Let’s take a trip back to 2001. I was fresh out of college and busting my ass at a tech startup in the Midwest. It’s the year Wikipedia started, Napster got shut down, Apple comes out with this music thingy called an iPod and on a more dour note, 9/11 happened.
I’m getting worked to the bone at my job and because of that I not getting any exercise, I am drinking copious amounts of soda (my poison of choice: Mountain Dew Code Red) and I am eating a lot of crappy food. Think hamburgers, frozen pizzas, cheap meals from a can like Dinty Moore, fast food through a window, and frozen dinners I can nuke in the microwave. Mr. Everyday Dollar is a thin guy, but I was an absolutely unhealthy thin guy.
Then I made a decision to eat better.
It all started with a guy I was working with who was vegan. I said, “What? Vegan? Is that like Buddhism or something?” I found out it wasn’t and then I quickly called into question everything about the food system. At first I was mad at myself. How did I go 22 years without ever questioning all this food I was putting into my body? What was it and where did it come from and how did it get to that grocery store? Why hadn’t I ever thought about this before? I could go to the store, pick up some chicken breasts all nice and neat in a package in the meat section and not spend one second thinking about the journey that chicken took. I was completely disconnected from my food!
I picked up a book from the library called Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal and tore through it. I realized the socio-economic implications of eating at, and giving my dollars to, a place like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. How their workers are exploited and make barely enough money to live on; the suppliers who are at the whim of the huge fast food corporations; the people who work at the suppliers who are overworked and underpaid; the fact that the factory farms and slaughterhouses are hell on earth; and that the US government subsidizes a large part of it. It was sickening and I was so enraged that I decided to do something about it.
I immediately stopped eating at fast food restaurants and haven’t stepped foot in one in 10+ years.
But that’s not where it ended. Eating meat was a daily part of my diet since I was a little kid. I couldn’t remember the last time I went a day without eating meat. But I slowly started to change that and I would go one day without meat, then maybe a couple. Before I knew it I had eaten vegetarian for a whole week! It was pretty cool. I felt better and had more energy so I kept going. One week of vegetarianism turned into two and I was proud of myself for that. I have always been an animal lover, and have respect for all living things, therefore I decided that animals shouldn’t be raised just to be killed so I can slap them on a bun. They have lives that we share this world with and that drove my decision to stop eating meat altogether. I was vegetarian.
So besides feeling better, there are other benefits to not eat meat like the fact it contributes to global warming, the heavy reliance on fossil fuels, the use and consumption of staggering amounts of antibiotics and the link to lifestyle diseases like heart disease, some types of cancer and diabetes. Ancillary benefits no doubt.
My change from not eating meat also prompted me to switch to a less processed food diet.
I stopped drinking soda and switched to water all the time. I started cooking and developed a passion for it. I started buying and eating organic, and local when possible, food. I would frequent the local farmer’s market and talk with them about their farms and how they grow their vegetables. I was slowly saying goodbye to the big corporate food system and voting with my dollars.
One thing I made sure of was to replace my protein needs with foods like nuts, nut butters, legumes, tofu, lentils and bulgur. These are super strong foods and pack a lot of power for a low cost. Let’s compare the protein cost of one of my favorite legumes, the garbanzo bean (big shout out to hummus), with chicken:
Organic garbanzo beans @ $1.67 per can containing 24.5 grams of protein = 6.8 cents per gram of protein
Organic boneless skinless chicken breast* @ $10.65 per pound containing 112 grams of protein = 9.5 cents per gram of protein
*I haven’t purchased chicken in a decade, I got this price from the local food co-op where I shop.
While this exercise shows that the cost of protein can be cheaper with plant based protein I think it’s safe to assume you won’t be spending any more money switching away from fulfilling some or all of your protein needs to plants.
What can you do?
What I learned from all this is that it is possible to make changes, changes for the better. Not just with the food I put into my body but with my finances as well. You know, spending less, saving more and investing what you save. One of the keys for any change in your life is to set attainable goals and make changes slowly. By doing these two things you will set yourself up for success.
Additionally, really believing in the reason(s) why you are making the change will drive motivation to do it. And while I am not one of those in-your-face-telling-you-to-be-vegetarian people, I do believe in animal rights, and my form of activism is by making the choice not to eat meat and by voting with my wallet – one of the most powerful weapons we have.
And lastly, if you’re not convinced that a plant based diet isn’t worth considering, I would point you towards reading The China Study. I truly believe eating this way is better for our world and will help you live longer. (Also, Americans down 200 pounds of meat per year and something seems wrong with that.)
A typical food day for me is strong, super healthy, and costs very little.
Drink throughout day:
Stovetop espresso maker coffee
Smoothie – blueberries, strawberries, coconut milk, banana, plant protein powder
Trail mix or almonds
Peanut butter sandwich – sprouted bread, organic peanut butter, honey
Trail mix or almonds
This is where I’ll share a few possibilities because it’s the most varied.
1. Soaked oats, blueberries, strawberries, almonds, sunflower seeds, honey
2. Kale, black beans, carrots, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes
3. Couscous, arugula, lentils, zucchini, radishes, feta, almonds, vinaigrette
Kettle popcorn with a smattering of salt and butter