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!!

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