4 Ways to Enjoy BBQs This Summer

The best part of summer in my opinion is spending time outdoors with friends and family, laying around and taking in the sun. This weekend I’m sure many of you have plans to celebrate the 4th–perhaps at a backyard BBQ.

BBQs are a great way to socialize with everyone in your circles– from neighbors to colleagues, but eating at one can be challenging for veg*ns. Here are a few tips to ensure you have a fun time this BBQ season:

1. Help the Host: If you know that most of the grilling options served by your host or hostess will be meat-based, offer to bring a box of your favorite veggie patties. My friends have always generously offered to grill mine first to prevent the juices from their burgers from mixing into mine. You can volunteer to fire up the grill and get things cooking by throwing on your burgers first. My favorite burgers to bring to BBQ parties are Morningstar Black Bean and Trader Joe’s Masala burgers. By bringing your own box, you can guarantee that there’ll be something for you to eat. Plus, you may make new friends with other party-goers who are interested in trying something veg*n!

2. Enjoy the Sides: Most of the side dishes at BBQs are perfect for veg*ns. I can never get enough grilled corn in the summer. Common sides at BBQs include salads, fresh fruit like melons, and chips.

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3. Eat a Snack Before: Sometimes when I know my food options may be limited, I try to eat a filling snack like hummus and veggies before I leave. That way I won’t feel guilty snacking on potato chips all day.

4. Have fun! The very best part of summer BBQs is spending time with people whose company you enjoy. Kick back and soak in the sun!

Happy Fourth of July! How do you plan to celebrate the long weekend? What do you like to eat at summer BBQs?

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The Pros and Cons of Canned vs. Dry Beans

This post is inspired from the many insightful comments you shared with me on a recent post where I thought about what it is that drives people’s decisions to eat a plant-based diet. One idea I hadn’t considered but that several readers brought up was that perhaps eating veg*n is cheaper than a diet heavy in animal products. Cost-effectiveness is an important factor when thinking about daily meals.

Delving deeper into this idea of budget eating, I thought I’d write about beans—a vital source of vegan protein—available in different forms for different prices.

Canned Beans

I’d say the strongest argument in favor of using canned beans is convenience. After a long day at work, the last thing you want to think about is preparing a healthy and filling meal to satiate your growling tummy. Having canned beans in your pantry means that dinner can be ready in 10 minutes—open a can, rinse your beans, and add fresh or frozen veggies. You’ve got a meal ready for the table!

On the other hand, you pay a premium for prepared beans. I live on the east coast in a very urban city, and I’d say the average can of beans costs around $1. For $1, you get 3-4 servings—we’ll say 3 since beans are generally a main source of protein in our meals. At 33 cents per serving, canned beans are most likely cheaper than animal-based sources of protein (we’ll save that comparison for another post!) but not as cheap as making beans yourself from scratch.

One thing that worries me about canned beans is the potential threat of BPA and aluminum lining in the cans these beans are sold in. We need more research to determine exactly how much of the lining cooked beans actually absorb, but some people worry about aluminum because of its link to Alzheimer’s disease, and BPA because it’s been shown to have some effect on the brain and other organs. You’d probably have to consume a lot of canned products, including beans, to truly be concerned. I just wanted to throw this fact out there because some people actively avoid canned food for this reason.

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Dry Beans

Dried beans require advanced preparation before you’re ready to eat. Cooking time can vary, depending on how much you make at once, but you should expect to cook yours on high in the crockpot for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours. Preparing to cook them requires virtually no effort on my part—I simply place my rinsed beans in a crockpot, add in the water, and forget about them until they’re done. You have to remember think about your dinner plans in the morning, before leaving for the day.

The best part about dry beans is how cheap they are! One pound of beans in my area generally runs for $2, when there isn’t a sale. Each pound will yield about 9-10 servings. At that price, you only pay around 20 cents per serving! The cost difference between canned and dry may seem marginal on a per serving basis, but I’d say the savings definitely add up considering that beans are a staple in the veg*n diet.

If you want the convenience factor of canned beans, you can make a bigger batch of dry beans at once, and pour the cooked and cooled beans into small, serving-sized containers to freeze for later use. These cooked and frozen beans will last for up to one month.

That’s a lot about beans! I certainly have both types of beans readily available in my kitchen. For those days I’ve been out and about all day, a can of beans saves me from working up a sweat about wondering what to eat. Though there’s certainly nothing that beats coming home to a pot of fresh beans when I’ve remembered to cook them in the morning.

Which do you use; canned or cooked? Why do you prefer one type to the other?

Meatless Monday: Neat Tool for Comparison Shopping

Seems like I’ve been on full-on econ nerd mode these last few days but I just couldn’t help myself! A few weeks ago, the Economics Research Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, released a really neat interactive data visualization tool.

This tool allows you to compare the average price for practically any fruit or vegetable you can imagine, including dry fruits and fruit-based products like applesauce.

I had fun playing around with this tool and thought it could be of use when you’re planning your shopping trip. Produce can be one of the most expensive items on a veg*ns shopping list, but this comparison chart hopefully can help you get the most bang for your buck!

The Herbivore’s Ethos

My formal training in economics means that I’m a data lover at heart. Even more, I especially love making use of market design and analysis background in understanding what it is that leads people to make the decisions they make.

The other day, I read an interesting paper on various experimental methods that researchers hoped would lead to lower rates of tax evasion. It turns out, that appealing to people’s ethos– the moral obligation to pay one’s taxes as a civic duty—does nothing to increase tax payer participation.

This study got me thinking. What is it that drives people to make decisions about eating a plant-based diet? Is it a moral obligation to do our part in mitigating climate change? Along this larger-than-ourselves argument, maybe it is an ethical belief to value the lives of living beings as equal to our own. Perhaps the horrors of factory farming and the merciless slaughtering of animals who feel pain, happiness, and life the same we do leave us with no other choice but to follow a plant-based diet?

On the other hand, it could be all about us. The desire to be healthier and to lose weight is also an oft-cited reason in people’s decisions to turn to a veg*n diet. Animal and planet welfare is just a secondary concern, if one at all, in one’s desire to cut out meat on the path towards a slimmer figure. Juice based diets, after all, leave little room for consuming full meals. Especially filling animal products.

Surely some (like myself) are born-and-raised vegetarians who either carry on the plant-based diet out of tradition or a conscious decision to do so in adulthood. Speaking for myself, it was a combination of both.

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Plants and I are still friends today

I question plant-based eaters’ motives because surely it must have an impact on one’s long-term adoption of a veg*n diet. Once we arrive at our decision, what determines how long we’ll give up meat and/or dairy? Does the dieter, who, after witnessing unsatisfactory results in her weight loss goal switch readily to a diet less full of sugary fruit and carb-laden starches? Indeed, a paleo diet rich in meat might be the key in reaching weight-loss goals. In the veg-dieter model, eating a plant-based diet is only a means to an end.

Surely, we give up meat at a cost. When our friends insist on trying out the local hamburger joint or enjoying a fine dining experience at a steak house, we show up as the veg head ordering a salad. But we hold steady in our commitment to animals and the planet because we see no other option. The price we pay in the form of side-eyes and strange looks dwarfs in comparison to the strength we find in acting on what we believe to be fundamentally true.

Could it be true that the ethos affirming we are part of something more than ourselves be the sole driver of a devoted plant-based eater?

What do you think? If you follow a plant-based diet, what are your motivations behind doing so? What about others you know who don’t eat meat?

Meatless Monday: Gov. Brown on Veggie Burgers

You might have heard about the California drought in the news lately. California and neighboring states in the southwest (where I’m from) have been suffering years from a prolonged fresh water shortage.

Last week, Governor Brown took the time to talk with the LA Times about the water crisis.
You can watch it all here:

http://www.latimes.com/local/drought/la-me-water-in-the-west-live-htmlstory.html

Gov. Brown states that one of the best things we can do is to eat veggie burgers, rather than burgers made from beef. Producing a single burger requires thousands of gallons of water. Rather than pouring our all of our precious water into the beef industry, we can stretch it much farther by choosing a plant-based diet.

Thursday 2Go: Staying Hydrated

This week my friend encouraged me to try something new: making my own vlog! It’s a challenge hearing oneself recorded, but I felt that my message was too important not to share.

Watch my video for my 3 tips on staying hydrated on the go this summer:

(You may have to turn the volume up because I was truly out and about while filming!)

Green Washing at the Green Festival

As soon as I heard about DC’s Green Festival held this weekend, I set out to scour its webpage for more information. Touted as “America’s Largest and Longest Running Sustainability and Green Living Event,” I decided right away that this was an event I must attend.

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Boy was I in for a rude awakening when I learned moments upon arriving that this wasn’t at all what I’d expect a “green festival” to be.

Immediately as I entered the registration area, some interesting-looking furniture caught my eye.

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Unsure whether these chairs were a piece of modern art or held a more practical purpose, I took a closer look at the information post. These chairs were made from recycled materials like coaxial cable and zip ties. Fabulous use of creativity and repurposing, I thought. Then I read on. The cost per piece? $5,000! $5,000 for something that’s made out of discarded materials—I was shocked! Surely the average green-festival attendee couldn’t afford to outfit a room with furniture created from trash.

Frustrated but undeterred, my friend M(who graciously agreed to tag along with me) and I entered the festival. The very first “exhibit” we noticed was a BMW placed at the center of the hall. I wondered out loud: how exactly does a BMW contribute to a sustainable living festival?

Flipping through the event guide I found my answer. The Green Festival’s Platinum, Gold and Green sponsors (top donors) consist of Audi, Volkswagen, BMW and Ford. Coincidence? I think not! It dawned on me then—this “green festival” that was supposedly about “making ‘greener’ practical” was actually a thinly-veiled attempt at green-washing the worst offenders of global climate change: the automobile industry. It would have been one thing had these companies sponsored the event and discussed practical tips on reducing our reliance on cars. Instead, though, the hall was abound with raffles to win a car, opportunities to test drive one locally, and even lease one on the spot.

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This festival was ultimately a platform for all sorts of firms to sell products that were at best tangential to green living, and at worst, antithetical to a sustainable lifestyle. Green living doesn’t mean purchasing earrings made from upcycled glass bottles for $35. Nor does it mean using a credit card made from bio-degradable materials.

Overall, I was disappointed majorly by DC’s Green Festival. Sure the cooking demonstration by vegan celebrity chef Leslie Durso and the vegetarian food court featuring local eateries were nice touches. But these additions seemed more like an after though than a mainstay of the 3-day event.

Poor Leslie stood a cumbersome several feet above her cooking table, which was poorly equipped with a barely-functional hot plate. The lack of a camera over her work area left her audience in the dark and unable to visually follow along. Luckily she had the foresight to begin heating the water at the beginning of her demo so that it might come to a boil an hour later, at the conclusion of her show. Leslie did the best she could but clearly the organizers of the event had little interest in promoting one of the most powerful and effective lifestyle changes one can make to truly live green—eating a plant-based diet.

I had imagined much more from a Green Festival but perhaps that was my fault. Afterall, they were indeed successful in creating “the ultimate marketplace” to entice visitors in opening their wallets to spend a lot of our hard-earned green.