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You may be eating a good deal of vegetarian, and even vegan food without realizing it! Think about it: if you eat a toasted cheese sandwich, or a steamed artichoke, you’re going meatless. In other words, vegetarian. If you eat an avocado sandwich, and you spread eggless mayo on it, you’re eating vegan. Many foods that folks love to eat are either vegetarian, near-vegan, or totally vegan. People make fun of vegetarian/vegan food, without realizing they already like it! (They made fun of it a whole lot more in the 1970’s, when I got started. It could be dangerous to let folks know you were a veg-head.)

toasted cheese

Toasted cheese sandwich, with organic pickle slices and cheap but great Calidad brand tortilla chips.

Since you are already eating more vegetarian/vegan than you thought, perhaps you’d like to do it in a more mindful manner. Perhaps you’d like to cut down on meat even more, or cut it out all together, like I did. If so, let me share some of the wonderful foods you can eat and love. And, let me share some tips regarding how to pay less for what you eat, and organize your pantry. Please note: I generally make a one-dish/one-bowl meal — easy, filling and affordable.

First, though, take a look at this delicious pasta salad, which was really easy to make. It has no meat in it; but it does contain tasty sun-dried tomatoes, which have a nice, chewy texture — somewhat meat-like. — I just wanted you to look at the photo for a moment, so you could see what kind of yummy foods I’m trying to interest you in. And, yes, I prepared and photographed every entrée you see here. Most of the recipes are stored in my head, or made-up on the spot.

pasta salad

Pasta salad.

I had to quit my job when I contracted glaucoma. I moved into low-income housing; I live on Social Security retirement. However, for 2/3 of my life, I’ve been a near-vegan/vegetarian. I won’t eat meat, and I won’t eat unhealthy food. I still need to be able to buy a wide variety of wholesome, tasty ingredients, in order to keep cooking and eating the way I prefer. So I’ve adjusted things, worked a plan, and succeeded in eating well on a very low budget. The number one secret to my success: I do all of my own cooking.

Hey, check out the vegetarian chili, below. It has everything except the meat. But the sliced mushrooms I added seem to make a great substitute. In fact, the dish is 100% vegan. But you’d eat it wouldn’t you? It’s hot and spicy. It’ll warm up your insides.

vegetarian chili

Vegan chili.

I do not go out to eat. I can control the ingredients, amount of salt, sugar and calories in my food, by preparing my own meals. Fortunately, I love to cook, and I like my cooking. But I absolutely need to save money. In order to cook dinner an average of 30 times a month, I need a pantry full of staples, quite a bit of produce, canned goods like beans or tomatoes, items like olive oil and dried pasta, and a wide variety of spices. If I just mindlessly headed out to the nearest store and started loading up my cart, my food money would last me about half a month. Instead, I’ve learned to plan my menus, make shopping lists, buy in bulk, shop the sales, and go to more than one store. (FYI, I do my grocery shopping on foot. Walking to the store gives me some exercise; walking to more than one gives me even more!)

While you ponder upon that, check out these cooling salads, below. There’s a green salad with raw veggies, featuring homemade dressing; a crunchy Waldorf salad; and a carrot-raisin salad. Who doesn’t like salad bar? — By using eggless mayo, I’ve made all three of them completely vegan. But who would know or care?

green, waldorf, carrot raisin

With eggless mayo, these are vegan! Don’t like eggless mayo because it has a “weird” flavor? Try to get Trader Joe’s. It tastes “normal”.

Since I walk to the store, I can’t buy a month’s worth, or even two weeks’ worth of groceries at once. I couldn’t carry it all in my backpack. So, I write down seven entrees I’d like to have during the week. Then, I make a grocery list that includes everything I need in order to make those dishes. Since I stock up on staples and spices, and keep my pantry full, I will already have some of the ingredients on hand. But planning my meals and making a list are two keys to success. And, by sticking to my list, I buy only what I truly need. That saves money right there.

Hey, look: it’s African groundnut stew! It tastes amazing. You’d be lucky to find food like this in many towns. It’s basically a real easy-to-make vegetable stew, with a half-cup of peanut butter mixed in. And, it contains unique, wonderful spices. Your brain will be reeling when you taste this! It’s so unusual. — If you think it’s hard to make, think again! It’s very hearty food, and totally vegan.

african groundnut stew

Peanut stew. It may not sound delish; it just is.

For me to spend my money at a certain store, it must meet two of my demands: prices have to be reasonable, and quality has to be high. Here’s where I insert my “commercial” for Trader Joe’s. Hopefully you have a TJ’s near you. If you see a lot of seniors shopping there, it’s because we’ve learned they offer great ingredients at reasonable prices. We’re used to eating well, and now we need to do it with less income. So we flock to Trader Joe’s.

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I took this photo of the entrance to Trader Joe’s. They have nice outside displays.

I’ve recently learned of a store chain called Aldi, which is said to carry affordable organic foods. They have numerous locations in the America; and they’re planning to open 500 new stores. They also have stores in Europe (they were founded in Germany). See the link at the bottom of my post.

aldi logo

I had to go to the www to get this logo.

If you don’t have a TJ’s or an Aldi near you, then you definitely need to shop the sales wherever you do shop. — With your digital device, you can access sale information and coupons. Or, check your mailbox for store ads. — If you spend five minutes reading an ad or cutting coupons, I pretty much guarantee you will save bucks. Find out what’s on sale, and go stock up. Fill your pantry with non-perishables, bought at reasonable prices. Even with just my backpack, I can carry home extra cans of tomatoes, when I’m getting them on sale.

Oh, look: it’s an avocado sandwich. It’s got greens, heirloom tomato (acquired free with a coupon) organic pickle, and eggless mayo. That makes it another secret vegan food! I serve mine with Calidad tortilla chips. (It’s funny how one of the cheapest chips tastes the best.)

avacado san

Avocado sandwich with organic pickles.

Try to find a store which offers bulk foods and spices, and start building up your pantry. I found an expensive, high-end store (well, I didn’t have to look very hard — it’s the closest store to me). Most of its items are twice as high as they would be at Safeway, Albertsons, or Kroger. The same exact items are double in price!! But: they have a large bulk foods section. I’m able to buy, for example, just a couple of cups of basmati rice; and I pay less per pound, than if I bought it packaged. I can get pasta, beans, corn meal, organic raisins, peanuts, split peas, granola — all kinds of foods — in the amount I want, and at big savings. Even at the expensive store. And a lot of the bulk offerings are organic.

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I reuse jars and containers for my pantry essentials.

As I mentioned earlier, by stocking up on staples (rice, pasta, beans, olive oil, safflower oil, etc.), I already have those ingredients on hand when I’m making out my grocery list. I store my staples in whatever containers I have on hand. I save any glass or plastic ones that food comes in, and I reuse them. I’m helping the planet, and I’m saving the money I would spend on expensive containers.

artichoke 1

Cooked artichoke, with butter for dipping.

Wow, look at that: is that an artichoke? How do you cook them? Heck: how do you eat them? — Well, they’re easy. Cut off the top third (try a steak knife), pull off and discard (compost?) the toughest leaves down at the base, and then cut off the stem. Boil the artichoke for about 45-50 minutes, in enough water so that it floats. Invert it about half-way through the cooking process. Melt some butter (I put a little granulated garlic in the butter), break off a leaf, dip it in butter, scrape off the “meat” with your teeth. And it does have a “meaty” quality. After you eat all the leaves, you move on to the heart. (See the next photo.)

artichoke 2

That’s the artichoke heart, after I removed the “choke”.

Simply scoop out the fuzzy part — the “choke” — and cut the heart into bite-sized pieces. Dip those in the butter, eat ’em, and I’ll bet when you’ve finished, you’ll feel full. A good-sized artichoke is an entrée, all by itself. — I imagine you could make a dipping sauce using eggless mayo and spices, and make the dish totally vegan. Hey! I’ll have to try that.

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By buying smart, I was able to get all three of these products in organic, at good prices.

So, let’s say you’ve stocked up on canned goods. You bought a bunch, on sale. Your cupboard is brimming with staples. Well, it’s time to get your spices. Vegetarian and vegan cooking, rather than being bland and boring, is often quite spicy and “exotic”. You truly need a lot of spices, which can bring the flavors of the world to your table. — If you go to the conventional spice section of your store, you’ll see bottles and containers full of spices. They’re not cheap. Instead of buying some, once again, try to find a store which offers bulk items. In Seattle, several of the stores I shop offer Frontier brand bulk spices, which have, quoting them, “authentic flavor and sustainable sourcing. Non-GMO, non-ETO, organic and Fair Trade.” I’m not sure that many of your mainstream bottled spice makers can say that.

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Some of my spice “collection”.

And here is the key: you can buy as little as you like, and at a price that is way lower per ounce than bottled spices. You can find spices to make any dish authentic, whether it originates from the Cajun, Indian, Mexican, Italian, or Hungarian cultures. Rather than buying one bottle/container of curry powder for $5, you can use that same $5 to buy ten spices in smaller amounts. I can get a year’s supply of bay leaves for about 27 cents, when I buy them in small bulk amounts.  If you can not find a store with a bulk section, once again, try to locate a Trader Joe’s. Their bottled spices are about half the price you’d pay at a regular store. (Perhaps this is also true of Aldi; I don’t know, because I’ve never been to Aldi.)

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Little bags of spices from the bulk section, including some Frontier spices.

Look below! That’s garlic pasta. It’s just olive oil, fresh sautéed garlic and pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and Kalamata olives, spiced with dried oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley and nutmeg. I garnished the dish with genuine Parmesan cheese, because I have a saying: it’s not pasta without Parmesan. However, for those who want it, vegan cheese, including Parmesan, is out there. And, this excellent pasta would be 100% vegan, without the cheese. — Incidentally, I get my grated Parmesan at my (believe it or not) favorite drugstore. Bartell Drug stocks a lot of food; and they go for quality and low prices. I found they have the best Parmesan at the best price. That’s what I mean about going to more than one store. I’ve learned which stores have the particular items I need.

garlic pasta

Garlic pasta with Parmesan.

I’m going to give you a list now: it’s a list of spices you would do well to have on hand: oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, savory, parsley, bay leaf, sage, garlic granules, chili powder, cayenne pepper, cumin, paprika, coriander, dill, caraway seed, curry powder, garam marsala, turmeric, Cajun spice, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, vegetable broth powder, sea salt, and black pepper. — That’s off the top of my head. Those are the basic spices with which I flavor my near-vegan food.

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More good stuff, bought at honest prices. In fact, the cider vinegar was free, with a coupon.

I rarely add salt to my food. I think people should get most of their salt naturally; plus I prefer the taste of the food to come through. — Although I know some cooks say that adding a little salt makes a dish’s flavor come out. I think a low-salt diet may lead to a longer life expectancy, or at least to better health in one’s later years. As for black pepper, I just don’t care much for it. I’ll use a smidgen if the dish really needs it. I make sure when I buy canned veggies/beans/tomatoes that I get the low-salt or no-salt variety whenever possible. Trader Joe’s beans and veggies aren’t marked “low-salt”, but I find them to be low-salt. And! As you can see in the one of the photos up above, they’re organic. And they cost the same as a non-organic brand at a “regular” store.

Oh, this is like an episode of Seinfeld: it’s the Big Salad! I made this one with prepackaged greens (which I washed), grated carrots, walnuts, Kalamata olives, and Paul Newman’s balsamic vinaigrette (which I purchased on sale. Newman’s products regularly go on sale.) It was very easy to make, and totally filling, in a large size. — Another vegan food you probably didn’t think of as vegan.

the big salad

The Big Salad! For the Elaine in you.

When it comes to produce, I can often pick out the amount I want. I can usually get one carrot or one potato. But things like cabbages and cauliflowers are large, and you have to buy the whole thing. If I have to do that, then I make sure to use two recipes that week which call for that item. I save all bits/halves of raw produce leftover from making a dish. I try to find another recipe to use it in. If nothing else, I can make a veggie broth to use in a soup/stew. In the past, I didn’t buy bags of chopped produce; but then, I realized I could get a bag of excellent mixed salad greens for $2, or cole slaw mix for under $2. So rather than having to buy a whole bunch of lettuce and greens and cabbage, etc, I can buy one bag, use it all up, and wind up not spending as much.

Here is an amazing dish: it’s mushroom paprika, a Hungarian entrée. It was real easy to make. I sautéed mushrooms, onions and garlic, stirred in sour cream and paprika, and served it over linguine. It’s traditionally served over egg noodles; but I don’t eat eggs, so I used all-wheat linguine. I must say, I was very full when I got through putting this dish away! And it was so out of the norm. — It’s the paprika!

mushroom paprika

Mushroom paprika.

Did I mention I cook for one? I’ve been divorced since 2000, so I’ve been cooking for one for quite a while. Most recipes are meant to feed more than one person. But, rather than carefully divide them up, I improvise a little. I put the amount of potato I think I want into a given dish; same with the celery, onion, etc. I’m just using the recipe as a guide. I tend to spice my food in a casual manner. I rarely measure my spices. With me, it’s a dash of this, a pinch of that…. I spice my food to my taste. And, so can you. Don’t be afraid to tweak a recipe and make it your own.

Here’s a whole bean burrito, made from scratch. It’s kind of a juggling match to make one of these, so I don’t make them very often. I used canned organic pintos, salsa, tomato, onion and cheese, on a Trader Joe’s flour tortilla, to make this big boy. As you may have noticed by now, going meatless means eating foods from around the world.

Whole Bean Burrito 003

Juggling act.

I have a hard time throwing things away. My parent’s late 80’s-early 90’s food processor, which my then-wife and I gifted them, came back to me when they passed away. Well, it still works like new. Every time I use it, I think of them. It’s just a small, inexpensive Presto — what Mom asked for. I used it to make the absolutely delicious pesto pasta seen below. I processed just five ingredients: fresh basil, raw pine nuts, fresh garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Pesto is very simple to make. The only thing you “cook” is/are the noodles. In this case, fusilli. — Eliminate the Parmesan, and it’s vegan. Pasta is great food for near-vegan/vegan dining. It’s spicy, comforting, and Continental. When people ask me, incredulously, “What, as a vegetarian, can you eat?”, I have found the easiest answer to be, “Pasta”. Everyone can relate to pasta. I know five ways to prepare it, and I often eat it twice a week.

pesto pasta

Pesto pasta.

Why did I become a vegetarian, and what do I mean by near-vegan? Well, I grew up in Yakima, WA, where I actually worked beef cattle when I was a teen. I didn’t like the way we treated them. It’s as simple as that. And, when I hit 22 or so, I decided I didn’t want to eat any more meat. Ham started tasting terrible to me. I would hold a beefsteak under the faucet, under running water, for five minutes, to wash the blood out before cooking it. I was really getting squeamish about meat. But there was no vegetarian (no one said vegan then) culture in Yakima in the early 70’s, that I was aware of. I moved to Seattle in 1974, and when I got my own apartment, I serendipitously moved next door to a vegetarian couple. With their help, I eliminated all meat within two weeks. And I’ve never looked back.  — Since then, I’ve worked to eliminate eggs, and I limit the amount of dairy I eat. I use a little butter, and once in a while, some sour cream. I eat cheddar cheese, although I went a good 10 years without eating it. I’d like to be 100% vegan, but it’s too hard for me. I’m near-vegan.

One of the best things about eating near-vegan is this: I get to taste the foods that are eaten all over the world. Take for example the below dish. It’s a Palestinian chilled garbanzo bean salad called Balilah. It’s super-easy to make; but it tastes totally unconventional and fresh. I simply mixed chilled garbanzos (chickpeas) with chopped onion, lemon juice, olive oil, chopped fresh parsley, cumin, and a dash of black pepper. I made a little cole slaw to accompany it, from bagged cole slaw mix, chopped onion, peanuts and eggless mayo. The entire meal is vegan, but the meat is simply not missed. Ethnic foods have such an appeal that the lack of meat is not a factor. (I dried the rest of the big bunch of parsley which I bought in order to make the Balilah in my oven at an extremely low temp, and now I will have dried parsley for several months.)

chickpea salad, cole slaw

Balilah, with cole slaw side salad.

I almost never have to discard food, because I plan my meals, buy what I need, and use what I’ve bought. Not only am I saving when I buy my food, but by employing all of the tips I’ve shared; there is little to no waste. I’m getting my money’s worth, I’m getting the nutrition, the food is being used for the purpose it was grown.

It was grown to be eaten! This sumptuous dish, below, is my version of Cajun “dirty rice”. There are dozens, if not hundreds of dirty rice recipes. Mine is spicy. My mother hailed from the South, and she knew how to use spices like bay leaf, paprika, chili powder…. I spice my dirty rice with those and more — I included oregano, thyme, parsley, cayenne pepper. I simply cooked some veggies with those spices, and combined the result with white basmati rice, which basically cooked itself while I was busy sauteing the veggies. I have asthma. The hot, aromatic spices in dishes like this make my lungs feel better. They open up my breathing.

dirty rice 020

Cajun “dirty rice”.

Now that we’ve heated you up, let’s cool you down. Below are two American favorites: potato salad and (once again) cole slaw. My main focus for this meal was the potato salad; but I had leftover cole slaw mix which needed to be used, so after whipping up the potato salad, I made a small serving of slaw. Everyone loves potato salad, and if you make it good enough — tangy and interesting enough — people will forget that you left out the eggs. I used parboiled, chilled potato, raw carrot, celery and onion, along with organic dill pickles, and eggless mayo. I added a little of the pickle brine (juice) to add tanginess. The sharp flavor of the slightly burny onion mixes with the tanginess of the dill pickle, to pretty much give your mind a vacation. And the missing eggs are forgotten. — You can, of course add radishes. And, if you like, try adding some sliced black olives (not the fancy Greek kind; the regular old black olives that Americans like to eat at picnics).

potato salad, cole slaw

Potato salad and cole slaw.

What do I think eating near-vegan does for me? Well, at 67, I can easily walk five miles, ride a bike ten miles, do my exercises every day, do 100% of my shopping without a car, cook my own food, and do all of my normal cleaning. I have a wonderful friend who is my once-monthly housekeeper who helps with the deep cleaning; I take care of everything else. I can play a four-hour music gig with no break. My doctor told me about 15 years ago to look both ways twice when I cross the street, because he said I’m going to live to be 105!

Ready to see another pasta dish? This one is so simple. I just call it red sauce pasta. It’s similar to marinara or puttanesca. I made a sauce by sauteing sliced garlic and raw pine nuts, adding Italian spices (in this case I used basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and parsley), and then I poured in a can of low-salt diced tomatoes. I served it over pasta which cooked while I was making the sauce. — So easy. Yep, I topped it with Parmesan, so it’s not 100% vegan.

red sauce pasta

Red sauce pasta. Easy to make.

You basically need to make cooking your hobby. If you don’t like to prep, cook, clean up afterwards (hey, I do it with no dishwasher), but you still want to try this, then you’ll need to make an attitude adjustment. Recently, I was getting burned out on all the list making, shopping, cooking and cleaning, and I had to find a way to make it fun again. I started posting about my evening meal on Facebook. My FB Friends responded positively, we started a dialogue, and it became fun for me again. I can’t tell you how to make it fun for you, but I can tell you this: if you cook entrees similar to the ones I’ve posted photos of, the average cost of your dinner will be $4! Think about that. I hear a Big Mac is over $5 these days. (I would not know!)

Let’s alternate the hot and cold again. Here is the flavor of India. It’s a beautiful curried basmati rice salad (served with a carrot-raisin-apple salad, which I made to use up leftover produce). To make the Indian dish, I simply cooked and chilled some basmati rice. I added curry powder, sliced raw onion, almonds, organic Thompson raisins, orange juice and olive oil. The accompanying salad was made with eggless mayo, so this dinner was vegan. And who would care? People want good food. You can show them that vegan or near-vegan food is not “weird”.

curried rice salad, carrot raisin apple

Curried rice salad with a small carrot-raisin-apple salad.

While the above salad contained about one-half apple, I don’t buy a lot of fruit. It’s pretty expensive, it can have a rather high sugar content, and there’s all those calories. I was a fruitarian for over five years, when I was very active. But now that I’m retired, I sit around more, and I’m afraid if I eat a lot of fruit, I’ll get fat. I do have a protein shake for lunch, and I always drop a banana in, for the potassium (good to prevent leg cramps). But hey, it was fun being a fruitarian. I had access to a produce stand which offered cheap, ripe fruit of all kinds. I’d have ten kinds of fruit for dinner, along with a fistful of walnuts or cashews, for protein. I still love fruit, especially mangoes. I recommend you eat a lot of fruit if you are active and not in danger of developing a weight problem. It’s cooling.

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Seattle, WA in the dead of winter. Time to emphasize soups and stews.

Speaking of cool: what I eat when the weather turns cooler: during late fall, winter, and early spring, I make more soups and stews. Since I’m writing this in the dog days of summer, I’m not cooking some of those dishes; thus I have no photos to show you. But I make borscht; I make a great dish called winter soup, which contains numerous root vegetables. I make a split pea soup which I flavor with sage, or curry powder. It’s delicious. I make several kinds of bean soup, using dried beans, which I soak overnight, to lessen cooking time. I enjoy a baked potato with grilled asparagus or steamed broccoli. I make stews like ratatouille (which contains eggplant); or potato stew, with lentils.

Below is something really easy. The one processed food I will buy is an Amy’s burrito. You can get them with cheese, or totally vegan. Either way, they have great flavor. I get one for about $2.50, bake it for an hour (don’t “nuke” it — it’s not the same), and I serve it with Calidad chips and homemade guacamole. Guac is so easy to make. I simply mash avocado and mix in some salsa. In this case, I had leftover sour cream from making a mushroom paprika, so I ate it with the burrito.

burrito, guac and chips

Amy’s burrito with all the fixin’s. Please don’t nuke.

Two things about taking responsibility for shopping for and cooking all of my food: it’s mindful activity; and it keeps my memory sharper. I’m not just sitting down in a café, being served a meal; I’m not just putting something in the microwave. (I have one; I use its timer feature, not its cooking feature.) When I’m preparing food, I’m doing a lot of mental processing; I’m accessing my memory. I’m thinking about a complex activity. – Can’t be bad.

Split peas 002

Packed with protein.

We haven’t talked about protein. I assure you you’re going to get plenty. If you’re worried about it, be like me: skip a big hot lunch. Have a protein shake/smoothie. My protein powder contains 30 grams of protein. I make it with soy milk, which has seven grams of protein per cup. That gives me about 53% of my daily protein right there, in a low-cal beverage. — You need not “combine protein”. That was an idea floated by Frances Moore Lappé, the author of “Diet For A Small Planet”. She updated the book, and said she was wrong about having to combine protein. — For example, you’d make sure to have rice, if you had beans, to combine the protein and make it “usable”. She debunked her own theory. Just eat.

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Ironically or not, I took this photo at the Bite Of Seattle, a huge food event in Seattle. I didn’t buy any food; I just took photos.

Meatless meals such as the ones I’ve shown are healthy, full of nutrients, rich in fiber, easier to digest, simple to make, and yes, less expensive than meals which contain meat. You’ll probably feel more energetic, if you’re like me, once you start eating this way. You may have fewer colds. I hardly ever get a cold. I feel eternally youthful, I’m enjoying the great taste of my food, I’m confident that I’m eating right, and I’m very happy that no animals were harmed in the making of my meals! Go forward! And best wishes.

(This blog piece is about eating somewhere in the near-vegan spectrum; it’s not a collection of recipes. However, if you’d like me to publish some recipes in a future story, please leave a comment.)

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Desert:

Here’s a link to an article about Aldi (thanks to my friend Mike): http://wakingtimesmedia.com/affordable-grocery-store-goes-organic-bans-toxic-chemicals-products/

While I did not use it as a reference for my post, I highly recommend the book, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, by Rebecca Woods. It’s recently been updated. You can learn a lot about how to shop/store/use wholesome food. Here’s a link, for more info: http://www.rebeccawood.com/books/the-new-whole-foods-encyclopedia/

Here’s the perfect song to keep you lovin’ your veggies!

 

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