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Cookbook author went vegan to save her life, will appear at Veg Fest in Tampa

Ellen Jaffe Jones was 28 when she realized she needed to make a dramatic change if she was going to escape her family legacy. "So many people in my family were sick with cancer and heart disease, we joked that we had family reunions in the hospital, and I thought, 'How do I avoid this?' "

For Jones, now 58, the answer was an ultrahealthy lifestyle featuring a plant-based diet and plenty of exercise. Today, the former TV news reporter is an author and certified personal trainer known as the "Veg Coach" to her followers. She lives on Anna Maria Island in Manatee County and will speak next Saturday at Veg Fest in Tampa (see box).

Jones is the strictest type of vegetarian, a vegan who eats no meat, poultry, fish, eggs or dairy. It's a lifestyle that got a burst of publicity recently when former President Bill Clinton announced that after having quadruple bypass and stent surgeries, he has become a vegan on the advice of Dr. Dean Ornish.

Jones says going to a plant-based diet makes sense, particularly in this tough economy.

She was watching the news one day when she saw a grocery shopper talking about how hard it is to buy healthy food on a budget.

"I thought, 'That can't be,' " Jones said. She knew this from doing the family food shopping for years, but she set out to thoroughly document the prices and nutritional value of whole grains, nuts and vegetables, and compare them to those of animal-based foods.

The result is her new book, Eat Vegan on $4 a Day: A Game Plan for the Budget Conscious Cook ($14.95 at and at Jones' website,

"The book talks about the true savings of eating healthfully, first at the store and then by not getting sick enough to need medication, surgery or medical devices," said Jones, a distance runner who struggled with her weight before she changed her diet.

If you want to go vegetarian but no one else in your family will, Jones is proof you can go it alone. Neither her husband nor her three kids have followed her vegan example.

Here are some highlights from a recent conversation with Jones:

When did you decide to become a vegan?

I started to change my diet when I was 28, when my sister got breast cancer for the second time, also the year I almost died from a colon blockage from eating poorly and not drinking enough water. I started running, fluctuated between a vegan and vegetarian diet for many years and switched to full vegan diet seven years ago.

Tell me more about your interest in the cost of a plant-based diet.

People think it costs so much to eat vegetables. I thought, "Wouldn't it be interesting to crunch the numbers?" I spent several years writing down the prices of meats, beans and other protein sources, got a software program that calculated the price of ingredients in recipes and meals, and found that you can save money eating healthy foods. I thought people would be interested in reading about how well they could eat on a little money.

Give us an example.

Compare the cost of beans to meat. I focus on price per ounce. A serving of made-from-scratch beans, 4 ounces, costs about a dime. The cheapest hamburger meat, with 30 percent fat, is about 56 cents for a 4-ounce serving. A serving of tenderloin is about $3.40 for a 4-ounce serving. Even if you don't want to cook beans from scratch, from a can, it's roughly 12 to 15 cents for a 4-ounce serving.

But eating beans is not the same taste experience as eating beef tenderloin. How do you address that?

It takes three weeks to change your taste buds. I ask people, "Did you ever drink whole milk? What was it like switching to skim milk? How long did it take, about three weeks? Did you ever go back to whole milk?" Yes, they say, and it tasted thick, sludgy, disgusting. It's the same thing.

You lead workshops and coach people on losing weight, exercising and eating a healthier diet. Do most people need a health problem to make a change?

Generally the people I see want to get off blood pressure medicine because it affects their sex life, they want to lose weight or don't want to take cholesterol-lowering medications. The sex issue is a common problem. I tell them broccoli is the new Viagra. Clear up your heart, your blood vessel issues, and the others will clear up, too.

What's your advice for people who want to give vegetarian or vegan eating a try, but aren't ready to give up meat, eggs or dairy entirely?

Try it for just one meal. Then for a few meals a week. Use imitation ground meat in chili or pasta sauce. No one will know the difference. All grocery stores have those transitional foods like veggie burgers and tofurkey. They're in the produce department. Just try it for three weeks, and if it doesn't work for you go back to your old way of eating.

What about people who say they don't have time to prepare all those vegetables and cook beans for hours?

My book has menu plans, shopping and cooking strategy tips, like how to make beans quickly for the whole week. It's easy. It's not easy to have open-heart surgery or take insulin injections every day. Believe me, it's much easier to change your diet.

Your book wasn't out long before it went to a second printing. Did Clinton coming out as a vegan help?

Yes. All the publicity helped fuel my book. It was about a month old when he started doing interviews on being a vegan. He made the point that eating vegan was healthy eating; he made the change because he wanted to be around for his grandchildren. It's also the economy and people looking for ways to save money.

Irene Maher can be reached at [email protected] com.

Tampa Bay Veg Fest

The second annual Veg Fest is from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 15 at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, at 601 Old Water St. in Tampa. The event includes vegetarian and vegan foods from restaurants, music, kids' games, healthy living and eco-friendly exhibitors and speakers Ellen Jaffe Jones at 11 a.m. and comedian Carol Leifer at

2 p.m. Free admission. Sponsored by Florida Voices for Animals; info at

Tofu Chocolate Mousse

A guilt-free version of the high-fat, high-calorie dessert classic.

Makes 8 servings, 50 cents per serving

1 cup semisweet nondairy chocolate chips

1 ½ cups vanilla soy milk

1 (12 ounce) package low-fat or no-fat firm or extra-firm silken tofu

⅓ cup maple syrup (optional)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Heat the chocolate chips and soy milk in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl for 1 minute. Or warm the chips and soy milk in a small saucepan on medium heat for 5 minutes or until the chips are just shiny. Let the mixture stand for 2 minutes, then transfer to a blender or food processor. Add the tofu, optional maple syrup and vanilla extract. Process until smooth. Pour the mixture into parfait glasses or other small containers. Chill for 2 hours in the refrigerator or for 30 minutes in the freezer before serving.


• You may not need the maple syrup or vanilla extract. Taste the tofu mixture before adding them.

• Jones recommends Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips, which she says don't contain dairy. But those with allergies should note that the chips are manufactured on the same equipment that makes products containing milk and in a facility that uses peanuts and tree nuts.

Nutrition information per serving (without maple syrup): 135 calories, 7.5 grams (4 grams saturated) fat, 50 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrate, 1 gram of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, 5 grams of protein.

Source: Eat Vegan on $4 a Day

Sweet Potato Muffins

Makes 10 muffins, 50 cents per serving

2 cups all-purpose whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ¾ cups mashed, cooked sweet potatoes or 1 (15-ounce) can sweet potatoes, drained and mashed

½ cup raisins

½ cup water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat 10 cups of a standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray, or place a paper liner in each cup.

Put flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir to combine.

Add the sweet potatoes, raisins and water. Stir until well combined.

Fill each muffin cup almost to the top with batter.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the tops spring back when pressed lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Let muffins cool in the pan for 1 to 2 minutes before removing. Transfer to a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature; store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Nutrition information per serving: 173 calories, 0.6 gram (0.1 saturated) fat, 267 milligrams of sodium, 41 grams of carbohydrate, 4 grams of fiber, 15 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein.

Source: Eat Vegan on $4 a Day

Beans and Greens Stir Fry

Makes 2 servings, 75 cents per serving

cup, plus ¼ cup water

⅓ cup uncooked brown rice

1 ¾ cups cooked or canned black beans, drained and rinsed (Note: nutrition information is calculated with cooked-from-scratch beans; sodium will be higher with canned.)

2 teaspoons dried onion flakes, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

½ cup chopped fresh broccoli

½ cup chopped fresh collard greens

1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon fresh or dried parsley, plus more for garnish

Put 2/3 cup of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.

Add rice and return to a boil. Decrease heat to low, cover and cook for 45 minutes or until rice is tender and water is absorbed. Set aside. Fluff with fork before serving.

While rice cooks, combine beans, onion flakes, cumin and optional red pepper flakes in a small saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until warmed through.

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook and stir for 1 minute.

Stir in broccoli and remaining ¼ cup water. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until the broccoli is bright green.

Add the collard greens and cook, stirring frequently for 3 to 5 minutes or until the greens are wilted and tender.

Stir in the soy sauce and parsley. Remove from heat.

To serve, spoon rice onto two plates. Top rice with the beans and greens.

Sprinkle with additional onion flakes and parsley.


• Prepare vegetables while rice cooks.

• To save time, cook rice in advance and refrigerate until needed or use leftover rice.

Nutrition information per serving: 289 calories, 4 grams (0.4 saturated) of fat, 127 milligrams of sodium, 58 grams of carbohydrate, 13 grams of fiber, 15 grams of protein.

Cookbook author went vegan to save her life, will appear at Veg Fest in Tampa 10/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 4:30am]
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