10 things that are totally worth the money – even for a vegan minimalist.

10 things that are worth itMost of the time I’m thrifty, and in some ways I aspire to be a vegan minimalist.  I bought my Prius used on Craigslist a few years back and I gave up coffee in part, because of the expense.  I also hate eating out and would always rather prepare my own meals at home.

Despite my aspiration to consume less and live way below my means, there are a number of items I highly recommend:

  1. Vitamix Blender  I was in sticker shock the first time I considered buying one of these blenders too.  But after spending what seemed like twice as much as I would consider reasonable, the Vitamix has delivered on it’s promise of being the best. Blender. Ever.  It makes short work of frozen bananas for banana ice cream, and can even blend and slightly heat ingredients for amazing vegan soups.  It pulverizes almonds that you can turn into almond milk, and will make short work of any nut you want to turn into a nut butter. You can buy this blender and have it forever, or you can buy cheaper ones and buy a new one every few years.  It comes with a 7 year warranty.   It’s essential in any kitchen, but definitely in someone aspiring to eat healthy.
  2. Amazon Prime. 2 day shipping is the bomb. Being able to order trash bags, cat litter and the like instead of traipsing out to my local Target is priceless.  I have just started using Amazon Music as well, which is free for Prime members and has a gazillion songs to choose from.  I know there are other advantages of Prime I haven’t checked out as well, like Prime Video service and Prime Pantry.  This service will save you time and money, not to mention a trip to the store.
  3. Books  I buy a lot of books.  I also download ebooks from my local library when they’re available, but there’s something about buying a book that excites me.  I use an iPad to read my selections, and many times I re-read past purchases, which can’t be done with a library ebook that I’ve returned.  Don’t skimp on books. Buy them.  Read them.  Like Dr Neal Barnard’s new book, The Cheese Trap:  How Breaking a Surprising Addiction Will Help you Lose Weight, Gain Energy and Get Healthy.  Audio books are another great option from your library (for free) or with a membership to Audible (not free).  There is a free trial offer, which you should take advantage of to try it out.  Read (or listen) to some classics while you workout or in the middle of the day.  I listened to all 17 hrs and 36 mins of Autobiography of a Yogi  one winter while riding my road bike on a trainer.  Okay, no, I wasn’t on my bike for 17 hrs at once, but over a couple of weeks I completed the book.  Books will always, always be worth buying for your own enrichment but also to support the many authors out there that put their heart and soul into creating what is really a piece of art.
  4. Gym membership  I belong to a great Crossfit gym (don’t judge)
    and I pay a premium to belong there.  vegan minimalistEvery morning when I wake up and don’t feel like going I remember how much I’m paying.  I also remember that I have friends that go, and it pains me to think they’re there, getting stronger and fitter and I’m still in bed.  So I willingly get up a little after 4am to get ready for the 5am class.  I have yet to finish a workout and regret having gone.  If you don’t need a gym membership to motivate you, more power to you.  Most often though, the people I meet that are successful with regular physical exercise have a gym they love to go to or at the very least a group of friends they exercise with regularly.  Being part of a community that inspires you is worth paying up for.
  5. Organic produce  there’s a secret to eating organic – it’s easier if you buy in season.  For example, it’s citrus season right now.  Organic mandarins and navel oranges are available and inexpensive.  If I wanted organic blueberries right now, they would cost a fortune.  They’re not in season and may not even be available.  So I adjust what I’m eating to the seasons.  In July, I can buy organic blueberries for a reasonable price, while in March, I cannot.  So adjust what you’re eating and preparing to what’s available and on sale.  Eat simply, with fewer ingredients at a higher quality and you’ll find it much easier to afford organic produce.  Certainly, it’s not always possible to find organic, but at the very least make sure you’re buying the dirty dozen organic, and for some inspiration on why organic is worth it, watch this.  I also highly recommend buying organic coffee beans as well as rice, pasta and beans.  Okay, pretty much whatever you buy that you can buy organic should be.  Organic means your food will not contain genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
  6. A bike  not just any bike, but a good quality bike that is fitted for you and that you maintain regularly.  Regular tune ups are expensive but essential, as you want your bike functioning properly so that you actually enjoy riding it.  Don’t be “that” person with a dirty, greasy chain, under inflated tires and a seat positioned too low. Use your bike for errands, commuting to work as well as getting in a great workout.  Replace as much of your car habit as you can by jumping on your bike instead of in your car.  Not only are you saving money and benefitting the environment, but you’re also working your muscles and cardiovascular system.
  7. A dog  Yes, they’re expensive.  Between vet bills, food, medication and boarding when you leave town, no fiscally responsible person would ever actually get a dog if they crunched the numbers.  But of course, that’s leaving out the benefits of dog ownership.  I have two labrador retrievers, and I take them for a hike pretty much every morning at 8am.  If I don’t take them for a walk, I feel guilty and I suffer their wrath.  They give me the sad dog eyes and stare at their red leashes until I finally give in and take them.  Watching them scamper down the trails, chasing a tennis ball with their ears flapping and tails wagging makes me nearly as happy as it makes them.  You can’t help but get outside when you have a dog.  It’s practically required.  It’s like a built in alarm clock that tells you not to get up but to get out.  Ignore at your own risk.  Of course, don’t get a dog if you don’t have the time or desire to raise one properly.  But if you’re looking for some motivation to stay active and you have the time and desire, adopt a shelter dog.
  8. Regular charity donations I support several groups working for animal rights.  Instead of large yearly donations, I give on a monthly basis, automatically charged to my credit card.  It means I don’t forget to donate, and every month I get a thank you email that makes me feel good about supporting these worthwhile causes.  Donations to charity, whether it’s your time or cash, should be viewed as a regular expenditure and not something you do once in awhile.  Make some room in your budget and give generously and regularly.  Need some ideas?  I suggest PETA , Mercy for Animals and Farm Sanctuary, of course, where you can not only donate, but adopt a farm animal!
  9. Groceries – there is no better advice I can offer people who want to go vegan or raw vegan or just eat healthier than to prepare your own meals at home.  This way, you have control over how your food is prepared and the quality of the ingredients.  Give up the restaurant habit.  If you don’t know how to cook or what to cook, take classes, solicit help from friends or family that cook or buy a few good quality cookbooks and work your way through them.  Having the skill set to prepare some basic healthy meals is invaluable.  Not only will you be saving money, but cooking for yourself and others can be a very satisfying endeavor.  Shop at the highest quality grocery store you can afford, like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.  Buy produce in season and limit the amount of packaged or processed products in your cart.  You’ll be amazed at how inexpensive quality food can be, such as a giant bag of organic basmati rice, an organic avocado and beans.  These items are easy to cook and provide a great base for other items to be added to, such as grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes or coconut milk and curry.  After buying your own groceries and preparing meals at home, you’ll become so good that restaurant fare will pale in comparison to your culinary creations.  Did I mention I hate eating at restaurants?
  10. Hot yoga  classes usually range anywhere from $10 – $20 for hot yoga.  If you’ve never tried yoga, or specifically, hot yoga, you can usually find a Groupon or most places run specials for your first month at a discounted rate.  Find a local place and try out some classes.  I’ve been doing hot yoga for 6 years or so and it has really improved not only my flexibility but also my strength.  A word of warning though –  hot yoga is freaking hard! I remember the first few times I took a 90 minute class and thought I might actually die in that heated room.  Which is really odd considering I don’t mind the heat and it doesn’t get to me like it does most people. Places vary, but the heat is typically in the range of 105 degrees and you’re doing movements that get your heart rate up near where it would be if you were running sprints or riding your bike up a good incline.  Don’t be discouraged though…even though it’s hot and you’re extremely sweaty, the benefits of hot yoga far outweigh the suffering you’ll experience.  It’s extremely relaxing and rejuvenating to sweat a great deal and stretch your body into positions you normally wouldn’t get into.  So try it out and see if you like it.  As a runner and cyclist, I think hot yoga is the best investment I’ve ever made in my physical health, not to mention the additional benefits to my mental health.  It’s amazing how relaxed one can be following a good hot yoga session.


Why it doesn’t matter that you only eat humane meat and dairy.

As soon as people hear I’m vegan, I often get some variation of these statements…

I only eat cage free eggs

I eat grass-fed beef

I eat organic chicken

I buy free range chickens

I choose wild caught salmon

The intention, I’m guessing, is that since I’m vegan I’m judging them for eating meat (I am) and they want to let me know their cage free omelet is so much more humane than a regular one (it’s not).  Or somehow their cheeseburger isn’t devastating the environment because it’s grass-fed (it is).

But let’s get something out of the way immediately.  No killing is humane, nor will it ever be. Whether it’s a cage free chicken, an antibiotic free cow or a pig raised under some slightly less than horrible conditions, killing is always violent and never, ever a pleasant situation for the one being killed.

I mean really, should humane and killing even go together?  I’m pretty sure no animal wants to be killed, any more than you or I want to be killed. But I suppose there’s a suicidal cow or chicken out there that isn’t right for this world.

While I will always vote for better treatment of animals being slaughtered and appreciate all that animals rights organizations like PETA, MFA and The Humane Society achieve in making it slightly less terrible, it’s still ridiculous to think there is any possible way to kill an animal in a humane way.  Sorry, I just can’t imagine losing that argument.

The labels Cage Free! Free Range! No Hormones! adoringly plastered on your egg carton or written across that package of raw whole chicken shouldn’t make you feel any better about eating animals. Those animals still suffered a horrible existence prior to arriving in your grocery cart or the restaurant kitchen.

No amount of labels can get around that.

The idea that grass-fed beef is better for the environment is also another fallacy that isn’t supported by the facts.  Check out the excellent Cowspiracy documentary for a distillation of the facts as well as a most entertaining movie.

If you eat out you support factory farming…

People that want me to believe they eat the most pristine meat and dairy all of the time forget that they, if they’re merely average, probably eat out a handful of times or more during the week. How likely is it that when they eat out they’re only frequenting places that have the highest standards in regards to their meat, eggs and dairy? Very unlikely.

Sure, some restaurants are starting to change, including Chipotle and perhaps some additional reputable restaurants, but for the most part, if you’re eating out, you’re eating the very worst of meat and dairy full of antibiotics, growth hormones and plenty of extreme animal suffering.

It’s all in the name of profits, of which many restaurants are, rightfully so, very focused on making.  Margins are notoriously thin. This equates to using the lowest priced product possible in order to generate the highest possible margins.

Bottom line is you have very little control over the quality of ingredients anytime your outsource the preparation of your food. Obviously, you’re not shopping for the food or cooking it yourself. You’re relying on that restaurant to decide on the quality and to inform you.  But as it turns out, there are plenty of restaurants that aren’t exactly being truthful about the source and quality of their products.

The fallacy of farm to table…

Laurie Reiley, Tampa Bay Times food critic and professional take-down artist, just published an amazing article calling out several Florida restaurants for fibbing a little, er, a lot, when it comes to quality and sourcing of their food.  Restaurants menus and advertisements in Florida and everywhere are casually salted with terms like “sustainably raised, humane, natural, non-GMO, fair trade and organic. ”

The problem is, many of these terms are merely taken as fact and seldom questioned. Unless you’re Laurie Reiley.

The results of months of investigative work on restaurants, including reviewing hundreds of invoices, dozens of phone calls, interviews and meetings with farmers and purveyors produced one foreboding statement from her…

“If you eat food, you are being lied to every day.”

She found wild-caught Florida shrimp that is actually farm-raised in India.  Items listed on menus as organic and local were actually conventional and brought in from hundreds of miles away.  Fish advertised as Dover sole was very often not Dover sole at all.

No matter if the restaurant calls themselves farm to table or a new slick advertising phrase to come, the bottom line is you can’t claim to avoid the practices of factory farming and still eat out a lot. You’re eating food that you really know very little about not only where it came from but actually what it is.

What about the food at my local grocery store?

So let’s say you don’t eat at restaurants, because you care about your health, and you want to buy all your own high quality ingredients at your local organic grocer. Still, understand that buying, aside from the organic label, which has rigorous requirements, every other label has varying degrees of, well, requirements.  Or non-requirement.

Cage-free – uncaged, but no outdoor access
Free-range, free-roaming, pasture-raised and certified organic – all are cage free, and allowed outdoor access.

Many other labels abound that may or may not have anything to do with animal welfare, such as vegetarian-fed, natural, farm fresh, fertile, Omega 3 enriched and pasteurized, etc.  These labels require little, if any, proof from the food manufacturer that they’ve done anything different than simply pasting a meaningless colorful label on yet another package of misery.

Ok, so now what do I do?

The only way to truly know you’re causing the least amount of harm to animals and voting against factory farming is to go vegan.  Take all the misery off your plate, including meat, eggs and dairy.   Going vegan is casting a vote for more plants and less animal suffering.

It’s a vote against the giant CAFO’s that blight our landscape. It’s a vote against the insanely cruel dairy industry .  It’s a vote against the inconceivable idea that there is such a thing as humane killing.