Thursday, October 19, 2017

Eating Vegan on a Budget in a Food Desert Part 1: Roasted Potato Tacos with Radish Pico

Roasted Potato Tacos with Radish Pico
First let me explain how I ended up living in a food desert. I grew up a few miles down the road from where I am currently living in a typical suburban neighborhood. A standard three bedroom house in a post-war tract of homes built in the late '40s and early '50s. Lakewood, California. I grew up in a middle class family. My parents were divorced by the time I was four years old, and I visited my
father, who lived in the neighboring city of Bellflower, on the weekends and holidays. I had a very happy childhood. I never wanted for anything, and was safe, well fed, participated in after school sports, and was in lots of school activities. Yes, I was indeed a band geek. So, you could say I pretty much grew up in a very privileged home.

As soon as I turned 18, I moved into an apartment with some friends. I moved to Long Beach (right next door to Lakewood) and knew from the first night I spent alone in my apartment, that Long Beach was my home. This place has such a gritty, colorful, creative, and diverse spirit, and over the years it has progressed into quite the amazing place. When I finally moved in with my boyfriend (now husband) we decided to get an apartment in Huntington Beach. From there we continued south into Orange County and lived in several places around the county before moving to our cottage in the woods of Trabuco Canyon for 6 years. All in all, we left Long Beach and lived behind the Orange Curtain for 15 years.

Vegan Staples at 99 Cent Only Stores

But all of our friends, family, even work, brought us back to Long Beach almost daily, and we just knew in our hearts that it was time to go home. So in 2014, Dan and I decided to do just that. Move back home. But we are all grown up now. We are far too flipping old to be living in an apartment searching for parking and taking our clothes to the laundromat. Plus, as we were both encroaching on our forties, we were set on not paying someone else's mortgage anymore, and we wanted to own our own home. We began searching for a home we could afford with our salaries that wouldn't make us house-poor. We already learned that lesson once, and wanted to be much more responsible this time.

We met with a Realtor and told her our budget and began looking daily at homes in our price range. We found some cute places in neighborhoods closer to the "hip" parts of town, but they were really tiny, with virtually no yard for the pups, and were surrounded by giant apartment complexes looking down on us. No thanks. Then we found the house we fell in love with. In North Long Beach. Like, really north. The area known as Northtown. Our house is not too far from Compton, but the house is nice, and the neighborhood seemed quiet. Mostly houses, ample parking, and in our price range. So we went for it!

Great deals on produce at La Bodega Mexicana #1 & #2 on Atlantic Avenue in North Long Beach

Our family and friends kept asking us, "Why would you move there?" My dad even scolded me for it. Told me it was a bad idea, and that our neighborhood was unsafe. And maybe that's true. Maybe it is unsafe. But, as soon as we moved in, I knew I was home. I mean, I fit in here. Not like in the OC where I constantly felt less than. Here, I know my neighbors by name, and we bring each other treats on holidays and attend each other's BBQs and baby showers. There is a real sense of community here. We look out for each other.

There are absolutely no grocery stores close by. Plenty of liquor stores, 7-Elevens and "convenience" stores, greasy hamburger joints and Mexican Food restaurants, but no real grocery stores. Now, I used to work at Whole Foods Market, so I didn't really feel the pinch, I got what I needed after work and brought it home. And, to be honest, as a person of privilege, with the luxury of time, a vehicle, a decent income, and no children, I can still drive to a nice natural foods store whenever I choose to. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of many of my neighbors. And I see many children eating a breakfast, lunch or dinner of Doritos and soda. Because that's what's available around here. Sad but true.

Vegan Staples from Dollar Tree on Atlantic Avenue in North Long Beach

I began researching food access and food deserts. To my surprise, I actually live in one! "To meet the criteria to be considered a food desert by the USDA, standards are: a low-access community, at least 500 people, and/or at least 33 percent of the census tract's population, must reside more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store (for rural census tracts, the distance is more than 10 miles). The concept behind this is that it is reasonable for a shopper to be able to carry groceries one walking mile."

The 99 Cents Only Store always has a great variety of fresh produce!

Thus began my search for a way to help. A way to give back to the community. We vegans are often accused of being elitist, expensive, and exclusive to those with limited budgets and limited access. I have seen so many posts on social media where people say that they would love to be vegan, but it's too expensive. Or that they don't have access to vegan foods in their community. And more often than not, I see vegans respond with "You're just not trying hard enough" or "If you can afford a smart phone, you can be vegan" or "Rice and beans are cheaper than McDonalds!" These. Are. Horrible. Answers. Shameful and accusatory. How can we expect anyone searching for a more compassionate lifestyle to feel welcomed into our community if we are scolding them? We need to provide real life solutions. No one will stay vegan if they have to live on rice and beans for the rest of their life.

This is the start of what I hope will become more. What I hope will be a launching pad for more projects that will put the spotlight on hunger, malnutrition, food justice, and more. My current plans (and this may change) is to develop recipes to share that are all vegan, delicious, and can be made with foods purchased within a mile from my home. In a food desert.

La Bodega Mexicana #2 - 5575 Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach, California, 90805 (Park in the rear!) 562-728-1070
Lucky for me I have La Bodega Mexicana #1 and #2 within a mile, and I can get some fresh produce there...at really reasonable prices. I also have a 99 Cents Only and Dollar Tree store close by. I want to focus more on items in those types of chain stores, as I know many low-income neighborhoods have dollar-type stores. And, they have some surprisingly good vegan options!

I will share the prices for each dish I make, with a breakdown, to the penny, of cost per serving. I will start this series with a suggested set of pantry staples, most of which can be obtained at a dollar or discount mart, and try to use those ingredients as often as possible, so I am not asking folks to constantly head out for different spices and whatnot. In this first post, I am also starting off with a recipe I hope everyone loves...roasted potato tacos!

In addition, while rice and beans will make an appearance (I mean, they are cheap, healthy options!) I promise they will not be prominent players in what I hope you all will find to be tasty and cheap meal options.

My trusty notebook on the kitchen counter as I price out the recipe down to the teaspoon!

I would really like to hear your feedback on this project. I want suggestions. I want you to tell me your stories. Inspire me! Let me know what else I can do to help. Because when it comes down to it, that's what this is all about. Helping people.

Shelf Stable Pantry Items (may require refrigeration after opening)
Oils & Vinegars:
Olive Oil, Canola (or any other neutral tasting vegetable oil), White Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, Soy Sauce, Rice Vinegar
Dried Spices:
Salt, Black Pepper, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Chili Powder, Oregano, Paprika, Parsley, Basil, Taco Seasoning
Dry Goods:
All Purpose Flour, Rice, Dried Beans, Oats, Breadcrumbs,
Condiments:
Ketchup, Dijon or Stone Ground Mustard, Yellow Mustard, SriRacha Sauce, Hot Sauce, Jams & Jellies, Peanut Butter, Cooking Spray, Lime Juice, Lemon Juice, Pickles, Olives, Minced or Chopped Garlic, BBQ Sauce
Other interesting items to be on the lookout for at your local dollar or 99cent store:
Soy (or other non-dairy) Milks, Frozen Vegetables and Fruits, Frozen Entrees, Cookies, Chips, Fresh Produce, Breakfast Cereal, Refrigerated Bags of Pre-washed Salad, Accidentally Vegan Pre-Made Frosting, Cooking Utensils, Towels, Pans, Pots, Foil, Storage Containers

$.48 Roasted Potato Tacos with Radish Pico
Roasted Potato Tacos with Radish Pico
Cost for entire recipe: $5.78
Cost per serving: $.48
Yield: 12 tacos (plus leftover Cilantro Sauce, and Radish Pico to use throughout the week)

For the Roasted Potatoes
.60= 2 pounds russet potatoes, rinsed and cubed (skin left on)
1.39= 1 packet of Taco Seasoning
.10= 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
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$2.09 yields enough potatoes for 12 tacos

For the Radish Pico
.09= 1 whole Jalapeno, diced
.33= 1 bunch radishes
.40= 1 small yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
.25= 1 cup cilantro, chopped (about 1 bunch)
.25= 1/2 cup chopped green onions
.06= 2 tablespoons white vinegar
.12= 1 tablespoon lime juice
.01= 1/2 teaspoon salt
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$1.57 yields approximately 6 cups of Pico

For the Cilantro Sauce
.25= 1 cup cilantro, chopped (about 1 bunch)
.40= 1/2 cup vegetable oil
.20= 1 cup shredded lettuce
.06= 1 tablespoon minced garlic
.01= 1/2 teaspoon salt
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$1.16 yields approximately 1 1/2 cups of Sauce

For each Taco
.08= 2 street-taco size corn tortillas
.18= Roasted Potatoes (from above)
.05= 1/4 cup shredded lettuce
.07= Radish Pico (from above)
.10= Cilantro Sauce
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$.48 per Taco

To make the potatoes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Place cubed potatoes in a bowl with the oil and taco seasoning. Toss until the potatoes are well coated.
Transfer the potatoes to a sheet pan and spread out into 1 layer.
Roast in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until browned and crisp. Flip twice with a spatula during cooking in order to ensure even browning.
While the potatoes are roasting, make the Radish Pico and The Cilantro Sauce.
To make the Radish Pico, Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and toss until well combined. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To make the sauce, add all ingredients to the bowl of a blender and blend until smooth. You can also use a stick or immersion blender.
Assemble the tacos, grill or toast your tortillas then layer on the lettuce, potatoes, pico, and top with a drizzle of sauce!
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2012 Copyright/Permissions/Disclaimers

All recipes written by me, Joni Marie Newman, unless otherwise noted. Please feel free to refer to or link back to any of my recipes, but please ask for permission, and remember to give credit when reprinting recipes in their entirety. I do provide links to affiliate programs (such as Amazon) in which I receive a small commission for items purchased. I do not provide paid reviews. All reviews done on products or books are of my own unsolicited opinion. On occasion I may receive a book or product to review. I will note when this is the case, but rest assured, it will not affect the authenticity of my review. Thanks!--Joni