Did You Know?

Did you know??
Although using avocados and bananas are all the buzz now to get soft and shiny hair, all it will get you is a messy kitchen and bathroom. These products are great to help your hair for one day, but the proteins in them are way too big for your hair to absorb. And unless you are going to use them each day (yikes!), then you should head to a beauty supply store and check out some Vegan products that use "hydrolyzed" proteins - proteins from avocados and bananas that actually are small enough to help your hair.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Vegan on the Cheap

I remember when we were in college and I had friends that would always say "yeah, I'd love to give to stop eating meat, you know, it's so bad for the environment and it's bad for our bodies, but I live on campus and I've got no money; I can barely afford what I DO buy, how am I going to be able to afford to make salads and buy vegetarian alternative stuff for sandwiches?"  Well with that attitude, you won't.  It's actually pretty fairly easy to eat vegan cheaply, it's just a matter of knowing which types of foods you should be buying instead of those veggie meats and such.  Of course, as a newly borne vegan/vegetarian, it's particularly hard not to rely on those replacement foods, but if you're truly motivated to do so, you definitely can.  Whenever my friends did bring this up, I would recommend to them to start with 1 meal a day, then two, and then a few days at a time to try eating more than just one meal that they've figured out for a lunch or a dinner.  Once it's not scary, it's relatively easy, the key is to not begin eating vegan or vegetarian just by simply substituting veggie alternatives for meats; doing this doesn't develop any new habits and their new expensive habit is not a long-term solution to being a healthy vegetarian.

There are tons of books that cover basic skills that every vegan or vegetarian should know; how to soak beans; how to make bread; what are tempeh, tofu, and seitan; how to cook with TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein; what are the different types of rice; how to eat seasonally; you know, the basics.  And you can find plenty of books regarding simple vegan meals that will taste delicious and you won't even realize they're vegan.  This is all good and well, but life doesn't let these things happen easily.  Either you're living in a dorm where you can't really cook, or you can't afford a blender, or you don't have cabinets in your kitchen to store stuff so you can't stock up on basics because you live in a ghetto apartment, or you simply work so much that the only way you could prepare meals would be to cut into time spent sleeping.  These are all examples that we've had to live through since being vegan, so I personally can attest to the struggles of these situations. 

What I'm trying to do here is not tell you how to live given your circumstances, but rather give information that you can use for when you are in these circumstances; when you are poor and working around the clock and can't really cook that often, it's so challenging to try to meet your health concerns, your ethical concerns, and still not look too weird at work when you show up with your lunch from home while the meat-eaters in the office look at you like you've got three heads.  With that said, There are a few things that work fairly well, and it's very simple to eat vegan on the cheap.

First Rule:  Don't buy brand names without coupons or sales.  Period, end of story.  There's no need for it, especially when you're poor.  If there is a great sale or something, stock up! 

Second Rule:  Always scan the clearance section for dried goods, canned goods, and produce that's getting close to expiration.  There will always be good deals here, and some grocery stores will bag a few bad fruits with a bunch of good stuff for a couple bucks just so they don't have to fill up their dumpsters.  They're practically paying you to throw the bad vegetables in your compost pile.

Third Rule:  Buy seasonal.  This can be tough during the winter, which brings me to rule #4.

Fourth Rule:  Store excess produce in the freezer when appropriate.  Berries, fruits, and some vegetables store well in the freezer.  If you can, or feel comfortable canning, go for it, although start-up costs can be a big dis-concerning.

Fifth Rule:  If you have room for a plant or garden, use it.  If you don't enjoy gardening and are looking at it from a practical perspective, choose the most expensive vegetables that you enjoy and grow those.  For most people, that means tomatoes.

Sixth Rule: Waste nothing.

Pretty straight-forward, right?  It's not complicated, it's just whether or not you can train yourself to not jump at the first delicious expensive thing that catches your eye.  Once you've trained yourself for those six rules, pay attention to the big ten foods you should be looking at to keep your bills down.

#1:  Dried beans.  Pound for pound, dried beans are the cheapest source of protein in the world.  Not only this, they will store for literally years without preservatives, so they are healthy and easy to work with.  Soak them overnight or boil them for a few hours (if you're crunched for time as well as cash, fill up a bowl of water and add a cup-- they'll swell to over double in size) and you can add them to your dinner.  You'll have to try out the beans after they've been soaked to make sure they've softened completely because the longer they've been dry, the longer it takes for them to soften, so you may need to soak a few days or boil as well as soak, which can been time consuming.  Soaked beans also are typically a bit harder than canned, and are often surprisingly different tasting than their canned cousins, which shouldn't be too surprising but should be slightly horrifying, since all they've added is preservatives.  Try out different beans, you may find that some beans you enjoy dried moreso than others.

#2: Rice.  Rice is a great way to create a base for just about any meal-- you can use rice with beans, with sauces, with fake meats and in soups.  Quick, filling and very easy to make, rice is cheap, reliable, stores well, and doesn't require a genius to make it. 

#3 Pasta.  Almost every vegetarian I know was always known as a 'pastafarian' by their family for only eating pasta when they saw them eating for the first time as a vegetarian.  Why?  Because if your family isn't vegetarian and they're not going to cook vegetarian, there aren't many options if they visit home.  They choose pasta because it's quick, filling, can be manipulated by its shape, grain, and sauce, and it's something they already know how to cook.  Added to that fact that it's cheap, and it should be no surprise that pasta works as a great base ingredient for vegetarians that are poor.  Another awesome fact that makes pasta even better is the fact that it's also high in protein (typically 6 grams per serving).  While many people shudder at the mention of pasta, thank you no-carb mentality, it's not the evil that many want you to believe-- civilizations have thrived on those grains for thousands of years!

#4 Dried lentils.  Similar to beans-- buy dried (although lentils are much less commonly found canned-- probably because they're not a popular American food) and soak-- although lentils soak much more quickly than beans.  You can use lentils almost the same exact way you'd use beans-- in fact, they are from the same family of plants!  They store for long periods of time, are incredibly cheap, are high in protein, and cook easily.

#5 Ramen.  Yes.  The dreaded Ramen.  Not incredibly good for you (although not as horrible as many tend to believe), but quick, incredibly cheap, and extremely portable.  The reason I bring in Ramen is because if you're as poor as I was, Ramen is necessary.  What's important to note is that the brand you buy does matter.  Of the two big American brands (Top Ramen and Maruchan), the only one that is veggie-friendly is Top Ramen's Oriental style noodles.  Typically sold for around 5/$1, you can't really complain when your lunch cost you $0.20.  Just don't make it a habitual thing-- once you've got a few more pennies, dish it out for something a little better.  We're fortunate that we live in an Asian neighborhood, and we have an Asian supermarket which carries a ton of brands that all have different varieties, qualities, and prices which help mix things up if you want something a little healthier but enjoy the portability of Ramen.  To return to the healthiness of Ramen, while it's been crowned the king of college foods from dorm to dorm across the globe, Ramen is simply two things; noodles and spice.  Don't forget that.  Vegetable broth, some spices for the unique flavoring of your soup, and noodles.  That's it.  Most brands don't include Monosodium Glutimate (MSG); your biggest concern should simply be the amount of sodium in these meals, which your body will forgive you for if you're eating more fresh (unpreserved) foods during the rest of the day.

#6 Cabbage.  This one shouldn't be a surprise.  Cabbage can be cooked in almost any way, and if you're not a fan of cabbage, maybe you're a fan of brussel sprouts?  If that's the case, just cook cabbage the way you cook your brussel sprouts-- they're almost the same thing!  Personally, the only way I can eat cabbage is in soups, unless it's red cabbage (salads) or bok choy (stir fry).  Unlike most vegetables, cabbage is almost never influenced by seasonal prices, which makes it a great ingredient if you can stomach it.

#7 Corn.  Corn during the summer is a god-send.  Sometimes sold at 10/$1, how can you beat those kinds of deals?  Freeze up as much as you can and stuff your face with the rest.  Steam it, bake it, grill it, blend it, add it to soups-- your options are practically endless.  Much like most vegetables, buying seasonal is the only way it's cheap, and corn probably fluctuates more than any other fruit or vegetable in price.

#8 Potatoes.  Seems like the Irish were onto something.  Potatoes are almost always cheap, can be stored for a fairly long amount of time, and much like all the other foods listed can be put in almost anything.  Soups, mashed, baked, grilled, and plenty of other ways can work to make the potato the centerpiece or peripheral part of your scrumptious meal.  The best thing about potatoes?  They're nutritional powerhouses, with almost every vitamin you need (not to mention phyto-nutrients, which is for another discussion), barring B-12.  Sweet potatoes are actually usually cheaper than regular potatoes, and offer a nice break in your potato consumption.

#9 Apples. Although seasonally apples are incredibly cheap, as long as you stay away from expensive supermarkets, they can run under a buck a pound, which is probably at any given point the cheapest any fruit will be that doesn't lose much of its weight from its shell (i.e. bananas).  Full of good vitamins and natural sugars, apples shelf extremely well for a fruit (especially in the fridge), and if prepared correctly, can be stored in the freezer for a long period of time as well.

#10 Carrots.  The orange carrot is cheap, versatile, and is full of great vitamins and nutrients.  With a price that doesn't really fluctuate and an incredible shelf life, carrots are a great thing to keep in the house.  Carrots work in salads, soups, can be grilled, roasted, and pretty much cooked any way you want to cook them.  A solid choice to keep in the fridge for any of your meal decisions.

So now you look at this website and say, okay, so what kind of meal do I make out of beans, rice, pasta, lentils, Ramen, cabbage, corn, potatoes, apples, and carrots?  That's not your goal here, your goal is to learn to use these as core ingredients (or, in Ramen's case, a meal or side dish) for your cooking.  When lettuce is on sale, you can make a salad with carrots, apples, and cabbage.  Broccoli is on sale?  You can make pasta with beans & broccoli, or soup with broccoli, potatoes, carrots, lentils, and cabbage.  See how it works?  By using these as 'core' food, you can build hundreds of meals without breaking the bank!  Now, we hope you find this helpful, and if you've ever got questions we're here!  Let us know if this helps, or if you found a way to have a cheap vegan diet!

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