WHETHER FOR HEALTH REASONS, environmental concerns or morality, most of us would like to eat more responsibly. Unfortunately, a lot of people think it’s too expensive. Most of us can’t afford to eat at pricey restaurants every night, and stocking up on gourmet groceries at Whole Foods isn’t much better. But there are ways to change your diet without going bankrupt.
THE DIET: VEGANISM
The challenge: Finding sources of protein that aren’t animal-based.
The solutions: Newcomers to veganism may be surprised to learn they can save money by embracing nonanimal sources of protein. The most popular whole grain out there right now is probably quinoa, which is high in protein and a source of other important nutrients. Despite its rising popularity, quinoa is priced comparably to cheese in most local supermarkets, and it’s far cheaper than beef or chicken. Other vegan proteins, like beans and lentils, are even less expensive.
If you want to perpetuate the illusion of eating meat, Chef Mayra of the vegetarian Pura Vida Bakery and Bistro says faux meats are often available for less than the products they replicate. “Trader Joe’s has great beef-less beef or chicken-less chicken strips,” she points out, “and the prices are under $3 per package, and it’s an average of 12 ounces per package.” By way of comparison, boneless chicken at Albertson’s ranges from $3.29-$5.49 a pound.
THE DIET: SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD
The challenge: Avoiding species that are being overfished or farmed in ways that damage the environment.
The solutions: The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program publishes pocket guides that break down the most popular species into three categories: best choices, good alternatives and fish to be avoided. What may surprise you, however, is that the best choices are often bigger bargains, while endangered species are frequently the most expensive. In the Aquarium’s sushi guide, for example, diners are advised to avoid pricey delicacies such as bluefin tuna and king crab, while more affordable choices like mackerel and big-eye tuna get the green light. Similarly, when shopping at your local grocery store or dining out, the guide points you in the direction of several fish such as trout, catfish and black cod that are more affordable than their unsustainable counterparts. (Download at www.montereybayaquarium.org.)
THE DIET: LOCAVORISM
The challenge: Reduce the carbon footprint associated with what you eat and support local businesses by purchasing food produced close to home.
The solutions: The easiest and least expensive way to source your food close to home is to grow it yourself. Short of that, hit up one of the many farmers’ markets that have popped up over the past few years. As anyone who shops those markets knows, they’re not always loaded with bargains. But Anne Louhela, who represents our state’s farmers through the Nevada Grown program, says farmer’s markets can save you money. “Local food does not cost more,” she insists, “but you have to know when to buy it.” When particular fruits and vegetables are in season, they’ll likely be less expensive at farmer’s markets than at your supermarket. When they’re out of season, however, the supermarkets will be your best bet. So she recommends buying seasonal products in bulk at the markets, and freezing them.
Carrie Hogan of the Fresh 52 farmer’s market in Tivoli Village has a few more pieces of fiscal advice. First, she says regular customers get the best deals. Second, buy at the end of the day because “they do not want to take their produce home, and they will deal with you.” For additional savings, skip the markets and head directly to the farms, particularly ones like Gilcrease Orchard in the northwest valley, where you save money by picking your own food. AL MANCINI