Food Resolutions? Eat Vegan on $4 a Day: A Book Review

Margaret Riche is GRACE’s Public Service Scholar. Riche is in her final year at Hunter College, where she is studying public service, creative writing and is participating in the interdisciplinary Thomas Hunter Honors program. Vegan since 2008, Margaret believes that a sustainable future begins with compassion, educated choices and ethical consumption.

Here we are again; January brings its annual practice of New Year’s Resolutions, and none too soon, as many of us enter it repentantly, still full from a holiday season of gift giving and feasting. After all those year-end indulgences, getting fit, saving money and living more sustainably are likely to be right at the top of many Americans' lists this year.

Are these three goals at odds with one another? Local/sustainable food has been largely painted as overly expensive and even “elitist” over the last few years, and healthier whole foods can take a toll on the pocket book. Veganism, done right, is one way to eat healthfully and while it may  not be the only way, most Americans could stand to eat less meat. I personally don’t eat any animal products, and many of my friends have told me they would like to try veganism on for size but think it’s too expensive. Luckily, there are pioneers out there like Ellen Jaffe Jones, whose new book, Eat Vegan on $4 a Day, shows how a plant-based diet can be sustainable, delicious and economical.

The key to Jaffe’s plan is just that, a plan, and as a cash-strapped vegan myself, I found Eat Vegan Meals on $4 a Day extremely useful. This year, I'm following Jaffe’s advice and taking a little extra time to plan before heading out to go food shopping.

While her cookbook focuses mainly on the economic and health issues surrounding veganism, I wanted to ask Jones about the benefits of a vegan diet for our planet, as the environmental toll of industrial agriculture represents an external costs for all. In response, Jones quoted the UN report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which states that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” Jones went on to say that, “In comparison to other meat-consuming diets, a healthy vegan diet depletes less of the precious and fragile dwindling supplies of land, and more importantly, available water needed for supporting a constantly burgeoning world population.” Anyone looking to reduce his or her environmental impact this coming year should consider cutting down on animal products, and this book shows how to do that, cheaply and deliciously.

But Eat Vegan on $4 a Day is more than just a cookbook, it’s a game plan. An award-winning investigative journalist and financial consultant, Jaffe is extremely adept at concisely laying out the facts and figures. She teaches her main money-saving strategies, which involve buying in bulk, stocking your pantry with dried beans, grains and greens, and cooking from scratch. Jaffe also explains how consumers can save money by buying direct from local farms and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. Jaffe’s experiences shopping on a budget led her to to ten incredibly useful “Money Saving Tips,”  including the best way to navigate a grocery store (shop the circumference of the store and look beyond eye-level on the shelves),  how to buy in bulk (think eight-pound bags of dried beans) and how to keep track of food prices (she even includes a nifty chart you can use!).

Jaffe argues that a healthful vegan diet not only saves you money in the short term, but also in healthcare costs down the line. “If you're wondering why I started eating a vegan whole-foods diet,” she explains, “it’s simple: I wanted to cheat death.” When several of Jaffe’s close relatives died of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, Jaffe began researching nutrition and the treatment of livestock on factory farms. Jones explains that “a healthful diet based on unprocessed plant-based foods can protect you against disease…and (help) avoid costly trips to the doctor.”

Jaffe further explores the intersecting issues of health, finances and agriculture, including the relationship between animal products, advertisements, lobbying and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). “A great number of government policies favor the promotion of animal-based foods, such as meat and dairy, over vegan foods, such as beans, fruits and vegetables and whole grains” Jaffe explains. “The USDA sets advertising budgets for agricultural products based on how much money is collected for them, and by far the greatest funding goes to marketing animal-based foods.”

The key to Jaffe’s plan is just that, a plan, and as a cash-strapped vegan myself, I found Eat Vegan Meals on $4 a Day extremely useful. This year, I'm following Jaffe’s advice and taking a little extra time to plan before heading out to go food shopping. Her diverse array of recipes include breakfast foods, soups, salads, entrees, spreads, sides, desserts and snacks, with easy to understand instructions and clever names, and she even calculates how much each serving costs (sometimes as low as $.25!)  I've already tried two of her recipes and I'm thrilled to report they were delicious! Check out the slideshow to see pictures from my adventures in cooking “Pot-of-Gold Rainbow Stew” and “Carrot Cake to Live For.”

So  next time someone tells you eating consciously is too expensive, refer them to this excellent cookbook, and  tell them “healthy, wealthy and wise” just requires a little planning.