The Daily Beet

31 Jul Obstacles to Plant-Strong: Middle of Nowhere

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You live 4 hours to the closest Whole Foods. The nearest grocery store is 45 minutes, and is not that great. What do you do?

My husband and I have been traveling for 3 1/2 years, full time. We have had no official home base. We have lived in large cities like San Francisco and we’ve lived in tiny cities, the smallest population count was 150. And guess what? We’ve never had a problem eating plant-strong. In fact, oddly enough we tend to have a much easier time the further we are from ‘convenience’ foods.

So how do you become a plant-strong rock-star in the middle of nowhere?

1. Have a good attitude. I get so many e-mails starting out in dispair. “BUUUUTTTTTTTT I can’t do it!!!!! I don’t have a Whole Foods! I don’t have Trader Joes! I don’t have a veg. cafe in my town!”

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have those things from time to time. But seriously? Most of our long term studies done on the benefits of plant-based nutrition were in rural China. Guess what? They are really far from Whole Foods. In fact most of the healthiest populations on Earth are more than likely not relying on veg. cafe’s and organic markets.

So chin up! Put your best foot forward and put the excuses and “buts” down.

2. Figure out what your local store does well. So many the fresh produce is nothing to write home about. But maybe they have a great grains, beans and frozen vegetable and fruit selection. Awesome, you have enough to get you going. We have yet to find a store that does not carry non dairy milk, but you really don’t NEED non-dairy milk, you can make oatmeal just fine with water. Rip’s big bowl? You can use water and squeeze some grapefruit juice into it (this is what Rip does in a bind). The other thing – ask your store to carry something. We were in a very small coastal town in North Carolina in the winter, we’re talking BARE BONES, often the employees outnumbered the shoppers by a good number. One day, while talking to one of the cashiers I mentioned Ezekiel bread, she asked her manager and a week later they had Ezekiel bread. Turned out that other people on the tiny coastal town wanted it as well, it became a best seller. It can’t hurt to ask.

3. Join a CSA. If you can join a local CSA, that is great! Better yet, grow your own food! We’ve become so far removed from food, sometimes we forget if we have a yard we can start our own garden. We know not everyone can do this, but if you can, or if you can join together with some friends, it is well worth it. Good news, kale is VERY forgiving.

4. Shop online. My husband and I signed up for Amazon Prime – you get 2 day shipping on pretty much everything and it is really inexpensive (I think 79 dollars for the year). We order a lot, and we usually get it for cheaper prices than we can get at a major chain store. We order Uncle Sam’s, Barbara’s, beans, grains, oats, spices, nutritional yeast and more. Pretty much, if it is dry, we have found it. We have some of our favorite foods in our Amazon store (including some good traveling/camping food options).

5. Eating out. If you have lived in your town for a while, chances are you know the people at the places you eat out. And chances are they have vegetables in the kitchen, the might even have brown rice or potatoes. Go to the manager and tell them your situation, ask them if they could make something for you. We have yet to find a place that wasn’t willing to help us out. We’ve had some of our best meals in tiny places that had nothing on the menu we could eat, however when we asked for something off the menu? We were all set. Remember to leave nice tips and nice yelp reviews for businesses that help you out, they will want to continue to help you out.

6. Get creative, or not. My husband and I structure almost all of our meals the same way: grain/starch, bean, vegetable, leafy green. For breakfast I like oatmeal or quinoa he has a big bowl ever morning. Our lives are much less complicated, but not lacking flavor and we never get bored. We are also big fans of Jeff Novick’s Fast Food DVD and Burgers and Fries DVD. No need for special ingredients or equipment (we have 1 pot, 1 pan and a spatula).

7. Make it simple. Pick 5-6 meals to rotate in and out for a while. When you are tired of those meals, pick 5-6 more meals to rotate in and out. Sometimes we tend to over complicate things. Remember a lot of the healthier societies are mostly surviving on rice and beans and doing well. Part of the problem is that in our over sold to society, we have been introduced to 1000’s of tastes (most not good) we’re constantly looking for substitutes, when what we should be doing is looking for our tastes to change.

8. Start a dinner club. Not everyone in your circle of friends/church group/volunteer group has to be plant-strong do do this. See if your group of friends would be up for a plant-strong meal exchange. Put people ‘in charge’ of different dishes, even if it is just once a month. So someone gets the main dish, someone gets dessert, someone gets a side (and so on) and everyone makes enough for 5 people. You get together and exchange your dishes. Give them the plant-strong guidelines. Who knows, maybe they will all be up for a 28 day challenge! It is a fun way to get your friends involved with healthy eating.

9. Stock up. There have been a few times where my husband and I knew we were going to be a few hours from a grocery store. So we buy some freezer bags, ice and we stock up. We also have a bunch of dried goods sent to us. We did this once for a 2 month stay, and things worked out just fine.

10. Prep ahead. To make things easier for yourself, prep your food ahead of time. Pick a couple of hours on the weekend, get the entire family involved. Chop, dice, mix, stir. Prepare meals, you can freeze almost anything just fine, but for the week most things hold up just fine in the refrigerator.

Bottom line, while living in the middle of nowhere can present its own obstacles, it should not stop you from getting plant-strong!

Do you live in the middle of nowhere? What is your strategy?

Natala Constantine
A few years ago Natala was on almost 15 medications daily, had out of control Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, issues with nerve damage, and was morbidly obese. She decided to take her life back by adopting a plant-based diet, and has since lost over 200 pounds and no longer needs medication. Natala became passionate about nutrition, received her Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University, and now works with Rip Esselstyn and The Engine 2 Diet team.
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Natala Constantine
  • Kate
    Posted at 08:41h, 31 July

    I too live in the middle of nowhere. It is challenging to find decent food but not impossible. Especially after I learned to make SNAP meals, eating a plant strong diet is easy peasy. I shop online for soy and glutten free miso. I ask the store to carry this or that. I buy grains, beans, and frozen stuff in bulk to stay out of the store as much as possible. I grow micro greens and sprouts indoors in winter and other garden stuff outdoors in summer. When traveling, I take a portable butane stove and cook meals similar to Vegan Unplugged and SNAP that have been made plant perfect. I also take a blender to make green smoothies. Challenges don’t faze me anymore, because I look at them as ways to grow and exercise my grey matter, an excellent deterrent of dementia. So when things get frustrating, take a deep breath and thank God for the health and growth opportunity.

    • Dinah Brown
      Posted at 17:24h, 31 July

      Amen to that . . . way to go! I’m not familiar with ‘Vegan Unplugged’ or ‘SNAP’ but I’ll have to look into them! Keep it up. And—was this article written by Natala?? I thought she worked at the Engine 2 Office/home base?

      • Engine 2 Team
        Posted at 20:01h, 31 July

        Nope, I trave full time 🙂
        I visit Austin though.

        • Engine 2 Team
          Posted at 20:02h, 31 July

          E2 is a VERY small operation 🙂

    • Lisa
      Posted at 18:49h, 31 July

      What is SNAP? I can’t seem to find it on Google…found Vegan Unplugged but not SNAP. Thanks!

      • wildflower
        Posted at 06:36h, 01 August

        Hello Lisa, I believe SNAP refers to Jeff Novick’s ‘Simple Nutrititious & Affordable Plan’. He describes it on Dr John McDougall’s website, where he has his own board.

        If this direct link doesn’t work, you’ll find the SNAP thread in Jeff Novick’s board on that site. http://www.drmcdougall.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=10519

        NOvick and Dr Mcdougall are all about simplicity (plant based of course) which is something I really like. Hope this helps. 🙂

  • Dinah Brown
    Posted at 17:25h, 31 July

    Oh & btw, beautiful gorgeous picture of you, Natala! ! Keep it up, too!

  • Karen Aherne
    Posted at 18:37h, 31 July

    We don’t really live in the middle of nowhere but we do NOT have any Vegan restaurants locally, or even within a decent driving distance. I have a Casein intollerance so I NEVER take a chance eating out. Steve and I make WONDERFUL meals at home. I know people think it’s TOO HARD to cook all the time. To that I gie a big fat raspberry! It isn’t too hard for lots of women to take 30 minutes to “get their face on” in the morning, so then why is it too hard to take 30 minutes to save your life everyday? We are the healthiest we have ever been in our lives RIGHT NOW and we are at 50!

  • Evie
    Posted at 18:37h, 31 July

    I also live in the middle of nowhere (farm country). It’s actually better than living in a big city because I get all my produce straight from the farm. There are so many co-ops, farmer’s stands, farmer’s markets… etc. it’s BETTER than Whole Foods. In fact, I’m pretty sure Whole Foods gets its produce from this area!

  • Kathy McLean
    Posted at 19:05h, 31 July

    WOW! Natala thanks for that post. It just made me more determined to change my life. I am starting “officially” the 28 day challenge AUG 1st. I have been semi plant based diet since May 28th. Thanks again to you and ENGINE 2. BTW you do look great!!!

  • Heather Wellman
    Posted at 19:19h, 31 July

    We eat at home a lot! But I think the tip about talking to your grocer. Ours didn’t carry tahini. So, I asked. Turns out he had to order it twice in one month because it kept flying off the shelf. Who knew? We also eat the same meals pretty much all the time. I thought the kids would hate it by now, so I asked them if they wanted to try something new. They said, “Nah, we like it.” I guess that is good. But mostly, we just remember that no matter where we are, we can always eat a salad or have watermelon or something. That helps.

  • Ami Mackey
    Posted at 20:37h, 31 July

    We could eat beans and rice daily too. Bill loves oatmeal for breakfast – with blueberries and bananas EVERY day. I like to mix it up at breakfast. That is the beauty of oatmeal…you can completely change the flavor by mixing in different fruit. I love it with frozen pineapple chunks and cinnamon!

  • Barb
    Posted at 21:25h, 31 July

    Thanks for the ideas on “living in the middle of nowhere” and staying plant strong. My husband and I travel for 6 months in our RV and I stock up on oatmeal, steel cut oats, barley, quinoa,beans, rice, spices, etc. to make it easier to fix meals. We actually eat most of our meals at “home” and take along homemade hummus sandwiches, fruit and veggies for lunch when we are out hiking, bicycling, fishing, etc. I carry our favorite plant strong recipes so I stay on track to fix simple easy meals. Love your idea of rotating 5-6 meals in and out to make planning easier.

  • Phyllis
    Posted at 21:52h, 31 July

    Who wants to give out 5-6 recipes so I can get started? I am one of those who live 45 min from the grocery store! I also wonder what to pack for lunches for kids. Ideas?

  • Jude
    Posted at 23:28h, 31 July

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for the link to your Amazon store! It is such a help not to have to spend hours trying to figure out what can be ordered there. Amazon Prime is getting more and more attractive.

  • mary
    Posted at 03:27h, 01 August

    Love this! Your articles are always on point with concerns. love the amazon link to E2 store as well. I eat a mostly plant-based diet (with the exception of a daily hardboiled egg) but I have been lacking in the veggie and leafy greens department lately. Gonna pick back up where I left off. My entire lipid panel was within normal range for the first time in my entire life when I followed E2 by the book. Now that Ive weaned myself off of dairy (in fact I had some recently for the first time in a long time and it made me sick to my stomach – I actually have a casein ALLERGY but had ignored it for many years), the only thing I need to get rid of are the eggs.

  • Lisa J
    Posted at 07:04h, 01 August

    I struggle when we travel. I can’t afford to always eat at a place that will be accomodating to both my food choices AND my food allergies. The largest hurdle I’ve had to overcome are the combo of wheat and oat allergies without meat. A lot of places will make a garden burger or other prepared product but I can no longer eat those. And, cooking out of a one cup coffee pot in my hotel room is challenging at best. I do better when we drive somewhere because then I prep a LOT before I leave and mix up my own trail mix with all vegan ingredients. Planning a trip next summer for a destination wedding in Key West and I’m already stressing over the fact that I don’t want to be in such a beautiful place eating plain salads for a week. Suggestions are helpful – thanks!

  • Mark
    Posted at 09:58h, 01 August

    It was a bit of a shock for me, too, going from the DC area to an urban setting where the nearest town (2 miles away) had 2 stoplights and cholesterol is one of the 4 food groups.

    Ironically, I went to Whole Foods this weekend (in DC) for the 1st time in a year. Essentially, all I wanted to buy was wheat gluten flour, nutritioal yeast, raw black-eyed peas, millet, and barley. If you don’t need meat analogs or organic produce, and you can source tofu and non-dairy milks locally (even Gettysburg, PA has them in Giant store), then the issue comes down to “what do you really need from a Natural Foods Store?” Of course, going “gluten-free” could be tough.

    Having a 1,000 sq. ft vegetable garden makes produce a non-issue, as well as being 2 miles away from two different farms where I’ve cultivated a “barter” relationship. Having a freezer is vital to store stuff for off season, as is being able to quickly pressure/water can or dehydrate produce/produced recipes.

    I learned to be creative. A little mustard will give me a nutritional yeast-like taste. The less stuff I purchase from boxes and bags, the cheaper and longer it lasts. Although I missed the “treat” of indulging at a TJ’s and WF’s (there’s a TJ’s 2 miles away from where I’m summering), I find that I spend more, don’t eat as high quality food, and don’t make as better “meals” for myself here as it’s so easy to justify not using the bread machine I brought with me or the little crockette.

    A lot of what makes it easy to survive in the boonies depends upon your latitude as well as attitude. The further north (the shorter the growing season), the more difficult it can be.

    Thoughtful post, Natala. I hadn’t thought about this from a broad perspective for awhile, taking it for granted. But I do know it’s much more expensive living here temporaril than “in the boonies.” The boonies forced a greater self-reliance, creativity, and need to learn more about general self-sufficiency. Something breaks, you don’t have an ingredient, you depend upon yourselves to figure it out, much more than in a city or so-called “civilized” environment.

    So, to summarize what I find hardest to source in the urban setting? Fresh grains (other than rice and wheat-stuff), and raw legumes! They are difficult to grow whereas some basic produce (like greens) can be grown even in the smallest of areas and toughest climates with a little effort. Using soy sauce sparingly instead of tamari, minimal nuts, bread machine, and crockpot. I like to envision it all as a challenge to be ingeniously dealt with and not an ongoing problem to worry about.

    Best, Mark

  • Monica Dewart
    Posted at 12:29h, 01 August

    Being one of those old hippies, that remembers the days of vegetarianism and veganism before all the convenience foods existed, I tend to stick to the basics. Brown rice and dried beans of all varieties can be found in even the most rural of grocery stores. Fresh fruits and veggies in abundance can typically be found at roadside farm stands and farmers markets. No one said this had to be fancy. It just needs to be nourishing and obtainable. We old school hippy mommas baked our own breads, canned our own veggies, dried fruit, and cooked gallons of beans from dried. I could be done 40 years ago, and it can be done today. Just accept the fact that simple is beautiful!

  • Candyce
    Posted at 14:28h, 02 August

    The lovely thing about living in the middle of nowhere is that I’ve been growing a garden this year (watering like crazy) and there is a farmer’s market twice a week. People are used to eating vegetables – even if they eat a full fat and meat diet. You just have to get used to the fact that sometimes you can’t get exactly what you’d like to have. The more I cook using plant based recipes, though, the more confident I’m becoming in making substitutions. Getting started was the hardest part.

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