my own research.

Do you recommend the vegan diet for other allergy sufferers? 

Absolutely. It makes living with allergies so much easier. Vegan (and vegetarian) food that you buy in the grocery store (like the boxed or frozen food) is great about listing all the actual ingredients used instead of just putting “spices.” Everyone knows about peanut allergies, but not everyone knows about a garlic or a mint or a black pepper allergy. If you are buying things at the store that lists “spices” as an ingredient, you may still be eating something you are allergic to. Also, I would recommend a daily local honey regime for people with outdoor allergies. If you do allergy shots, all you are getting is a small dose of what you’re allergic to in order to build up an immunity to it. Since bees pollinate everything, you can use the honey to do the same thing. Although, you do have to use local honey for this. It has worked great for me. 

Lastly, a person following a vegan diet for health reasons is not necessarily a vegan — meaning someone who eschews animal products for ethical reasons. What's your opinion on this? 

For years you tried to convince me to go vegetarian for animal rights issues, but I was never motivated. However, I always did care about animal welfare, so I avoided factory-farmed meats and products. My then-boyfriend was a hunter and that was usually the only meat I ate. Even though my decision was based on health, as I learn more, meet more vegans, attend vegan meetups, etc., I find I'm motivated by several factors. 

Thanks Courtney!

Homemade Sugar-Free Vegan Yogurt (tofu yogurt) Low-Fat too!

Posted by: Lindsay S. Nixon |

Category: Recipe

A bowl of cold vegan yogurt piled high with fresh fruit is one of my favorite summer breakfasts. It's cool and refreshing, plus its loaded with fruit (which I can't seem to get enough of during this heat wave) and protein so I stay satisfied until lunch. My only complaint is how expensive vegan yogurt is at the store here in NYC and how much sugar is added to most brands, too.

     

I've been buying Wildwood's unsweetened plain soy yogurt for a while -- which I love. Then the other day I ran out and wondered if I could make my own soy yogurt with silken tofu. Turns out I absolutely can -- and for a fraction of the price!

Recipe:Homemade Vegan Yogurt (Tofu Yogurt)

Description

Make soy yogurt at home for a fraction of the price with silken tofu!

Ingredients

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a blender, whizzing until smooth and creamy. Taste, adding more sweetener as desired. (Agave or other syrup sweetener may be substituted for the maple). Add in fresh fruit such as strawberries, blueberries or more banana for fruit-flavored yogurt.