Really Cheap Eats (a Masked Subscription Pitch)


Sometime back in the 18th century, Ben Franklin pioneered a pragmatic defense of vegetarianism: It was cheaper than eating meat.

Poor Richard, rest his soul, now officially has the federal government on his side: The U.S Department of Agriculture has released a report showing that people can scarf down the daily recommended three servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables for a measly 64 cents. Whole account here (reg. required).

The USDA's finding undercuts some anti-fat activists' claims that "healthy" foods need to be subsidized so that they within reach of everyone's budget.

If you subscribed to the print edition of Reason, you'd know which activists I'm talking about. They're discussed in our August-September cover story, "The War on Fat: Is the size of your butt the government's business?" by Jacob Sullum. (The short answer is no, but the long answer is a compelling, insightful read.)

Really, what are you waiting for? For just $15, you'll get a year's worth of Reason, delivered steaming fresh every month to your door (and you won't have to wait a month for the print edition's content to be slapped up here on the Web site.) And you'll join a community of readers that includes the great humorist Dave Barry, who recently opined: "Reason is a brilliant magazine, written and edited by brilliant people. And I am not saying that only because they agree with me."

So think about subscribing today to the mag that was ranked No. 13 in the Chicago Tribune's second annual list of "The 50 Best Magazines."

And remember to eat your vegetables. Like Reason, they're good–and cheap.

NEXT: Libertarians and Greens: Room for Alliance?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Here’s a cheap vegetarian meal:
    1) Buy a package of couscous ($2.79 at my local grocery store). Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add couscous, flavor pack, and a little vegetable oil if you like.

    2) While the water is heating, put some pea pods and chopped carrots in a skillet with some vegetable oil. Cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. When there’s about a minute left add in a little balsamic vinegar.

    It’s easy, it’s fairly cheap (the most expensive ingredient, the balsamic vinegar, is used in sparing quantities and so lasts for a while), and my wife and I think it’s pretty tasty.

    The couscous I like is the Near East brand because it comes with a seasoning packet.

    Here’s another good one. It involves butter, so strict vegetarians or vegans might not like it, but still:

    Get a box of Near East brand wheat. Mix the wheat, water, and seasoning packet with an 8oz package of chopped frozen broccoli and some butter. Microwave 18 minutes.

    Neither of these recipes is rocket science, both are fairly cheap. The first one takes a total of 15 minutes with time to clean and chop the vegetables. The second is 20 minutes to prepare, 18 of those minutes in the microwave so you can do something else.

    And actually, my wife and I eat meat, but we also eat a lot of vegetarian dishes because they’re cheap.

  2. Joe, you don’t know it and so I won’t be mad, but you’re not correct when you say cooking vegetarian is less convenient than eating meat. I’ve done both and I know.

    You can make great vegan burgers by grilling eggplant rounds, or portobello mushroom caps, or tofu slices marinated in soy sauce… all of which are as cheap or cheaper per serving than meat these days (assuming cheap ground meat is about $1.50 per raw pound, 3 hamburgers a pound). Last time I bought Boca burgers, I think they were on special for $1.29 (4 patties in a box). Avocados are in season right now, 4 small or 3 large for $1.00 in Houston, and they’re wonderful warmed just a bit in a pan, served on a bun or in a tortilla with salsa and lettuce.

    My point is that the alternatives are there, tasty and inexpensive. You’d be surprised what is actually cost-effective if you buy in season and don’t ignore certain things just because you *think* they are expensive.

  3. Oh, and before I forget… I made Scotch broth (traditionally made with lamb, turnips, and barley) Saturday for dinner, Brunswick stew (first made with squirrel but now made with pork and chicken) on Sunday, a pot pie Friday, and a pot roast (with rosemary carrots, onions, fingerling potatoes, and parsnips) last Wednesday. These are not that difficult, take a minimum of watching, and taste great, if you’re not afraid of meat substitutes and a few spices.

    I’m telling you this because I was thinking about how much my cooking improved when I got away from Mom’s meat-and-two-veggies routine.

  4. I eat Bocas all the time. It’s true, veggie food is starting to catch up.

  5. Eric S., if you’re still here–
    I am neither anti-fact nor anti-fat; I am anti- those people who insist that fat people are purely victims of circumstance. Unless I’m shown evidence that food stamps can only be used to purchase solid blocks of lard, I refuse to believe that poor people in this country are forced to become fat. Anyone who disbelieves me is welcome to check out either my waistline OR my pay stubs–both are pitifully small.

  6. Hurray for vegetarians…! More meat for me.

  7. George Runwick,

    I believe the quote your searching for is: “What the fuck is the internet?”

  8. Facts be damned. Plenty of people will still insist that poor people are forced to get fat and only the Paris Hiltons of the world can afford to eat a healthy diet, and so any fattening foods, or indeed any foods other than the bare minimum for survival, must be taxed at a special rate to prevent these poor fat people from buying them. Let’s all continue to save people from themselves. And remember: free will is only for those who use it in a sober, healthy, non-prurient fashion resulting in a low fat-to-muscle ratio.

  9. Was that anti-fact or anti-fat? Not that I have a problem with it either way.

  10. “Speedwell, I don’t think poor people would attend your cooking class regularly. That’s how they became poor in the first place.

    I’m going to refrain from putting the worst possible interpretation on this and simply ask what you meant.

    So, what did you mean by this?”

    Sorry, I was gone all day. I meant simply that people who actually go to class and learn do not end up as poor people. So, the inclination to do so (go to your suggested cooking class) is most likely lacking.

    Anyway, it’s not about cooking veggie burgers vs. cooking hamburgers. Lots of people basically don’t cook at all, and that laziness causes the unhealthy eating habits.

    Example: Bowl of cereal for breakfast – reasonably healthy, pretty cheap, and EASY.

    Lunch: Quarter Pounder meal (“hold the supersize, I’m on a diet!”) Not too healthy, medium priced, and EASY (unless you park your car and walk in, that’s a lot o’ effort, so heck with that)

    Supper: 1 wing, 1 thigh chicken meal at KY Fried Chicken “Move over, burger boys!”. Side orders of mashed potatoes and slaw. Not healthy, high priced, but EASY.

    I could go on for a week, but I’m not sure how long these posts can be. It might bore some people to tears, anyway. My point is, it’s just lazy habits. I’ve been there myself for a week at a time or so. If I could see I was seriously gaining weight, I believe I’d stop.

  11. Oh, you can get PLENTY of fat on a strict vegetarian diet, particularly if you insist on eating like a moron. Potato chips, macaroni and cheese, and beer make a vegetarian meal, and I’ve known vegetarians who actually eat that way. Blech.

    That said, I’ve found that being a vegetarian has spurred my culinary creativity to an extremely high level while keeping my grocery budget low, low, low. The meat eaters in my family will eat anything I make. I wish someone would hold cooking classes for poor people; it would teach them how to get more for their dollar, get more variety out of what they can afford, and improve their quality of life measurably.

  12. Dave Barry! What a scoop. I haven’t subscribed in a year or so, but it sounds like I should.

    Oh, and put me down for Paris Hilton being thin, too.

    Speedwell, I don’t think poor people would attend your cooking class regularly. That’s how they became poor in the first place.

  13. ” you’ll get a year’s worth of Reason, delivered steaming fresh every month to your door

    (1) Why exactly would I want a “years worth” delivered every month? I love Reason but I do have other things to read as well. Besides, I think Reason writers would blow a gasket trying to churn out 48 issues a year.

    (2) Unless your using Fedex, the bundle of 12 issues won’t land on my doorstep. I’ll have to trudge the 75 yards down to my mailbox and back again. As I am currently boycotting exercise in an attempt to win a bet with my doctor over whether exercise prologs and improves the quality of life this presents me with an overwhelming obstacle.

    (3) I just had to build yet another bookcase. I already have so much deadtree media in my house the foundation is cracking.

    You could overcome all these problems by providing an online subscription. Please, please, please, I’ll be your friend!

  14. Speedwell, I don’t think poor people would attend your cooking class regularly. That’s how they became poor in the first place.

    I’m going to refrain from putting the worst possible interpretation on this and simply ask what you meant.

    So, what did you mean by this?

  15. No, really, you’re making me think now. I wonder who in town would buy in to providing this as a truly voluntary public service. Or I could sharpen my quill pen and write a cookbook (that my target audience likely would not buy or read, sigh).

    Or–wait–there’s this new thing called the Internet–I hear a lot of people are contributing to it for nothing but pleasure and notoriety. I’ll have to look into it.

  16. What’s this thing called “internet”?

  17. speedwell, aren’t you leaving out a couple of variable? Namely, skill and cooking, and time available for preparation?

    You have to admit, cooking a burger in a skillet and putting it on a bun is much easier and faster than preparing a vegetarian entre of similar quality. If you want to get to the same level of cooking skill and time, you’re basically back to the mac and cheese and junk food.

  18. Y’know, I am just about the laziest cook you are ever going to meet, but I can put on a cheap feed even without turning on my oven.

    1.) Buy an inexpensive cut of meat, like a chuck steak, or chicken (parts or whole, cut up by me),
    or pork chops. Get what’s on sale. Fresh turkey breasts and drumsticks are surprisingly inexpensive. Vegicans can substitute neat alternatives like portobello mushrooms.

    2.) Marinate the meat. Adds flavor and cuts down on the carcinogenic byproducts of grilling.

    3.) Grill it on my table-top grill, or outdoors if the weather is nice, and you like all the attendant rigamarole.

    4.) Steam a cup or more of rice in your handy-dandy rice steamer, or on the stovetop in a pot.* Steamed new potatoes are good, too.

    5.) Steam some veggie or other. Broccoli is a good one. In the summer, ears of sweet corn are always nice. You can even roast those on the grill. Then there are sugar snap peas. MMmmmm!
    Kabobs on the grill are easy, too.

    I had a feast like this for Sunday dinner. It is low fat, tasty, full of vitamins, and doesn’t require a certificate from the CIA to pull off. Nothing is fried and it beats “fast food” all hollow. The trick is to avoid loading the food up with butter, salt, steak sauce and/or soy sauce, washing it down with sugary pop or a couple of pints of microbrewed malty goodness, then having a sugar & chocolate infusion for dessert.

    Maybe one day I’ll learn that trick!


    *Making a pot of rice on a stove, and not no “Minute Rice” neither, is a cornerstone of Bachelor Survival Cooking. It helps with anything from stir-fry to chili. If you can boil water and use a clock, with or without a timer, anyone can do this. Yet friends still tell me they are prone to letting rice boil over….

  19. To Jennifer:

    My comment was not directed at you. I agree with everything you said. But this quote:

    “The USDA’s finding undercuts some anti-fat activists’ claims that “healthy” foods need to be subsidized so that they within reach of everyone’s budget.”

    originally said “anti-fact activists’.” I thought that was a delicious (pun intended) Freudian slip on Nick’s part.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.