Cold Tofurky

Thirty days ago, I walked into my doctor’s office desperate for answers as to why I couldn’t seem to shake the massive fatigue and dizzy spells I had unexpectedly fallen victim to. At this point, three weeks into my turbulent journey, I had confirmed that I was not pregnant, I’d had a urinalysis done at the urgent care that was normal, and I wasn’t suffering any allergic reactions that I knew of. I was eating food, but it was mostly the meals I could stagger in to pick up or food my family had prepared for me out of the goodness of their hearts. My doctor ordered lab work for me, and also made some suggestions for lifestyle changes that might improve my energy levels. While her recommendations had to do with increasing water intake and cardio exercise, I saw this as a turning point in my adulthood to make a change I had been contemplating for approximately two years. “I think I’m going to become a vegetarian,” I told her. She replied that she was a vegetarian, and that if I was truly interested in making the change I should take an additional B12 vitamin to supplement. I went straight from her office to the health food store to make some purchases, and when I got home, I purged our refrigerator of meat products, save for the frozen food items, which I told my husband to make disappear in the next few days.

When I announced my decision to change, most people around me were very supportive and encouraging. Of course, there was also the plethora of questions and doubtful comments, and I’d like to try to address those concerns and curiosity now:

1. This is completely and utterly about me, and nobody else.

Most people’s response whenever anyone shares any dietary choices or restrictions they’re following is usually along the lines of whether or not they’d be able to commit to the same regimen. I’ve done it too. “You’re a vegan? I’m not sure I could ever give up cheese.” I see the ignorance in a response like that now, because nobody asked me if I was or could be a vegan. Similarly, I didn’t change my diet so that the rest of the world could, and my criteria for who I keep company with hasn’t been affected by what I eat. I did this because it was something I wanted to do. No doctor, dietician, animal rights activist, vegan, or vegetarian coerced me into this decision – as I stated, I’ve wanted to do this for at least two years, but in 2013 to late 2014 I was pregnant then breastfeeding, and I didn’t think making a change during that time was the best move for me.

2. I’ve made other changes, too.

In addition to dropping chicken, beef, turkey, and pork from my diet, I’ve also cut my sugar consumption and substituted agave nectar as a sweetener for things like tea and oatmeal, and I’ve eliminated most processed snack foods in favor of high protein and high fiber snacks like legumes, fruits, and vegetables. I still eat tortilla chips in soups and while dipping guacamole.

3. This lifestyle is cheaper.

My grocery bills averaged around $250-$350 total a month depending on the time of year, if I was hosting any dinners, etc. The average cost for a trip to Sam’s Club or Costco was easily $100-$150 due to buying meats like chicken, steak, and turkey burgers. Grocery store trips were usually around $120-$200 picking up all things I don’t buy from wholesale stores like those and alcohol. I didn’t save my Sam’s Club receipts from last month after making the change, but as evidenced from screenshots of my bank statements, I only spent $47.74 on my first trip, and $61.22 on my second one. I did manage to save one of my Publix receipts…

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Screen grab from my statement at Sun State Credit Union. This shows evidence of purchases from both Publix and Sam’s Club. Those trips will last us about 2 weeks for groceries.

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One of my Publix receipts. You can see some of the items I bought, which includes whole milk for my daughter and other groceries like cream cheese and bagels for my husband. The total is less than $100.

I buy specialty foods like Neat Meat substitute, and Woodstock brand extra firm tofu from a place called Earth Origins. Both items are priced at $3.97 and $4.29 per package respectively, and one package of each yields at least three meals. This is cheaper than buying packs of cut chicken or pork from the grocery store, which average around $9-$12 per pack, and only yield one to two meals.

The idea that eating healthy is too expensive seems baseless to me. I think it’s the convenience of opening a bag of potato chips vs. having to steam broccoli crowns that turns people off.

4. My digestive system is on FLEEK!

Let’s not beat around the bush. Shitting on a regular basis is an important part of everyone’s health. Ask anyone who hasn’t been able to go for a few days and they will tell you that all they want is to be able to drop a deuce. The increased fiber I take in from this plant-based diet has regulated my system, making me a happy camper.

All in all, I’m very proud of myself for sticking with this change through the 30-day mark. It takes 30 days of repeated action for something to become a habit, and this habit is one that I’m happy to embrace. I hesitate to label myself as a vegetarian, as I do still eat certain fish like salmon and ahi. The term “pescatarian” doesn’t roll off my tongue as easily, and implies that I eat fish on a regular basis, which I don’t. I prefer to just say that my diet is plant-based – it’s largely vegetarian but I will eat fish. With that being said, I leave you with a glimpse of what meals without chicken, pork, turkey, beef, and processed foods look like:

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Eggs scrambled with bell pepper, black beans, and onion. Served with homemade hash browns and topped in salsa verde, all wrapped up in a flour tortilla.

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Quinoa and steel cut oats simmered in milk with strawberries and agave nectar. This is easily my new favorite breakfast food.

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Mixed greens with tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and farro.

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Of course, I still blend up green smoothies.

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Peanut and tofu str fry in a mixed soy and oyster sauce.

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Ahi tuna steak, asparagus, and farro.

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Mixed vegetable stir fry.

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Cobb salad with carrots, beets, tomato, onion, corn, avocado, and hard boiled egg.

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Pan-seared salmon and sautéed kale greens over barley.

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Plain greek yogurt with strawberries, raspberries, and agave nectar.

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Neat tacos with organic tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and avocado made with Neat meat substitute.

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Spaghetti in “neat” sauce, made with quinoa noodles and Neat meat substitute.

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A few of the new staples I use in my kitchen these days.

Black Bean Soup

I had a hankering for some black bean soup last week, and Mother Nature ushered in a timely cold front for me to contend with, so I searched the Internet for some recipes. This one looked most appetizing to me, but I made some tweaks to suit my taste as well as create enough portions that I could spread out over the week. My recipe is as follows:

Ingredients

4 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained, divided

3 celery ribs with leaves, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 lime

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

3 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) chicken broth or vegetable broth

2 large tomatoes

3 teaspoons ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 bay leaf

1 bundle cilantro, chopped

Salt to taste

Sour cream and chopped green onions for garnish

Directions

In a small bowl, mash one can black beans; set aside. In a large saucepan, sauté the celery, onion, red pepper and jalapeno in oil until tender.

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All good meals start with great foundational flavors. Sweating vegetables and herbs to get that is one of my favorite methods.

Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer.

Stir in the broth, tomatoes, green pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, hot sauce, pepper, bay leaf, remaining beans and reserved mashed beans. Bring to a boil. Salt to taste. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15 minutes.

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Discard bay leaf. Stir in lime juice. Garnish each serving with sour cream, cilantro, and chopped green onion.

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Fiesta in my mouth. Probably the prettiest bowl of soup I’ve ever eaten!

NOTE: Wear disposable gloves when cutting hot peppers; the oils can burn skin. Avoid touching your face.

Bonus: I threw some tortilla chips into my bowl after snapping the photo above. DELICIOUS!