Dorothy Kemp, DC resident and member of the Bread for the City Client Advisory Board, recently took Allison, a Bread for the City intern, grocery shopping. Let’s join them as Dorothy shares her experiences with being happy and healthy with an affordable, plant-based diet.
Dorothy chose the P Street Whole Foods for our grocery shopping tour, because of the bulk food options. But as we enter the store, Dorothy makes a beeline for the vegetables. Tonight she will be cooking a quinoa and winter vegetables dish, but is quickly distracted by the leafy greens -- rapini and dandelion greens are her choices today. “Don't worry, these aren't from your yard.” These are added to her usual purchase of mixed salad greens, sold for under $5 a pound.
Dorothy, who has for years been eating a primarily vegan diet on a limited budget, laughs about the grief she gets from friends and family for her love of salad. “People are always asking: 'Why are you eating that?' Cause it works!”
“For me, not having meat is no big deal – I'm still healthy and hopefully the planet is a little cleaner. We have so much abundance and so many selections to make, and hopefully we can help each other make some of the healthier choices. And it's not just affordable, but you can save money! Beans over meat, whole grains in bulk, vegetables…. The meat -- I don't miss it!”
Dorothy's number one tip is to get to know the bulk foods section of stores like Whole Foods, with a wide variety of healthy whole grains, dried fruits, and nuts available more cheaply than in boxes or in pre-packaged meals. Whereas in the other aisles, a box of rice can cost $3.00 a pound, in the bulk aisles, it's only $1.69 a pound. In this video, learn two of Dorothy's tricks - knowing how much pasta is enough and knowing where to look for grains:
“Once a week or so I would try something different, try a new grain I didn't know, see if I like it,” Dorothy explains how she came to love quinoa – a seed that cooks like a grain but contains all essential amino acids and is a staple in her cooking throughout the year. (It sells for $3.39 per pound in bulk versus the equivalent of $6.00 per pound in other aisles). We agree all the options might be intimidating for someone who's never seen this section. “I would start with something that they're familiar with – raw nuts, plain rice. And then if there's something that they'd maybe heard of, or something they see on the list of grains, look it up and try to figure out how to use it.”
An incremental approach to eating healthier is something that Dorothy has applied in her own life and does not hesitate to share with friends. “I always encourage people to share what they've cooked. If you make enough to share, they'll usually say, ‘This is not bad!’” She's found that some of the main obstacles to healthier eating are attitudes about meat and sugar. With no shortage of creative alternatives, Dorothy finds that she can convince friends and family that other options exist. For folks who don't like beans, she recommends starting with hummus. Not interested in cutting out sugar? Try using less sugar and adding fruit and cinnamon to oatmeal.
“I like being 64 and being able to tell people I can still run for the bus, I can still bend over to tie my shoes, I'm looking forward to being able to live a few more years,” she explains. “Eat what you know is good for your body and makes you happy, and doesn't clog your arteries. And don't apologize for it!”
At the same time, the challenges of making healthy choices are not lost on Dorothy. For her, the idea of food justice means “everyone should be able to have the best quality food that you can have, should be able to have a decent meal on the table. In a country of such abundance to still have people who don't have access to good food – it's like how people don't have access to good healthcare. It is a right to eat well, to be able to nurture your body.”
Sharing good eating habits with neighbors sounds like a good place to start. Here are some other tips from Dorothy:
- Avoid the packaged foods. Why? “Too costly, too much salt, and you can make your own!” Steer toward the bulk foods aisle instead.
- Take one step at a time: We're brought up on a lot of meat and sugar and something like brown rice has a texture that someone might not appreciate the first time around. Mixing whole grains in with regular cereals for breakfast or combining brown rice and white plain rice, can be a way to transition towards healthier meals.
- Explore meat alternatives: Learning about how to sneak beans into meals for friends and neighbors was a highlight of our trip through the aisles - anything from cooking chili with vegan “meatloaf” to offering hummus as a snack.
- Bleach bath for your produce: Protecting yourself from the herbicides and pesticides on fruits and vegetables doesn't have to involve spending loads on organics. Mix a teaspoon or so of bleach in with a bowl of water and rinse your produce in it. This removes all the chemicals without leaving any taste of bleach.
- Olive oil and low sodium chicken broth: Cooking with a little of either of these makes for a cheap and easy way to add tons of flavor to your veggies.
- Get to know portion sizes: Knowing how much food is appropriate for your body can save you money as well.