There’s a phrase that goes around healthy eating circles that reads: “You are what you eat – so don’t be fast, cheap, easy, or fake.” No matter what the original intention of this statement was – I’ve seen it interpreted in very different ways – it’s often used as an alarmist or shaming tactic cloaked as an inspirational quote. It does have its merits. I feel much better when I eat salads, smoothies, and grain and bean bowls than I do when I have cookies, white bread, and vegan donuts. But there’s no reason to believe that fast, cheap, and easy equals bad and that “fake” can in any way be quantified. I’m all for the most basic meaning – that we should eat whole, unprocessed foods, and when interpreted from a vegan lens, all plants. I’m down. But when it’s misused, used without comment, or posted with disregard of how it may be interpreted by others, especially in the vegan community, I can’t help but cringe a little.
In a world where veganism – in every way a diet of abundance – can be misunderstood as inaccessible, restrictive, or dull, it’s not helpful to tell people they can’t eat fast, cheap, easy, or fake food. It’s all relative anyway. What is fake? Is seitan fake because it’s “fake” meat? Some might say so. But seitan could also be seen as a protein-rich food that has been very much a real food since the 6th century. This debate on the word fake is similar to one that goes on about processed foods. There is most definitely a spectrum rather than a dichotomy of real/fake and good/bad foods, and it’s ultimately up to the individual to decide what they are comfortable ingesting.
The quote also begs the question: what is wrong with fast, easy, and cheap food? Most of the food I eat on a daily basis is fast, easy, and cheap. There’s no need to create the impression that veganism is complicated or time-consuming. We should be redefining what it means to eat fast, cheap, and easy food instead of demonizing the categories. Taking 5 minutes to blend up a simple smoothie and pour it into a mason jar is in no way more inconvenient than swinging by the drive-thru for a shake and a burger. And if you want to be fancy with your smoothie and up the convenience factor, get one of those lids that has a hole in it for a (eco points for using a glass, bamboo, or metal) straw.
As mindful eating practices bring peace of mind and support digestive health, I generally advocate that people dedicate time solely for their meals. But even for the most well-intentioned among us, life can be so full at times that we find ourselves grabbing whatever food we can as we rush from one place to the next. That’s where fast, cheap, and easy really comes in handy.
If you have a busy life and struggle to nourish yourself with budget-friendly health foods, I’d like to provide some examples of what I reach for when life gets crazy. These are all fast, cheap, easy, or some combination of the three.
There are some foods that require no forethought (other than buying them at the store) and no preparation.
- Fresh fruit
- Food bars
- Dried fruit and nuts
- Green powders, protein/meal replacement powders, prepared green juice
There are other grab-and-go foods that take just a small amount of forethought and minimal preparation:
- Avocado toast. Top with whatever you want. Have fun with it!
- Rice and beans. Always cook in bulk to have leftovers for fast meals. Make it as simple or complex as you’d like.
- Hummus and veggies. I also sometimes pack a rice wrap to eat with them.
- Green smoothie. Opt for a 3-5 ingredient smoothie that will whip up in a flash.
These foods can go with you where you need to go. They will also keep you energized and prevent any ugly hangry incidents from happening. And as far as staying healthy on the go, it also helps to invest in a nice water bottle and to-go cutlery. My bamboo utensil set has saved me more times than I can count, and my water bottle comes with me everywhere to keep me hydrated all day long.
What fast, cheap, and easy foods do you love most?