My little sister is in that blissful and stunning month of self revision that proceeds a freshman year at college. I have taken up the task of outfitting her kitchen. She is coming down for a week in August to learn to prepare food, and I have promised to send her home with a list of healthful cheap and simple ways to start eating the sorts fo foods that make you feel well.

My sister does not (yet) read books on food politics or traditional foods. She is of a generation that reads a lot in very small portions (facebook, wikipedia pages, text messages). In preparing food guidelines for her, I realized I had to design something that would work into the way she sees the world. I believe in food traditions, in learning things by watching them done for years, as I did in my godmother’s kitchen. My sister has given me a week, not a childhood,  to teach her everything she needs to know about food. And she probably won’t read more than three pages about food unless she has a test. She’s dabbled in veganism, but has for the most part been a processed-food vegetarian for a good portion of her life. And she asked for my help “changing everything.” My family has a history of serious digestive issues (potentially due to our over consumption of soy products) and my sister is looking for ways to find wellness in food.

And even though she asked for this, I have to work on her terms. And her terms are “something to hang on the inside of a cabinet” and solve all of her “food problems.”  Which means simple foods, that are diverse, quick, complete. Foods that take no time to learn how to make and have endless possibilities for alteration. Foods that you can make on a college budget and fit into a college kitchen cabinet.

It’s a tall order, and I’m posting what I have so far below. I’m interested in suggestions and reflections, if anyone has the time.

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How to Not Die While Being a Vegetarian in College (Cliff’s Notes)

It seems the best way to promote health through food is to eat well long enough for you to be able to discern what “health” feels like and how your body responds to foods. When you reach this point in life you will be able to pay attention to your body, and intuit its needs. Do not feel like rules will solve your problems, or that food is the only factor in health. But do give food the credit it deserves: good food stimulates good digestion, good absorption of nutrients, good overall health.

To start, try to incorporate these five guidelines into EVERY meal:

  1. leafy green
  2. some other vegetable (or fruit, on occasion)
  3. complete protein (Beans AND grain, Seeds AND Beans, milk AND Grain, Eggs AND Grain)
  4. Digestive (raw or cultured dairy food, vinegar, fermented soy + sea vegetable)
  5. B12 source (raw dairy product, meat or eggs. 1 ounce of raw cheese with each meal will suffice-but don’t melt it)

EXAMPLES of Basic Combinations:

Morning:

1)      Oats and nuts w/ fruit and milk or kefir

2)      Smoothie (w/ veggies) and toast (or french toast or pancakes if you have time to kill)

3)      Omelette w/ veggies, cheese and toast

4)      Rice with cottage cheese, dulse flakes or arame, cooked veggies

Lunch/Dinner:

1)      Salad: (lettuce, nuts and seeds, sprouts, raw cheese or egg, + vegetable, vinegar or buttermilk honey mustard)

2)      Stir fry: (rice w/ braised greens and veggies on top, beans or lentils, curry or peanut sauce)

3)      Pasta: (cooked veggies, tomato sauce w grated raw cheese or butter garlic sauce)

4)      Dips: Pita or crackers AND raw veggies (carrots, celery, lettuce), hummus or egg salad

5)      Soup and Sandwich: (make tomato bisque w/ cultured milk and tomato sauce with a green or make light miso veggie soup (see below). Add onions and tomatoes to grilled cheese or hummus w/veg and sprouts)

REMEMBER: Many “good for you” foods are good only when properly prepared. Our family is prone to digestive issues so try to be rigorous about the following:

1)Soak anything that was once a seed (grains and nuts included) see quick soak solution below.

2)cook (with broth- which is hydrophilic) or ferment all leafy greens excepting lettuce

3)Eat whole foods. Avoid juices and refined foods. If you juice veggies and fruits, eat the pulp as a salad (with olive oil salt and pepper. so good) Buy single ingredient foods as much as is possible.  The one exception to this rule is the addition of cultures to  dairy products and fermented foods, which aid digestion, intestinal health, absorption of nutrients, etc.

4)When you do eat muli-ingredient foods, check ingredients carefully on all foods. Organic is not the only standard: Don’t eat any prepared food that you couldn’t make in your kitchen with whole food ingredients. (People can make cheese in their kitchen, but not hydrogenated oils or citric acid)..

SEED SOAK: cover Grains/Nuts/Seeds for 12-24 Hrs in 2 tbsp whey and filtered water before use. Do not let them soak longer than this because they will sprout. Call your sister if this happens and she can teach you about making sprouted breads or other sprouted foods.

WHEY/YOGURT CHEESE: Find a pastured (meet the farmer to know that you mean the same thing by “pastured”) whole milk yogurt that is runny and let it drain through a thin cloth over a mesh strainer into a bowl for 12-24 hours. Place a bowl on top to press additional whey out after 5-6 hours. If you let it sit out close to 24 hours the yogurt cheese will be more firm and you will have more whey, mix salt pepper and spices into the cheese and use it as a spread. Reserve whey for soaking seeds and grains.

QUICK HUMMUS: combine and mix these ingredients in blender: 1 can chickpeas drained/ heaping tbsp tahini/tbsp whey/tbsp raw AC vinegar. Add cayenne pepper, garlic and salt to taste.

QUICK MISO SOUP: start with bone broth. Add pre-soaked seaweed or seasalt/seaweed mixture and garlic as base heats. Add pre-steamed vegetables and cooked grains (great use of leftovers!). Remove from heat after 6-8 minutes. Stir in miso just before serving- do not cook it.

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Shopping List to Not Die While Being a Vegetarian in College

25 Items to “Stock the Larder”

1)Coconut Oil

2)Celtic Sea Salt and Fresh Pepper

3)seaweed varieties

4)organic garlic powder

5)organic cayenne powder

6)organic curry powder

7)organic cinnamon

8)miso

9)Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

10)Aluminum free baking powder & Soda

11)Seeds to sprout

12)mustard

13)Organic whole wheat flour (put in freezer)

14)Organic bulk fair trade brown rice

15)Organic quinoa

16)Organic sprouted whole wheat pasta (no additives) or brown rice pasta

17)Organic oats

18)Organic onions

19)organic garlic

20)Organic spaghetti sauces

21)lentils

22)canned beans (garbanzo for hummus, black beans, aduki)

23)nuts and seeds

24)peanut butter and sesame butter (tahini)

25) raw honey

Each week buy pantry items you are out of and these ten things:

1) 4 varieties of leafy greens (variety!)

2) 4 other vegetables (no more than 2 starchy root vegetables)

3) 2-3 fruit varieties

4) Organic raw milk cheeses (this might be your only available raw milk food if you can’t find a farmer, so stock up)

5) organic local free ranging eggs

6) Organic whole milk grass fed yogurt (no sugar added, really milky to drain whey)

7) Organic pasture butter

8) Organic grass fed whole milk cottage cheese w/ lactic cultures

9) Organic whole milk buttermilk OR plain kefir OR non-homogenized whole milk that you add buttermilk starter to from last week’s buttermilk

10)Sprouted grain (WHOLE WHEAT, NO ADDITIVES THAT YOU COULDN’T MAKE IN YOUR KITCHEN): either bread (w/ seed meal) or pita or tortillas or crackers

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A Word on . . .

Meat:

meats, if you decide to include them are better in small portions. Think of them as an ingredient among many rather than a main course. 1/3 of a chicken breast is sufficient for a meal in combination with vegetable proteins (grains or legumes). Save the rest for other meals (add slices to salads, make up chicken salad and eat small amounts with your meals, or dice it and add it to a stir fry or soup). Buy high quality pastured local bird meats. Get heritage birds if possible. Or wait till Christmas and ask your sister to bring you a bunch of frozen birds from a farm that she knows well. Wild caught salmon is better for you than tuna, and not currently endangered. Do not eat farmed fish. Animal broths are great sources of nutrients if you make them yourself, don’t use bullion, and if you buy chicken broth make sure it is organic and doesn’t have additives.

Soy:

only use fermented organic products. We don’t know the effects of Genetically Modified foods, but there have been horrific animal studies that show that they contribute to serious health issues, infertility and death.

Corn:

Buy organic and whole kernel. Do not eat corn-based additives. eat with lime.

Yeast:

Autolyzed yeast extract is the base of MSG. IF you eat nutritional yeast make sure it is low-heat processed so that it isn’t accidentally chalked full of MSG (which is made with a similar process, but at high heat). Candida runs in your family, so make sure that you eat yeast products AND SUGARS only irregularly. Mom and I get “MSG” headaches, so be aware of products that might have MSG yeasts in them that aren’t labeled as such. This happens pretty regularly, as MSG is an accidental by-product in many foods. See suggestions on processed foods below to help avoid this.

Processed Foods:

I know I’ve already said this, but it bears repeating: Check ingredients carefully. Eat whole foods. Organic is not the only standard: Don’t eat anything that you couldn’t make in your kitchen. (People can make cheese in their kitchen, but not hydrogenated oils or citric acid).

Eating out:

Don’t do this often, but when you do, chose a small restaurant that has rice as its starch base (Thai, Indian, Chinese, Sushi bars). Talk to the cook- They are often able to accommodate menu alterations that would reduce additives (cornstarch, soy sauce etc) especially with stir fries. Opt for white rice as they won’t have pre-soaked their grains- it is not as nutrient dense, but many of the anti-nutrients(that soaking would break down) are in the hull and bran.

Ask them to cook food in butter or steam it– tell them that you can’t have soy or corn oils. Don’t eat any animal that could be industry farmed (which usually means eat vegetarian). Unless they advertise all organic produce, don’t eat potatoes or onions, which have growth inhibitors on them that are really damaging. Don’t assume that the restaurants do these things anyway because they are “some cool vegan restaurant” or advertise making everything from scratch. Make sure you let them know you have food sensitivities, so that they don’t just think you are a bitch. Small organic-hipster restaurants are an occasional possibility but find out what is in the food- best bets for eating out at hipster restaurants are typically soup and salad.

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