Saturday, 26 January 2013

Raw food on a budget

In my household, there are low fat raw vegans and low fat cooked vegans. Considering that I do the grocery shopping, I've gotten pretty good at sniffing out cheap deals on food. Comparatively, a raw vegan diet is generally more expensive than a whole-foods cooked vegan diet per calorie (unless you're lucky enough to grow all of your own food), but overall our household's food costs have reduced dramatically over the years. Here are five tips for reducing your food budget:
1. Eliminate animal foods. If you're finding cheap meat, eggs, and dairy, it's probably riddled with hormones and antibiotics. Not to mention fillers and random animal parts (chicken nuggets are a prime example). In addition, the animals were likely factory farmed, and treated in all manner of hideous ways.

I don't subscribe to the idea of "happy meat" for ethical reasons, but if we're thinking purely of health then it is probably a better choice than cheap and nasty factory farmed meat. And, happy meat is EXPENSIVE. Organic, grass fed, free range, yada yada yada costs money. For the cost of a single meal, you could buy enough plant based food to last a week.

2. Eat a whole foods plant based diet. Get rid of the mock meats, cashew ice cream, soy cheese, rice milk, faux burgers and hot dogs. The cost of processing these foods is passed down to the consumer. Minimal processing is cheapest and healthiest. Rice is better than rice noodles. Whole grains better than bread or pasta. Fresh fruit better than canned. Centre your diet around whole fruits and vegetables, and if you eat cooked food, around starchy vegetables, grains (preferably gluten free grains), and beans and lentils.

3. Eat seasonally. It is cheaper but also healthier and tastier to eat the fruits and vegetables that are in season. It's just heading into autumn in Australia now, and I can buy several kilograms of grapes or watermelon for less than a dollar. As much as I like to hold onto summer, the stone fruit and mangoes are getting expensive as the season draws to a close, and, frankly, they just don't taste that great anymore.

4. Buy in bulk. This goes for all fruits and vegetables that you eat frequently, like bananas. Ripe fruits and vegetables just don't store well so if you're not going to eat it all, have a plan for freezing your produce or split your purchase with a friend. Beans, lentils, and grains are easily and cheaply bought in bulk, and can be stored for long periods. And an added bonus is that these foods are incredible versatile and can be used to create thousands of different recipes. Who said that healthy food had to be boring?

5. Hit the markets. The closer you get to the source of your food, the less handling/shipping costs and the cheaper it will be. Farmers markets are a great resource for produce, and even for other items like nuts. The food is fresher and will last longer (and taste better) than grocery store produce. And, markets generally have a closing time when produce is marked down. Usually this is the produce that is too ripe to be stored, so it's win-win. If you visit the market in the last hour or two of trading, you can expect to pay less for your food than earlier in the day. This week I managed to snag a box of ripe organic bananas for $25 and about 7 kilograms of grapes for a dollar. Also I was lucky enough to score five red dragonfruit for $2 each - a rarity in Melbourne.

In the past I've bought whole boxes of kiwi fruit, apricots, mandarins, figs, persimmons, and mangoes for $1-2 each. Usually the fruit is perfectly ripe albeit with a few blemishes or mouldy spots (which can be easily removed).

Following these tips over the last few years, I have really learned to enjoy the seasonality of different fruits. This way, rather than trying to score a mango in the middle of winter, I can gorge myself silly in summer (and stock up the freezer if I choose) and really look forward to the next mango season.

As a bonus, the money saved can go towards a holiday somewhere in the tropics (like Thailand) where the fruit is always cheap!!

How to give up drugs without really trying (part II)

(For part I, click here)

Onto my other previous addiction: alcohol. Ah, sweet alcohol.

In all seriousness, though, alcohol addiction is a very real problem. Was I an alcoholic? To my mind, I wasn't, but perhaps others in my life would have disagreed. I was certainly drinking a lot of alcohol, many times alone or in secret, and often to numb myself or distract myself from something else. However, I did continue working and my job performance was not suffering. I had never drank on the job (although I will admit, the thought did cross my mind more than once).

I don't know when my alcohol addition started. I'm pretty sure after I turned 18, because I had finished high school. I remember, when I was living at my parents' house, sneaking nips of alcohol from their liquor cabinet. Eventually that progressed to buying bottles of wine or vodka, sneaking it into my room, and drinking it late at night whilst reading a book or watching a movie. I was probably consuming 2-4 drinks at a time, not a lot, but certainly enough to feel it.

The alcohol consumption really kicked into high gear during my postgraduate studies at university, after I had returned from a year overseas and had moved back in with my parents. My parents and I weren't getting on very well, I was stressed and overwhelmed by my coursework and part time job, and I felt isolated from my friends who were out in the real world getting real jobs and starting their lives. I wasn't drinking every day, perhaps only once a week or once a fortnight - but I was drinking a lot each time.

After I moved out, my drinking abated a little but then picked up again in full force, even worse than before. Most nights I would pour a glass after work, whilst preparing dinner. On Friday and Saturday nights, it would be two or three or four glasses. I was easily able to drink a full bottle of wine, although thankfully this didn't happen too often. Instead of binge-drinking, it was more steady throughout the week. I started having fewer and fewer "dry" days. My alcohol consumption continued well into 2011.

Coinciding with all of this was my continual exploration of a fruit based raw diet (for another post). It was only in mid to late 2011, even into early 2012, that I really learned how to do the diet properly.

Before I discovered a raw diet, I was drinking all types of alcohol (except beer, which I would only drink if I was already drunk). I usually bought hard liquor like vodka or rum or tequila, which I thought was cheaper and less calorie-dense than wine. Eventually I started drinking only wine, and this lasted for a few years.

As my intake of fruit increased, my tolerance of alcohol decreased. I started noticing that my physical strength and stamina was poor the morning after, even after only one glass of wine. Alcohol started losing its appeal, and I became aware that wine smelled "off" and "vinegar-ish" to me (well, it is fermented fruit). The thought of having a drink was no longer pleasurable. I got to the end of 2012 and realised that I hadn't even had a sip of alcohol for the entire year. Not even on New Year, nor on my birthday. Had I chosen to consume alcohol, I am sure that one whiff of the stuff would have set me straight. Interestingly, last month at our family Christmas lunch, I found myself being repulsed by the smell emanating from the open bottles of wine.

Like with coffee, I didn't use willpower. I intensely dislike "white-knuckling it". With changes in my diet, exercise habits, and mindset, these "bad" habits just fell away. In my opinion, that is the secret to successful and permanent habit change. When we try to remove something from our life, we are left with a gaping hole, often with no idea how to fill it.

If we think about children, there comes a time when they outgrow the rattles and start playing with blocks and dolls and trucks. How does it happen? They find other activities, other interests, and the rattles get sidelined until they are no longer appealing. There's no white-knuckling. There's no force involved. It's a natural progression into better habits that make the old "bad" habits fall away.

(continued here)

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

How to give up drugs without really trying (part I)

I always get incredulous looks whenever I tell people that I don't drink coffee or alcohol.

But it's true. I don't consume coffee or alcohol.
Even though I used to love them.
Even though I used to be addicted to them.

I'll backtrack. A trip down memory lane.

June 2009. Winter in Australia, which can get pretty miserable sometimes. I was drinking 3-4 cups of instant coffee per day, at a minimum. Plus, at least one coffee from the cafe, each day. Weekends, even more than that. I loved everything about coffee. I was 99% sure that there was nothing wrong with my habit - after all, almost every person I knew drank coffee. I thought I was pretty healthy - I had become vegan 12 months previously, I was exercising, I looked ok, etc.

But the 1% part of me had doubts. I was needing to drink more and more coffee just to feel "myself". Over the years I had gone from one coffee in the mornings, to two, and even to three on weekends. Without coffee, it was difficult to get going in the morning - whether I was working, reading, socialising, or working out.

It wasn't a calorie issue. Actually, I loved the fact that coffee had no calories. I used to drink mine without sugar, and only a splash of low fat milk.

BUT. The bottom line was: I don't like being a slave to anything or anyone. And by June 2009, I was well and truly under the thumb of the delicious roasted bean. So began my experiment to give up coffee.

I did my homework - sort of. I had heard that the withdrawals from caffeine are worst in the first 2-3 days. So I started my experiment during a long weekend. The withdrawals weren't too horrid, surprisingly (although I'm pretty sure I was still drinking green tea at the time). I actually managed to go for an entire week without coffee. I don't remember feeling all that different after that week, so the following Monday, nine days after starting my experiment, I decided to have a small latte from the coffee shop.

WOAH. I definitely noticed the difference in my energy, after just one week. I remember feeling buzzed and happy. But I also felt a little queasy and headache-y, which I now realise was probably the caffeine-induced dehydration.

I replaced coffee with tea of all kinds and coffee substitutes, and I didn't have coffee again
until October, around four months later. That ended up being a memorable day: it was a Friday, I hadn't slept well that week, and with a full day of work ahead of me I decided I could use the pick-me-up. I decided to be cautious in my consumption, since it had been so long since I'd had coffee, and I ordered a mocha latte (half coffee, half chocolate).


I remember buzzing to the point of jitters. I couldn't keep still and my mind was racing. I was talking at a hundred miles an hour. Anything I typed (reports, emails) was long and rambling. I drank that mocha latte at 10am and I was still awake sixteen hours later. That was it. I was under no more illusions about coffee. Something with that strong a physiological impact could not be good for me.

I continued with coffee replacements and tea, and I got onto chai lattes, which were so amazingly delicious that they sent me into a trance. I always had the goal of eliminating caffeine completely, and over time my consumption of green and black tea slowly dwindled. I continued with herbal teas, fruit tea, and chai, and sometimes even just hot water with or without a squeeze of lemon.

Incidentally, in late 2009 I started eating a fruit-based raw food diet, and in early 2010 I started doing Bikram yoga. I have no doubt that this had a positive impact on my avoidance of caffeine, due to detox effects and my increased knowledge/awareness of hydration.

With the increased consumption of fruit, all of a sudden the fruity teas and chai became less appealing. The teas, although fruit-based, never compared to the taste of fresh fruit itself. Usually, any "craving" for fruit tea just meant that I was hungry for fruit. The craving for chai was slower to dissipate. I continued drinking chai lattes right into 2011. Until one day I realised that it no longer tasted amazing. I was no longer experiencing that trance-like state (which, in retrospect, was probably the feeling of my brain cells firing up from the sugar). I am a stubborn gal, though, and I thought perhaps it was an "off" day for the barista. So I persisted with the chai lattes until I had to admit defeat. The chai just wasn't doing it for me anymore. And, at $4 a cup, it was a pretty pricey habit to maintain.

I don't remember my last chai latte, but it's probably been around 12 months. I do drink hot water and occasionally herbal teas (like peppermint tea) in winter, but otherwise I have no desire for hot beverages.

(continued here)

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Yep, another blog

Hi everyone! I've decided to start blogging.

Here are some of the things I like (in no particular order) and I aim to write about each one eventually.

Funny stuff
Hanging out with people
Visiting markets

Plus more.

Many of these are only recent interests. Rewind five years and my interests would have included: partying, meeting friends for coffee/drinks, shopping, going out to dinner, watching TV, smoking, and being obsessive about food. Oh, and complete and utter resistance to change.

No doubt, I'm a very different person now. But this blog isn't about my whining or inflating my ego. It's an acknowledgement of where I've been, who I am now, and where I want to be in five, ten, fifty years time.

I'll admit, I'm not the world's best journaller. If I scan through old diaries, I can see my entries are pretty sporadic - and even then, I tend to only journal when things aren't going well. Dwelling on negatives isn't the way to move forward, so here's to a positive focus for 2013!