Monday, April 7, 2008

Eating vegan on the cheap

"Being vegan is soooo expensive."

Well yeah, if you're (a) a douchebag who shops at Whole Foods and buys $39.99/lb. imported European mushrooms (and nobody likes you), or (b) a slacker who eats nothing but processed, prepared, frozen, packaged, ninety-two hundred ingredients crap that you probably shouldn't be eating anyway.

Let me give it to you straight: if it comes in a box, wrapped in plastic, has a bunch of questionable ingredients in it, and costs $5.99, you should put it down. Now. Hey, you, in the back, I said NOW. Walk away, son.

I know meat substitutes, frozen entrees, nondairy cheese, soy ice cream, etc etc, are convenient, especially when you're transitioning from omni to vegan, omni to vegetarian, etc etc. They look and sort of taste like your old comfort foods. But they make a huge dent in your wallet, and if you're wondering why you're lower on cash at the grocery store than you used to be, despite not buying meat and dairy, I suggest taking a look at your last grocery list long and hard.

Proof: A 5.5oz package of fakeham at the store was $2.39 yesterday. 16oz. of locally-made tofu is only $1.99, for comparison. Come on. Basic math. Tofu is also healthier and a minimally-processed whole soy food, which = happy heart and circulatory system! You're getting WAY more for your money if you're eating less-processed foods.

I used to eat fakemeat a LOT when I was vegetarian. I stopped eating as much when I went vegan because many of the processed fakemeat products contain eggwhites or cheese. What also came with going vegan was cooking more on my own, and learning to cook with whole grains and legumes and veggies and lovely fruitses. I stopped relying on fakemeat mostly by accident; no one told me to, it just sort of naturally happened. I also noticed that I wasn't spending as much on groceries as I was before, despite buying way more food! I realized I was buying way more things in bulk, way more produce, and way less packaged stuff.

Since I hear the "waaaah buying 'vegan' food" (whatever that is, what are we, rabbits?) "is so expensive!" argument so often, I thought I'd share some of my strategies to save money. Students, or soon-to-be students would do well to heed my words.

1. Yes, actually, I like a little junk in the trunk

...Or, BUY IN BULK. I never bought ANYTHING in bulk until this year, and wow do I feel like a fucking idiot. Not only are you reducing the amount of garbage swirling around in the pacific ocean, but you are slicing the cost sometimes in HALF if not more. These are examples of what I buy in bulk. Many are high-protein or high-fiber, which are very good for you!: Lentils (green and red), beans (dry), brown rice, quinoa, split peas, TVP, pasta, cous cous, oats, nutritional yeast, herbs and so on.

A lot of places sell liquids in bulk as well. All you have to do is bring (and weigh ahead of time) a container or buy a reusable container from the store. I buy maple syrup, canola oil (and all other cooking oils), agave nectar, and tamari in bulk, too. JP bought a flat of mason jars and we use those to store stuff in. I also buy my baking stuff in bulk. Organic sugar, flours, cocoa powder, spices, and salt are all available for less.

Also Mother Earth will love you more. :3

2. Spend your day in the produce section

That big area in the middle where all the processed and frozen and packaged stuff is? Give it a WIDE berth. Go for fruits and veggies, which you should be anyway, since you are supposed to get 7-9 servings of them a day! Are you? If you're not buying crap, you'll have more money to spend on healthy, beautiful, yummy fruits and veggies. Like bok choy, squee!

3. Look for sales/buy in season

I love asparagus. JP loves asparagus. Kelly loves asparagus and could eat it all day. Does that mean I buy it as soon as it hits the shelves hear in Oregon for $6.99/lb? Absolutely not. Not only was it not really in season yet at the beginning of March, but fucking $6.99/lb, are you kidding me? Just keep your eye on it. Right now, almost 4 weeks later, it's down to $4.99/lb. I'm waiting a little longer. Often the produce on sale will be what is in season. It pays to do some internet research and find a chart of what's in season when and to plan for what's in season and what's GOING to be in season, and what's about to go OUT of season and may go on sale soon (such as this one). A bonus is that in-season produce tastes SOOOO much better than tastes-like-cardboard out of season stuff. Your taste buds will thank you, trust me. I hate living without peaches for 9 months out of the year, but it is so worth the wait to have that first juicy bite come summer.

4. Buy local/buy small/shop farmer's markets or join a CSA

You all know to support your local small businesses. Why? Because they're not evil (or not as much, anyway). Buy local, and organic if possible. You'll keep supporting YOUR local economy. Local produce will often by what's in season and what tastes best. Farmer's markets and CSAs are another great resource: you can establish a one-on-one relationship with the person supplying your sustenance. Doesn't that sound nice?

For those who are going to whine about small stores having higher prices: look, I worked at a Safeway over the summer, who is supposed to have some of the lowest prices around, yeah? Well their organic prices matched, or were HIGHER than those of one of the small local organic markets at which I now exclusively shop. If I'm going to be paying the same prices anyway, I'd rather support a local store that supports local farmers that support local agriculture. :) Plus Sundance has a 50% off wall for fruit that's either damaged or they have too much of. I make a beeline for that first thing.

Any of you non-vegans who are thinking "Hurrah for me, I buy local humane meat," I suggest reading this article very carefully.

5. DIY

Make your own bread. Brew your own beer or kombucha. Grow your own fruit and veggies and herbs. Start a community garden with neighbors or friends. Grow your own edible flowers to decorate cupcakes. Grow your own flowers and aloe plants and cacti and little succulents, plants make you feel good! The point is, take things into your own hands. Literally. You'll save money, be kinder to the earth, and maybe even learn something new. JP learned how to make bread, I am starting a mini-garden after we move.

6. Do your homework

Cookbooks are expensive. Well not unless you have a problem like me and want to buy every single one but anyway. To get good vegan recipes, the public library can be your friend, as can the internet. Listen to cooking podcasts (such as Food for Thought or Vegan Freak Radio), read vegan blogs (such as VeganYumYum or Guilty (Vegan) Pleasures), or browse VegCooking, VegWeb, and The Post-Punk Kitchen. Vegan cookzines are another great way to buy a personalized product made with all sorts of love, usually for a pretty low price. Check out Don't Eat Off the Sidewalk! and Kittee's Papa Tofu.

This article, "Go Vegetarian to Save Money", was mentioned by Colleen from Compassionate Cooks in an episode of her amazing podcast Food for Thought. It quotes the difference in prices between meat and plant-based protein (at Whole Foods, which means many of the prices quoted are even cheaper for many of us), and how processed plant foods jack up the price. It also touches on some of the more troubling issues and inherent costs that arise from a meat- and dairy-based diet. It's a quick read, check it out.

Got any other awesome money-saving tips for living vegan? Leave a comment or send us an email at!


Kittee said...

Great post. I hope people read it and take heed. Thanks also for the link to Papa Tofu.


Shannon B. said...

Great post! I laughed many times and will be sure to link to it when I write my post about buying in bulk.

Neta558 said...

Great post. I love your blog!

Aimee said...

Your blog makes me happier and hungrier than usual. Here's my vegan one, too:

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