Sep 24, 2010

Being Vegan on the Cheap, Not a Rich Man's Game!

A friend recently remarked how snobby and elitist the vegan/vegetarian community can be, and how vegan food products can be so pricey that you'd have to have an above-average income to buy into it (pun intended). And, as much as I want to disagree, the evidence at the local health food store doesn't lie.

A vegan cupcake for $4?! Whipped cream in a can for $6?! ...not to mention vegan cheese and vegan mayo, which is basically made of soy or pea protein, fat, and a thickener/emulsifyer. I recently made a comment to a young vegan college student (starving, of course), that the local health food store now carried Daiya (a very popular vegan cheese). She quickly replied that she wished she could get some, but she simply couldn't afford it on her budget.

What is this world coming to? What happened to the vegan movement upon which veganism was found? It used to be about living off the earth and preserving our natural resources- growing our own vegetables, and spreading the word about healthy living, community, and sharing. I'll admit it- I don't look like one, but I'm a hippy at heart!

The fact is, corporations have found a new growing market, and have professionals who are quite adept at luring the masses into buying their cool products with cool packaging. I'm guilty too! It's hard to resist some of those products, which offer flavor, quickly satisfy cravings, and the all-too-popular convenience. Veg magazines and food sites (even me) promote them. Isles at the market are quickly filling up with them. And it's getting harder and harder to say that a vegan diet/ lifestyle is not only healthier, but cheaper.

But the fact is, it can be- if you simply go back to the basics.

10 humble tips for going vegan on the cheap, and helping the planet:
1) The obvious- avoid pre-packaged processed foods and eat as much whole foods as possible.
2) Go organic, but only when it's on sale. Certain produce have less pesticides than others (mostly things with thick skins that you don't eat, like avocados). You can find a list here.
3) Plant a veggie garden, and go organic A LOT more often! No space? You'd be amazed at what you can grow in containers on a patio, herbs on a window sill, etc.
4) Get your neighborhood involved and exchange crops for more variety. I call this a "crop swap."
5) Buy from the bulk section (re-use bags as much as possible).
6) Shop at farmer's markets right before closing to get the best deals, and don't be afraid to bargain.
7) Don't throw away vegetable cuttings (carrot tops, onion tops, peels, etc.)- collect them in your fridge over a few days, then use them to make vegetable stock for soups, etc. If you have left over, compost for your garden.
8) Eat your greens- don't throw away beet greens, turnip greens, radish, and even carrot greens are all edible and delicious! Too fibrous for your taste? Try them in delicious smoothies blended with fruit.
9) Absolutely NO MONEY? Volunteer to feed the even less fortunate. Food Not Bombs is an organization that has provided free vegan meals to the homeless for years. Chances are, there's one in your city, if not -start one! The one I volunteer for collects day old bread from the local bakery and organic produce from the local market that would otherwise be thrown away. Perfectly good food, that can feed many people, including yourself. I know volunteers that survive on the food they get to take home on a weekly basis.
10) Shop at thrift stores, garage/yard/estate sales when possible for furniture, household items, clothes, and shoes. Post and look for good free stuff on Our city is a college town, and the end of August is when so many people move - great time to pick up free furniture and stuff... you'd be amazed at what people throw away when moving. I'm not above dumpster-diving when there's perfectly good items to be saved from the landfill! Note: just be responsible and don't make a mess for others to clean up!

And finally, be creative and make it fun! A bag of dried beans is not only cheap, but can be made into soups, stews, dips, casseroles, "meat"balls, cookies, cakes, etc. etc. etc.!

Have something to add? Let us all know about it in comments!

P.S. I've been on a recipe hiatus, but will be back soon!


  1. Thanks for sharing these tips! It's unfortunate that corporations are exploiting the growing interest in organic, plant-based eating; the expense of certain products definitely factors into some people's perceptions of veganism. Something I like to do, which relates to tips #1 and #5: Buy bulk, dry beans instead of tinned. Although not as convenient as precooked beans, dried beans are still easy to prepare, cheap, and one can control the amount of salt, spices, etc.

  2. Great tips!

    Some of the ones most in use around my house:

    Soups and stews like chili and curry are cheap and healthy. They can also be made in large quantities and frozen, so that you use up all of your vegetables on hand. You don't need to use vegetable broth from the store, just slow-cooked onions and other veggies, garlic and some salt.

    Potatoes, onions and cabbage are cheap and nutritious. Potatoes and onions together are a favorite combo of mine. Carrots and celery keep well and add lots of flavor.

    Fruits and vegetables bought in season will be cheaper and tastier.

    I always have lentils and brown rice in the pantry.

    Spices purchased in bulk are just a fraction of the price of the jarred ones. (Also, I never buy spices mixes that have salt in them, as you're basically buying salt for 10x the price plus a little sprinkling of herbs.)

  3. I really feel your friend's thoughts on the high price of the cheese....I know the feeling and the high prices on vegan food is rediculous. I live on a very tight income but I raise my own veggies which then allows me to have that extra cash for those expensive vegan foods that I love so much. I do live in an apartment complex but I have a beautiful garden in large pots...peppers, tomatoes, beans, and so much more. I even freeze most of it for the Winter. There are many ways to stretch a dollar, even the grocery stores have a reduced bin next to the vegetable section...I raid that section once a week, early in the morning as soon as the doors at the store opens, and its amazing what I find there. Sometimes I spend 10.00 dollars and I have veggies & fruit for 2 weeks.

  4. Great post. I've been thinking about writing on this lately too because I've heard a lot of comments lately about the cost of eating vegan. Like your list of tips!