Ellen Jaffe Jones, Eat Vegan On $4 A Day


Ellen Jaffe Jones is a cooking instructor with The Cancer Project, a program of the prestigious Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. She spent eighteen years in TV news as an investigative reporter, morning anchor, and producer for network affiliates around the country, winning two regional Emmys, the National Press Club First-Place Award for Consumer Journalism, and United Press International’s First-Place Award for Investigative Reporting (twice). As a result of her personal quest for better health, Ellen is a certified personal trainer and running coach.
For more information visit VegCoach.com.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me today or whenever it is you’re listening to this show, I appreciate it and I’m glad that you’re listening.

We need to have a little revolution-a food revolution. A number of people have used that term but I’m in the mood for using it today, so I will, because so many things can change by what we choose to eat or not eat every day. If you’re feeling powerless, if you’re feeling like what you do doesn’t matter, think again-because it does, and you can make a big difference. Today we’re going to talk to a number of people who are going to make it easy in different ways.

I’m always talking about wonderful, delicious, healthy plant foods and sometimes you can go to some really expensive restaurants and spend lots of money today. There are some really fancy vegan restaurants out there that will take a lot of your money and serve up some incredible plates of food-beautiful and great tasting and healthy. On the other end of the spectrum, you can eat well and not spend very much money at all and do your job in helping save this planet, or at least saving humanity. I think the planet will take care of itself.

So I want to bring on my first guest. Ellen Jaffe Jones is the “veg coach”. She is a personal trainer, running coach and author and is a cooking instructor with The Cancer Project, a program of the prestigious Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine. She spent 18 years in TV news as an investigative reporter, morning anchor and producer for network affiliates around the country winning two regional Emmy’s, among other awards and she’s the author of a new book, Eat Vegan on $4 a Day. I want to hear about this! Welcome, Ellen.


Ellen Jaffe Jones: Thank you, Caryn.

Caryn Hartglass: I’m looking forward to this because with your 18 years in TV news, I expect this is an easy little thing to do-talk on the show like this.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Piece of carrot cake.

Caryn Hartglass: Piece of carrot cake! Exactly. Okay, so you have a really interesting story and I love it when people find the answer and so often it’s with healthy food and I’m looking at your website vegcoach.com; there’s lots of great pictures of you up there with a radiant smile, exuberant and giving off lots of healthy energy and that’s appealing to people.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Thank you, I hope so.

Caryn Hartglass: Well because so many people are just walking around…who was it, Thoreau?  “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” People are running around in their own darkness and I really believe colorful fruits and vegetables really bring on the light.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: I think so and they really increase health, too. The reason I wrote this book is because I saw so many stories on the news that say you can’t eat well on a budget and I would see just tons of stories of women who must’ve weighed 300 pounds loading up their carts with Twinkies and macaroni and cheese and the reporter would stick the microphone in front of them and the interviewee would say, “You just can’t eat well on a budget.” Enough of pulling out my thick vegan hair; I finally just wrote the book and spent about 2 years trying to shop and the big boys-the big publishers-didn’t want a first time author or somebody who wasn’t already a celebrity and like it or not, television news doesn’t qualify as being a celebrity quite yet. My publisher has told me that because we’re already on a second printing after 3 months some of the big boys are kind of regretting that decision.

Caryn Hartglass: Yeah! Well good for you. This is such an important message and I’m just excited with every vegan cookbook that comes out.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Well thank you. There really aren’t, in fact this was the only book time at the time I started writing it that actually dared to put a price on an individual recipe. That was actually one of the challenges in getting it published. So, we had to price each recipe out to the nearest quarter so that we had a little bit of wiggle room depending on where you live because we knew that people would say, “Well, that’s not what it costs in my neighborhood.” I really wrote it just to prove that you can do it, and a fun analogy I like to use is the serving of 4 ounces of cooked beans, which costs about a dime if you go to your local big box store, is about a nickel a dry ounce, and so 2 ounces cooks into 4 ounces, give or take, and when you compare that to an equal amount of hamburger meat, and we’re talking 30% fat-the cheapest form of hamburger meat out there, that’s about 60 cents. So I’m always about what’s in it in your cost and what’s in it in the pocket book.

What the book didn’t mention is that I spent 5 years as a financial consultant at Smith Barney; I was actually the #1 market performer in my branch, so the number and the words and journalism just all came together after a number of years of eating this way.

In addition to being a personal trainer, I run 5k races and usually place in my age group in the area I’m in-near Tampa, Florida. I’m a high school girls’ cross country coach and I just find that it really has enhanced my athletic performance and I was a mess before I started eating this way. I almost died of a colon blockage, in addition to my mom and both sisters having breast cancer, and that’s just the beginning of the family tree that really has fallen completely apart due to many health issues.

Caryn Hartglass: That’s really an inspiring story and I love that you’ve done so many different things and are finding a way to pull it all together to do something really  positive, not only for yourself but for so many people.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Thank you. This really started as a hobby-it’s one of those things that’s like “be careful what you wish for” because in my media background-I was also doing media consulting after I left Smith Barney and I was doing that with my husband, he already had a very successful business for 20 years-I set out to work with vegetarian and vegan doctors in organizations like Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Caryn Hartglass: We love them.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Yes. In years of working with them I just met a lot of different people through that including T. Colin Campbell, who I sat down to interview for PCRM and he said, “If you ever write a book, I know you’ll say exactly the same kinds of things that I would be saying” and he’s one of the people, along with Dr. Barnard, who endorsed my book which is really cool.

Caryn Hartglass: They definitely are some of the pillars in this movement and what I’m really hoping to see-I was talking to someone earlier about T. Colin Campbell and it’s taken him so long to really get the press and the recognition for all the great work that he’s done now that he’s got this movie out for October 9-and I’ll be talking to Gene Stone who edited the book Forks Over Knives later in the program-but he’s done such great work and for so many decades he wasn’t heard, or the committees he worked with in government clearly weren’t listening to the best information or didn’t want to. Finally he’s getting what he deserves and I really hope that he lives a real long life so that he can see all the great changes that happen because of the things that he’s done and what you’re doing and what many people are doing to really change the culture of eating.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Right, and he has just been one of the many doctor heroes along with Dr. Barnard and Dr. McDougall who’ve been saying this message for a long time. There are some of us out there like me who’d love to wait for the studies, but when you understand there’s no money in broccoli then you understand you’ve got to be your own investigative reporter and find out what works. This for me has been the result of listening to these doctors for a long time and just putting it out there, comparing it to what has gone on in my family, which has just been so sad.

In my work as a financial consultant, I really understood that you can talk to big corporations and they don’t care about saving the environment but you show them how they can save money by recycling and things like that and all of a sudden they’re socially responsible- they’re at the table. I’ve always believed that if you could show Wal-Mart or Costco or these big box stores, who I believe really need this information, how they can save money then they don’t really necessarily care what they’re eating.

Caryn Hartglass: Well unfortunately that’s the angle and I think some people are using this angle now in terms of health insurance, where big companies can save money on health insurance if their employees are eating better.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Right, and I’ve already been invited to speak at different corporations and the employees actually get credit for coming to hear me speak. If they come to so many speeches or do so many different activities, they get a reduction on their insurance premiums. It’s kind of cool to see that happen little by little and just living my life as I do, trying to be a good role model for other people to see is really interesting. The St. Petersburg times was just over here this week taking pictures for the cover of a magazine supplement they’ll be running in advance of our Tampa Bay Vegetarian Festival. They had a lot of vegetables surrounding my head and they had me flex my biceps to show my muscles. Just this whole message that yes, vegetables actually enhance your athletic performance. The image has always been “Oh, you’re a weakling because you just eat vegetables.” Well, not.

Caryn Hartglass: Well fortunately we’re starting to see a lot more athletes moving over and finding that they’re having better performance and better recovery which seems to be a real key thing with sports.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Right, and I ran my very first marathon last year and that was something that I could’ve never done as a youngster. I like to joke that part of it is just showing up at my age and really not getting injured is the key thing and I find when you’re not eating meat you don’t have the joint inflammation that you often get with that. I’ve seen publications like Arthritis Today even saying you should avoid meat if you’re trying to avoid inflammation.

Caryn Hartglass: Well isn’t that something!

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Yeah, so it’s really coming full circle with a lot of this as we progress further. The key to being athletic as you age is not getting injured because I see so many people in my age group-we have 5 year increments in running- just aren’t showing up anymore.

Caryn Hartglass: Well that’s better for you!

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Oh I guess.

Caryn Hartglass: Win all those prizes!

Ellen Jaffe Jones: It’s really about finishing you know, I’ve always said that it’s not about the winning it’s just about showing up and finishing.

Caryn Hartglass: What was it like for you running your first marathon?

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Probably exhausting, only because I did it in Palm Beach, Florida and even in the winter months it’s pretty warm. Also I try not to run on concrete because I don’t think humans were particularly designed to do that and it’s one of the ways runners in particular get injured, either through their feet or their knees so that part of it was a little difficult but I was just so glad to finish. For me it was a real big milestone because I’d been training for it for about a year and a half. I’ve done 5 half marathons up to that point.

Again, I have 3 daughters and chances are one of us will have the breast cancer gene and potentially get breast cancer, so anything I can do to be a good role model for them is really part of what I’m doing, too.

Caryn Hartglass: It’s an interesting thing about the gene and how many people use genes almost as an excuse saying “There’s nothing I can do, it’s in my genes” and we know that’s not true.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Yes, genes take a trigger and part of it is what you put in your mouth and what you’re doing on a daily basis in terms of your physical activity. Part of it, I believe, is the mindset too and that has certainly worn out in the different situations I’ve seen throughout my life.

Caryn Hartglass: There are some great pictures of you on your website, the before and after-and people love that because we love personal stories and everybody likes to see someone who has succeeded in something that so many people are challenged with. So were there any things that were particularly difficult for you when you were transitioning or losing weight?

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Well the first time I really started eating more plants was when my sister got breast cancer the second time. It was the same year I almost died of a colon blockage and I read all 5 books on fiber because that’s about all there was at the time and gradually transitioned. Then when I went to work at Smith Barney we had a lot of free lunches and dinners from the mutual fund and insurance companies and steak dinners at Morton’s and I had my little McDougall cup under my desk, but it just wasn’t enough, You can see in the before pictures that I really ballooned up in that 5 years-close to 150 pounds which on a 5 foot 3 frame wasn’t very cool.

When we moved to Florida, Atkins was enjoying a resurgence and I even remember reading a story in NY Times that was called “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” and it said the science had changed. What I later came to find was that it wasn’t the science that had changed, it was just the marketing and in that one year that I transitioned from a vegan diet to doing Atkins and it really wasn’t a healthy vegan diet as it said it was. It was mostly pizza lunches and trying to scrape off the cheese and get an occasional salad. I went from 130 to 203 pounds so it was sort of like the movie Supersize Me. It stayed up there until I came off of that about 3 years later when I was really able to move to Florida and again found myself in the emergency room. They wanted to do an immediate hysterectomy because I had some hemorrhaging fibroids and my OB got on the phone and said “Ellen, go back to your plant based diet and call me in the morning” and it saved my life. Six months later all signs of the fibroid were gone, I had lost a significant amount of weight and my husband who was also skeptical was just amazed that I wasn’t getting hot flashes anymore and I never needed the hysterectomy.


Caryn Hartglass: That’s a great story and thank your doctor. Boy, what a world this would be if more doctors said, “Go on a plant based diet and call me in the morning.” I love that.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Yep, my hero.

Caryn Hartglass: Okay, I want to get back to eating vegan on $4 day because I want to know more about this. I love how you talk about the cost of beans and hamburgers, but certainly at the supermarket there is a big difference and there’s also costs that we don’t see that we’re paying for in our tax dollars. We didn’t see the subsidies that go into meat and dairy products. We’re paying for them, not the supermarkets, so those cost differentials don’t even take those things into consideration.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Well in my book, I look at varying degrees of cost and one of them is certainly the advertising subsidies that are in the USDA Federal Check Off Program. Interestingly enough, as part of my media consulting we did work for the National Watermelon Promotion Board and in my book the latest figures I have there show that $1.6 million went to them and that would be like every time you buy a watermelon, a few pennies go into an advertising budget. Well low and behold, at the top of that food chain you have dairy products at $281 million-fluid milk because there’s a whole separate category that’s $107 million, and beef is under that at $79 million compared to $1.6 million for watermelon, and it’s safe to say broccoli doesn’t even make that list. So I say in my book, “There’s no money in broccoli, where’s the broccoli lobby, the broccoli board” and you don’t see any ads that say, “Beans that are good for the heart and other parts.” It isn’t quite there yet so those are statistics that really focus in on where the advertising dollars go towards. Then there’s the whole part that I talk about is whether you pay for it, I pay for it , our insurance companies pay for it or the government pays for the cost of our bypass surgery. It still is unsustainable, we can’t keep paying for preventable diseases and I really see this as one of the big things that could cause our economy and the global economy to come crashing down in fairly short order if we don’t get our health under control. One of my slides in my presentations say in 10 years we may all be vegan whether we want to or not-it’s a matter of survival. Who’s going to be left surviving? And I don’t know if you’ve seen the stories that have been proliferating the news that medications are in short supply and so if we can’t get the medication we need, what really is left?

Caryn Hartglass: Broccoli! Collards, kale. That’s what’s left.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Absolutely.

Caryn Hartglass: I know but it’s a pretty scary thing. There are a lot of scary things going on out there but you know we have to stay joyful and stay on the path and eat our beans.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Absolutely, and here’s the thing financially: if you make your main protein source be beans, then you save so much money that you are able to buy things that might cost a little more, like the fruits and vegetables and in my book I actually priced out a meal plan for a week just to show that you could do it on $4 a day and one of the days even comes in at under $3 a day. Dr. John McDougall had been writing this for years-I saw this in a newsletter about 4 or 5 years ago and that’s one of things that really ignited this idea to actually do the numbers and the math and make sure that it could be done and interestingly enough I’m on Facebook and Twitter and all the social media sites and I’m hearing from people that they are doing this over the course of a month just to prove that you can do it and are surprised that it’s actually working.

Caryn Hartglass: Has anybody done it in New York City or northern California?

Ellen Jaffe Jones: I’d have to look up the specific places.

Caryn Hartglass: Food is so expensive in those parts!

Ellen Jaffe Jones: On Facebook it sort of like ticker tape and I would just watch it go by and think, wow that’s really cool! But it seems to me it was a blogger who had her whole family do it because everybody was so skeptical and you talk about a revolution-I think that’s where it’s going to be. But again, when you are using beans as the main course and the crux of your protein then you just save so much money. Hamburger meat we talked about being 60 cents for a quarter pounder. Tenderloin, the last time I priced it out, was 85 cents an ounce so 4 ounces of that is about $3.40 and then if you have 8 ounces of that that’s $6.80. 16 ounces, which you get at a restaurant, is $13.60 for beef tenderloin and those are just Wal-Mart prices. That is not a restaurant charge.

Caryn Hartglass: I think one of the tricks here is to get people in the kitchen because I’m always encouraging people to find their kitchen. Many people don’t know where it is or how to use it. Certainly not just to save money but to make healthier food, it’s best that we make it at home and make it ourselves because when we’re buying fast food and processed food and prepared food so often they have my 3 favorite ingredients: sugar, fat, and salt. And we do so much better when we make foods at home.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Absolutely, and it really incorporates the family in the cooking and food preparation process. Even if you’re having your kids just toss the berries in the blender for a smoothie, it’s just a great way to give them control over food which can often become a war zone in family. I have a number of recipes in the book that are really set up to incorporate kids, so if they like olives and you don’t, you just put it out on the table and they can add it to their burrito-that kind of stuff to really make them feel like part of the process. Growing a garden is also great for kids, I like to brag that at the age of 3 my kids were the only ones on the nursery school field trip when the farmer held up the green thing and said, “What’s this?” and they said, “Kale!” and he said, “You’re the first kids who didn’t say spinach!” because we had kale growing in our garden and cherry tomatoes that would reseed themselves and if you can’t grow a garden I have information in the book about how to find a local farm near you, which is just equally effective with kids so that they know food comes from the ground and not from a plastic wrapper at the grocery store.

Caryn Hartglass: That sounds really good and I encourage everyone to pick up the book and try to do it. Try to eat on $4 a day and even if you don’t succeed, you’re going to be all the better for it.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Well one of the things I say too this that these recipes represent the cheapest plant-based recipes and menus on the planet. So even if the numbers don’t correlate exactly to your Wal-Mart or your grocery store, there’s still going to be the cheapest recipes that you can find out there and one of the things I have a whole chapter on is salads and another chapter on salad dressings that are not that complicated to make. I think it’s important if people are going to eat more grains that they find a dressing that they really love, and for me, I love eating a ginormous salad at lunch and at dinner because there’s so much absorbable calcium and other vitamins and nutrients and the grains. Again it’s really important to find a dressing that you can live with and make in bulk; it’s there in the fridge and you can use it all week if you want to.

Caryn Hartglass: Well once you kind of come over to the other side, it’s like the veil is lifted and you see all these great foods and really enjoy them. Do you have a favorite recipe in this book?

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Well there are several of course, but one of the recipes that provides the most amusement is the chocolate surprise cake because I have a picture of it up on my Facebook page and people can never guess what’s in it. When they see the end result and when I do my slideshows in presentations, I’ll show a picture of the end result first and make the audience guess what’s in it. It’s got all kinds of yummy vegetables that you would never figure are in there; pineapple, zucchini, carrots-just lots of green things that when you put them in a blender they just kind of all dissolve. Put a lot of dates in it and you’ve got some natural sweetener and you’re good to go. And you don’t have to put the icing on it, only if you want to, but that’s kind of a fun one and it’s very moist. Chocolate mousse is also another one to sneak in. I love these recipes that people have no idea are vegan.

I had a woman in my Cancer Project cooking class who lost a 120 pounds in 8 months without even trying-just eating the food she needed to lose the weight. This was about 6 years ago; she had multiple myeloma and was not given very long to live but I just heard from her and she’s doing great. Her blood work is doing great and she’s still a raving vegan, but she made the sweet potato muffins and came back one day and told me, “The whole church of 150 people were eating vegan and they didn’t even know it!”

Caryn Hartglass: I love that. Well most of the food that we make no one can know if we don’t tell them. Well Ellen, we’ve come to the end of this segment and I want to thank you for joining me today. Ellen Jaffe Jones the veg coach, your website is http://www.vegcoach.com/ and I wish you a lot of success with eating on $4 a day.

Ellen Jaffe Jones: Thank you so much Caryn, I appreciate it.

Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’re listening to It’s All About Food. We’re going to take a short break and be back with Gene Stone, the editor of Forks Over Knives.

Transcribed by Gurnoor Singh, 8/8/2013

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