There’s a little bit of shaming around coupon clipping and I’d like us to get over it. While I personally shy away from packaged foods, I know that my clients and readers can’t always shop like that, so I encourage coupon clipping, especially when transitioning to a plant-based diet.
Coupons are a great opportunity to try new products and save money, and more and more plant-based and natural food brands are offering coupons for their products.
Companies offer coupons because they want you to buy their products, so why not take advantage of them? A while back, a colleague posted a SWEET deal on her blog. She saw a sale on a popular nondairy milk at a well-known natural foods store that sold for about $2. She then went online and printed out a coupon. She ended up paying less than a dollar for it. Sometimes, you can luck out on a sale with a coupon and get the item for free!
Not only is clipping coupons a money-saving idea, chances are they will almost always coincide with a sale before they expire. What’s more, some grocers offer double coupons, giving you extra incentive (and savings) on your groceries.
If you don’t see a coupon for a brand you’d like to try in your circular, call the company directly and ask them to send you one.
The best food you’ll ever eat is the food you grow yourself.
It’s also the most affordable way to feed yourself.
For a couple of dollars, you can get 100-200 seeds (depending on the pack). If you receive SNAP benefits, seeds and edible starter plants are eligible purchases.
No matter where you live, you can grow at least one thing, even if it’s just herb pots on your windowsill, tomatoes on your fire escape, or a kitchen garden in your back yard or in a community garden plot. The possibilities are endless.
I won’t glamorize it: Growing your own food is work, but the rewards of the first bite of a fresh, just-picked anything from your garden?
Not to mention increased physical activity, Vitamin D exposure, and intrinsic health benefits that come from playing in the dirt.
When you grow your own food, you understand the work and the risk that’s involved. Your reverence for the people who grow the food you buy will deepen. And you’ll be participating in your own brand of food sovereignty, taking back control of a basic need.
If you have your own garden, send a note and a photo or two and I’ll profile you on my blog.
The one thing I hear again and again as I talk to people starting out on the plant-based path is how lonely the journey is. Many people find themselves with no one to get advice from or share experiences with. To avoid this, you have to seek out and build the community of people who share your values and experiences.
Here are two ways to build community around the plant-based lifestyle:
Join a vegetarian Meetup or organization.
Chances are, there’s a vegetarian society in your state that meets regularly. They may charge you a fee to join, but that often comes with perks like free or discounted goods and services from local businesses. If there isn’t one close to you, consider reaching out to the organization and asking them to assist you with starting a chapter in your city or town. Visit Meetup.com to search for clubs near you or start your own.
Join a listserv or online community.
There are hundreds of listservs and online communities that can help you make sense of plant-based diets and your experiences. You can get recipes, feedback on kitchen tools, and see what people are talking about and doing in their own lives. Search online at http://groups.yahoo.com or http://groups.google.com. You can also find groups on Facebook and Google+
Where else can you look for a community of likeminded people to break bread with?
Most New Yorkers, including myself, are lucky enough to live in an area with access to quality supermarkets that offers a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from all over the world, in and out of season, as well as farmers markets, community supported agriculture clubs, food cooperatives, and other alternative food buying models.
While it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy a seemingly never ending year-round bounty, we’ve lost touch with the seasons and take Nature’s cycles for granted. Obviously, some of us live in regions where we can’t get locally grown and in season produce either due to distance or colder climates on a consistent basis, but if we took the time to appreciate foods when they are eaten in the peak of the season they’re grown in, it will make a world of difference to our tastebuds and to our health.
Eating in season fosters an appreciation for the availability of specific foods, syncs our moods and bodily functions to the seasons, and keeps us connected to nature.
What benefits do you gain from eating in season?
Planning meals for yourself can be daunting, especially if you’re cooking for one. Eating alone can also make it easier for you to choose less than healthy meals or ready-to-eat meals that don’t give you much in the way of nutritional value or quality. So instead of opting for takeout, frozen dinners, cereal, or even ice cream, consider hosting regular potlucks. Potlucks are a great way to catch up with friends over a meal that doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Here are 8 tips for planning consistent and successful weekly or monthly get-togethers:
- Create a list of the people you know would be most willing to attend that share the same dietary preferences. By working with the same group of people, you’ll be best able to accommodate everyone without worrying about allergies or observances. This doesn’t mean that you can’t invite a meat eater or someone who is gluten-free, it just means that you’ll have more flexibility if your meals work for the most attendees, most of the time.
- Try to invite people who have the same social connections. If you invite 9 people and 8 of them are coupled, you could create an awkward situation for the single person. If more than half the group is into Hardcore and the remaining few are literary snobs, it might be an interesting evening for you, but the attendees may not be motivated to return.
- Choose one day and stick to it. Life happens, so you may not always be able to stick to it, but if you choose a set day (e.g., the third Sunday of each month), you’ll be more likely to keep the momentum going. If you know there’s a time of year where most of the attendees will have more pressing obligations (travel, midterms, other family or work obligations), skip that month.
- Cap the number of attendees. You’re not hosting a dinner party, but a casual and intimate gathering of friends preparing and sharing a meal together. By keeping the guest count low (no more than 10 people), you increase the chances of the group staying engaged and interested beyond the food.
- Rotate hosts. Moving from one host home to another offers a change of scenery and gives each host a break. Keep in mind that this will be successful only if everyone lives within a reasonable distance or has the space to accommodate the number of attendees (another reason to keep the number of guests small).
- Give everyone a job. If an attendee is unable to cook something, have them be responsible for the beverage. If someone doesn’t bring a dish or beverage, assign them to dishwashing/cleanup duty.
- Plan the menu in advance. Planning the menu and assigning specific recipes to attendees keeps you from having duplicate dishes or mismatched cuisines. You can plan theme nights, like Italian, Indian, or Chinese, and each attendee is assigned one recipe.
- Try to eat seasonally, organically, locally, ethically, and within a budget. You may be wondering how this can work, but it is possible to make a dish for less than $15 that will serve at least 10 people, and it is possible to source the ingredients in a way that is sustainable. Eating in season keeps you attuned to nature’s rhythms, buying organically is healthier for you, locally produced food supports your local farm and food economy, foods produced ethically ensures safe working conditions and fair wages, and setting a budget allows everyone to participate regardless of income. Sometimes, you may not be able to meet all of these “food rules” in one meal, so choose what makes the most sense economically and ecologically. The only challenge to this is the limitations you perceive in making this happen!
What would you add to this list?
Transition foods like soy burgers, texturized vegetable protein (TVP), soya chunks, seitan, crumbles, and the countless other fake meats out there may satisfy our emotional attachments to their animal counterparts, but these are highly processed foods that have little nutritional value.
Some meat analogues may also be high in sodium and contain fillers, thickeners, and binding agents to get it to look like the very thing you’ve chosen to abstain from. Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? Sometimes, you want what you want so don’t deprive yourself. The point here is to choose real food, whenever possible.
The most interesting (and highly annoying) observation you’ll make is the number of nutrition and food “experts” you’ll encounter as you make your transition to a plant-based diet. It will seem as though the people around you will have acquired degrees and certifications in healthy eating, nutrition, and vegetarian diets OVERNIGHT. Everyone: Friends, family, and strangers alike, will take a sudden interest in your eating and food buying habits and drive you crazy as they point out health concerns, inconsistencies, the latest nutrition and diet studies, “what vegetarians eat” or don’t eat, their own personal dietary philosophy, and other unsolicited opinions.
It’s important to remember that as well-intentioned as they all might be, you are transitioning because of your own reasons – reasons that may change when and as you see fit, and until you change your mind (if you change your mind, as sometimes happens on this journey). So, I invite you to take a few minutes to write down your own “food rules”. These rules should be flexible around your goals, your finances, and the accessibility of the new foods you’ll be adding into your diet.
Not sure how to create your own set of food rules? Here are some of mine:
Whenever possible, I aim to:
- Eat locally grown and produced foods.
- Eat real food.
- Eat in season.
- Support independent food stores (bakers, grocers, farmers’ markets, restaurants)
- Prepare my own meals.
- Abstain from foods that contain artificial ingredients, chemicals, fillers, and unnecessary ingredients.
- Abstain from overly processed foods.
- Sit down while eating.
- Eat with a friend at least once a week.
- Eat outside.
- Do the best I can to eat sustainably, organically, locally, and ethically.
When you’re done, stick it on your refrigerator door or kitchen cabinet so that every time you’re in your kitchen, you can read it and be motivated to carry on. But remember to be flexible. If a rule is not working for you, reword it or remove it. You’ll only stick to your new philosophy if it has meaning and value in your life where you are right now.