One of the most frequent questions I’m asked about the raw lifestyle is whether or not it’s expensive. This is a complicated question, because it depends entirely on whose lifestyle you’re asking about. If you’re determined to purchase a ton of superfoods, supplements, and dried fruits/nuts, it’ll add up. If you create five course dinners each night, it’ll add up. And if you shop all organic, you might find yourself spending a pretty penny, too.
GASP. Did she just say “if”? Yes, I did. Of course I support shopping organic 100% of the time, if it’s within your means. Of course I understand that the toxicity of non-organic food is troubling, to say the very least. But I also believe that there’s a difference between ideals and reality. In theory, I shop all organic. In practice, there are weeks when I have more grocery money than others, and during those weeks I’m likely to buy organic for the dirty dozen, and to buy conventional for other produce. I try to shop organic for any vegetables that go in my juicer; somehow, I just can’t get down with the idea of a pesticide cocktail.
My point, though, is that we all need to figure out which compromises are necessary to sustain a the lifestyle we want. I cut corners with organic when I really need to; I also shop on sale at my health food store for items like oils and Larabars, and I use the bulk bins for nuts and dried fruit. At the same time, I allow myself certain luxuries. I often buy juice, rather than making it at home; in my mind, I compensate for this by never dropping money on cocktails like most of my friends.
If you’re determined to maintain a plant-based lifestyle, it’s best you figure out which luxuries you need, and which need to go; where you’re willing to cut corners, and where you can’t.
No one has figured this out more beautifully than my friend Melody. Raw/vegan chef, photographer, and author of the incredible Melomeals blog, Melody recently won my undying reverence when she undertook a serious challenge: feeding herself and her two teenage boys on $3.33 a day. I won’t say anymore about why and how she did this–I’ll let Melody tell you herself–but I will say that her initiative must have taken superhuman organization, planning, and creativity. I was wowed by Melody’s efforts, and I hope you all will be, too.
* * *
In December of 2008 I was laid off from my job as a vegan and raw food chef, and I had to make some changes in my spending habits while I was out of work for six long months! One of the first places to cut back was my food budget. I realized that I only had 100 dollars a month to spend on food for myself and my two teen sons, who live with me part time. That works out to $3.33 a day.
I am not 100% raw, but I do incorporate a lot of raw food in my diet, especially green smoothies, and I did not want to give them up! Through trial and some error I was able to work with my limited funds and still enjoy a lot of great raw food!
I am going to share a few tips I have learned along the way, broken down into several categories.
• Pantry Staples
• Bulk Buying
• Choosing Stores
• Inexpensive Substitutions
• Organic Dilemma
Sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast, dried herbs, mustards, vinegars, lentils, various grains, sprouting seeds, sesame seeds, sun dried tomatoes, other nuts and seeds (these can be pricey. I found that sesame and sunflower seeds were the best deals) golden flax seeds, chia seeds, Kal Stevia, oats, wheat berries, spelt berries, quinoa, wasabi, Braggs or soy sauce, miso, coconut oil, olive oil, other oils, dried coconut, dried fruit and raisins
Just a few words about soy sauce. This is where I had to become willing to either relax about my standards or choose to not use the product. I feel this is a personal choice and what I did for myself and my family may not be right for you. I chose to buy a commercial soy sauce over spending eight dollars on Braggs or Namu Shoyu. I would rather use some soy sauce in a salad dressing and enjoy a beautiful raw salad. You may not, and that’s OK.
All you need is an old jar, a rubber band and some clean knee high pantyhose. Inexpensive and organic seeds are available at most health food stores or online and are one of the best methods for incorporating organic greens and legumes into your raw diet.
I’m not going to get into all of the various sprouting methods. Do a Google search and you’ll find all the info you need, but don’t think you need to buy any expensive equipment. I sprout lots of seeds, legumes and grains. I will typically have 4-8 jars going at a time.
I will break this into two categories. Buying in bulk and buying from the bulk bins.
Sometimes, buying a large quantity of food will give you a substantial discount. There are various online bulk distributors (do a Google search for the various items you are looking for). Calculate the cost per pound and add in shipping. If you find a great deal, try getting several friends to go in on it and share the product. You can also ask your local health food store if you can buy in bulk directly from them. You have to carefully calculate the costs, though, to make sure it’s worth it after shipping, and take storage needs into consideration.
I highly recommend utilizing your local health food store (or even some larger grocery stores now offer bulk bins) and buying your grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds form the bulk bins. You can only buy as much as you need for the day or week, and you can try out new items for variety in your day to day diet.
This is probably the biggest tool I’ve found. In my town there are three major grocery stores, and one of them is by far the cheapest. I can literally spend half as much on produce and other items at my local Market Basket compared to Shaw’s and Stop and Shop. Kale and collards are usually $.79 a head. I can get avocadoes for $.99 a piece, daikon for $.79/lb. Spend a couple hours going to different stores or look in the weekly circulations to plan your meals for the week. Many of the larger supermarkets have their weekly specials online as well. I usually wait for bananas to come on sale for $.29/lb and stock up. There are also discounted produce shelves in most stores if you know which days to look. It’s worth a call to the produce manager to find out.
Ethnic markets are fabulous places to find great deals. If you don’t have one in your town, find out where the nearest one is and see if you can carpool with a friend to check it out.
Inexpensive Produce and Substitutions:
I stock up on kale, collard greens, carrots, green peppers, onions, garlic, daikon, bananas, oranges, apples, bananas, chard, beets (only if I can also use the greens), limes or lemons if they are on sale.
I have substituted lemon and lime juice with vinegars. I know many raw people don’t eat vinegar [Gena’s note: I do! But prefer apple cider], and again, that’s a personal decision.
I use golden flax meal (that I grind from the seeds) mixed with water to replace flax oil in salad dressing. 2 T of flax meal to 1 cup of water will replace 1 cup of flax or other oils in dressings or sauces.
Sunflower seeds replace almost all nuts in savory dishes. Sesame seeds can be ground into tahini.
This was and is a big one. I had to give up a lot of organic produce. I wish I could afford to eat all local and organic, but I can’t, and instead of stressing about it, I choose to enjoy what I have. I will splurge as much as possible on organic produce if possible. I know this is not a popular opinion in the raw world, but it is what it is. We all make do with what we have and do the best we can, and the fact is that many of us can not afford to eat an organic diet.
That being said, there are options available to look into for procuring local and organic produce. I’ve already talked about sprouting. Most communities have some sort of community garden. You may have to call around, but spend the time to see if one of available in your area. You might even go to a local farm and see if you can work for food. Bartering other services with farmers may be an option, too. You never know unless you ask.
Farmer’s markets and local farm stands are all options, but honestly, I have found the produce to be much more expensive. It may not be that way in your community.
My daily raw food usually consists of green smoothies (made from kale or collards, frozen bananas and flax meal). I also eat a lot of collard wraps filled with veggies and nut pates, raw pastas with various sauces. You can check out my blog, www.melomeals.blogpsot.com to see more of the day to day foods we eat.
Here are several recipes I have developed and enjoy on a regular basis.
Meaty Marinara Sauce
2 c soaked sun dried tomatoes (save liquid for another use)
1 c sunflower seeds
8 c water
1 c fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
salt/pepper to taste
2 T balsamic vinegar or dry red wine
2 T EVOO (or more to taste)
4 T Nutritional Yeast
1 t dried marjoram
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 t fennel seeds
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
Mix everything together in a large bowl and process in two batches in either a good blender or food processor. Let this sit overnight if possible so the flavors will develop. Freeze leftovers for future use.
Raw Cincinnati Chili
2 med carrots
1 stalk celery
½ green pepper
1 serrano chile
3 cloves garlic
¼ c chopped onion
½ c walnuts or sunflower seeds
3 T chili powder (make sure your powder doesn’t contain salt, or if it does, taste before adding more salt)
1 t creole seasoning or salt
2 t cumin
½ t oregano
1/8 t cinnamon
¼ c nutritional yeast
5 sun dried tomatoes
2 c water
2 T chia seeds
1 c cilantro
2-4 T pickled jalapenos (optional)
Salt/pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lime
Avocado for garnish
Chopped onion for garnish
Cilantro for garnish
Soak dates and sun dried tomatoes in water for 4 hours.
Process all of the veggies and nuts one at a time in the food processor or chop finely. Place in bowl, then add the seasonings. Next add the dates, tomatoes and soaking water to the food processor. Blend until well combined and add to the bowl along with the chia seeds. Chop cilantro (I use the food processor) and add along with the pickled jalapenos, salt/pepper to taste and lime juice.
Serve on a bed of zucchini pasta.
I like to dehydrate the pasta for a bit and warm the chili at the same time, but you can eat it as is.
Raw Eggless Salad
3 c cauliflower, pulsed in food processor
½ c sunflower seeds soaked for 4 hours, drained then pulsed in food processor
1 c diced celery
1 c shredded carrots
½ c scallions or 2 T diced red onion or shallot
½ c nutritional yeast
2 t dried sage
1 T dried dill
1 T dried parsley
½ t garlic powder
¼ t turmeric
4 T tahini
4 T yellow mustard
2 T Dijon mustard
4 T relish
1 T chia seeds or golden flax meal
1 t black salt (or sea salt)
½ -1 t black pepper
½ c water
Pulse the cauliflower in processor and set aside in large mixing bowl. Pulse the sunflower seeds, and add to the cauliflower. Add the celery, carrots and scallions and nutritional yeast and spices (not the salt or pepper).
In a small bowl add the tahini, mustard, relish, chia seeds, salt and pepper along with ½ c water. Whisk well and pour over the veggies. Taste and adjust seasonings. Allow mixture to chill for an hour before serving.
Garnish with paprika if desired.
I hope this has been informative. If you have any questions, feel free to post there here or visit my blog at: www.melomeals.blogspot.com
* * *
Thank you, Mel, for your inspiring post!
I’m on my way home today, missing Chloe already. Stay tuned for a recap this week!