Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mad City Vegan Fest Review

I am honestly torn on which direction I should write this post. This weekend was the first ever Mad City Vegan Fest here in Madison, WI. I was fortunate to attend with some friends despite the fact that it took place on father's day. My fellow vegan friend and I were able to drag our husbands and kids in tow to the vegan fest during the afternoon hours. There were some great things about the first ever vegan fest, but there were many negatives as well.

So, we shall start with the bad and end with the good!  The picture below kinda says a lot from our first steps into the venue.  Yep, it was packed to the gills!  (must mention I am not photographer, just someone with a point and shoot hoping to get a decent shot, sorry for not getting better pictures)  From the organizers standpoint this is a fantastic thing you want to happen especially for a first time event.  But for an attendee with cranky and tired little ones, it was not really ideal.  Luckily, my two year old slept through most of it on daddy's shoulder and my five year old just went with the flow eager to find the next sample to taste test.

The place was too small for all the people there and getting from one table to the next seemed like an eternity.  There were probably around 15 or so vendors and a few with food samples.  But there wasn't anything spectacular about the food samples (Tofurky, seitan, "cheese" samples to name a few).  Vendors actually selling food was beyond overpriced.  I would never buy a bag of six vegan cookies for $8, that is just crazy to me, especially being on a budget.  Which brings me to another thing that bugged me was the astounding high prices for vegan food samples vendors were selling.  Being that I am almost to my one year anniversary being vegan, the prices made vegans look like we have money coming out of our ears that we can afford food like that.  Wish there was a table mentioning how vegans can eat budget friendly healthy foods and still reap the benefits of a healthy vegan lifestyle.  Also never noticed anything about how to become vegan.  If I had not a clue about veganism or how to start to become vegan, there was nothing around to find this information.  I did see a lady carrying around a "How to Become a Vegetarian" booklet, but have no idea where she picked it up as I was looking at every table and found nothing. 

An interesting viewpoint from my five year old was trying to explain the clientele at the vegan fest.  As I try to say this as polite as possible, but veganism can be seen as an alternative lifestyle of sorts.  Which is why I had to explain to him why some girl was wearing safety pins in her nose when he asked or about the studded outfits and jewelry were all about that some guys were sporting.  It was definitely a place to people watch for sure!  

But on the bright side, there were hundreds of people that showed up that the organizers weren't expecting.  They even had vendors wanting to participate, but had to turn away as they just didn't have the space at the venue.  I know the organizers worked their butt off to pull this off and if I were them, I would be ecstatic on the response.  Now, they just need to find a bigger venue and hopefully have a table of information on general veganism for next year.  Plus, if I go next year, I am going with other fellow vegans and leaving the hubby and kids at home so I can attend the speakers as well!  Yes, mixed reviews, but I am looking forward to next years to see if they improve or not.  Until next year Mad City Vegan Fest!

My two year old napping on daddy's shoulder during Vegan Fest!

My unhappy 5 year old not wanting his picture taken in front of the sign.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cheap Vegan Grocery Shopping

When I think vegan grocery shopping, my mind goes directly towards Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.  That is great in a world where money is no object, but in my household and on our budget, I have to be realistic.  Since becoming a stay-at-home mom, I have had to figure out a way to provide my family with whole foods in the cheapest way possible.   
Yes, couponing does work, but many of the foods we eat rarely have coupons.  So many of the coupons out there are for processed food which we try to avoid.  But, I do take advantage of the double coupon days  at our local grocery stores and am very thankful for local blogs that provide match-up's (thank you Dannelle at Operation $40K).  They basically do all the work for me, I just go shopping with my coupons and save!

I could easily spend $600-$800 or more a month if I shopped at Whole Foods for a family of 4, but realistically I am trying to whittle our monthly food budget down to $200 a month.  Can I do it, well, I am close.  So far, I am getting to about $300 - $350 and that includes our paper products and diapers.

So how in the heck am I only spending $300 a month on food for a vegan, almost vegan husband and two whole food healthy kids?  My secret is Aldi's!  Yep, I shop at Aldi's and am proud of it.  We are fortunate to have three Aldi grocery stores in our city, but I go to the store on the opposite side of town.  It is newer, quieter and the clientele is a far cry from the other store closest to me.  No, they don't have very many organic items, but their produce has been top notch at amazing prices.  I really wish I could get all my produce organic, but I would rather get any type of fresh produce over a processed snack any day for my family.  We buy the dried beans, tortillas, cereal, produce, condiments, etc...  There are actually many options for vegans in Aldi's, but I am careful to not get their buns or bread items as they contain high fructose corn syrup among others.  Also, from doing some research I am finding that any item in Aldi's that has a "compare to....brand" sentence on their packaging really is from the name brand company.  For example they have a knock-off Kashi cereal that is vegan and on the box it says "compare to Kashi', it really is Kashi.  Why pay for the expensive Kashi in the grocery store when you can get the same thing for half the price or cheaper at Aldi's.  No brainier for me and our budget.
We still order our monthly organic produce from Share and also shop at Costco, the local grocery store Copps/Pick n' Save, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, but it is just for items I can get cheaper with coupons or refuse to buy as a knock-off at Aldi's.
So, where do you grocery shop and how much do you spend a month?  Are you a crazy saving shopper or spend whatever you would like?  I am proud to be a savvy shopper and proud to call myself an avid vegan Aldi shopper!
Aldi Grocery Store Shopping Tips:

  • Bring a quarter. You need a quarter to get a cart, but you get it back when you return the cart.
  • Bring your own bags. Bags are not free at Aldi’s, but you can purchase them for $0.10 a piece.
  • You have to bag your own groceries at the counter after you pay at the registers.
  • Aldi’s owns Trader Joe’s so if you are a frequent TJ’s shopper you will notice some similar products.
  • Everything is in the boxes it was shipped in and a lot of boxes are on pallets. This is how they save money and pass along the savings. Very little time ($$) is spent putting products out on the floor.
  • Just because it is sold at Aldi’s doesn’t mean it is cheaper than regular grocery stores. It usually is, but pay attention to the price and have an idea of what that price would be at your usual store.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The USDA's New Plate Controversy

Have you seen the USDA's new replacement for the food pyramid that came out today?  They replaced the food pyramid with a plate that shows how much a person should eat for their daily requirements. Personally, I love the new plate idea as it is easier for people to grasp of what really needs to be eaten at each meal.
But, I must say I love the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine's (PCRM) Power Plate much better that was introduced last year.  Plus, it is geared towards the vegetarian/vegan.  PCRM dietitians developed the Power Plate food guide, which is a simple, colorful graphic depicting a plate divided into four food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes. There are no confusing portion sizes and food hierarchies to follow; the Power Plate simply asks people to eat a variety of all four food groups each day.  For those that don't know, the PCRM is a non-profit doctor's organization that tried to sue two federal agencies for ignoring a vegetarian alternative to the traditional food pyramid, despite skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates.  It seems to me that the message was taken into account in some fashion to change the pyramid to the plate by the USDA.

Although the government is moving in the right direction with the plate idea, there is still a lot of controversy that needs to be heard.  The new federal MyPlate food icon that recommends Americans fill half their plates with fruits and vegetables is completely at odds with federal agriculture subsidies as it promotes production of high-fat, high-calorie food products. The PCRM points out that more than 60 percent of agricultural subsidies in recent history have directly and indirectly supported meat and dairy production. Less than 1 percent have gone to fruits and vegetables.

“The USDA's new plate icon couldn't be more at odds with federal food subsidies,” says PCRM staff nutritionist Kathryn Strong, M.S., R.D. “The plate icon advises Americans to limit high-fat products like meat and cheese, but the federal government is subsidizing these very products with billions of tax dollars and giving almost no support to fruits and vegetables. Congress has to reform the Farm Bill to support healthy diets.”

I know, I know, small steps right?!?!  Just wish that two of the most important foods that should be eaten for a healthy lifestyle are the most unsupported.  What are your thoughts on all of this?