I thought that being vegan would be expensive, and I never believed that I could do it. Two years ago (when I first considered the idea), the thought of abandoning 99p chicken mayo’s and cheap frozen pizzas sounded devastating. Utterly unrealistic. Life-shattering. Honestly to this day, as a vegan, I still dream about them longingly most nights. But these are happy dreams. Dreams of a past that I have long since moved away from.
It is easier than you would think to cut out animal products from your life in a cost-effective, and genuinely enjoyable, way.
Statistics show that, environmentally, it’s the obvious path to take. But unfortunately for those that love meat, how to follow that path is much less obvious.
So, here are some of the things that I wish I had known before trying to go vegan and how you can be vegan on a budget…
Vegan ‘Meat’: flexibility = affordability
A common criticism of ‘fake meat’ is that it tastes bland, or at least, it doesn’t taste like real meat. The texture, however, (thanks to great progress in the industry) tends to be near-perfect. It is true that an unadulterated veggie sausage most likely would not bring you the same joy as one filled with delicious pork. But ask yourself the question: why does pork taste so frustratingly good? Biting directly into the side of a pig probably wouldn’t supply the same satisfaction. So what is it?
It’s the processing.
The salt, the seasoning, the grilling, the frying… without these things, a hunk of plain meat would start tasting a whole lot more like a veggie sausage.
Therefore, you should think of vegan ‘meat’ as a blank canvas. The flavour isn’t there yet, but that just gives you more flexibility. Tofu on its own is weird and jelly-like, but sliced thin, fried in oil with salt, pepper and paprika, and you’ve got yourself some smoky bacon. This is the key to being vegan on a budget. When you’re the one that decides the flavour, the actual meat substitute you buy doesn’t really matter (it’s just a canvas, after all). Just buy the one that’s on offer, and season it to your heart’s content.
It’s healthier, and way more affordable.
Budget foods for a budget vegan
“Vegan on a budget” is probably quite a strange phrase to a lot of people, and understandably so. Peruse the Free From section in your local supermarket and you’ll be astounded by how expensive (and quite often terrible) a vegan range can be. Somehow removing the milk from chocolate makes it more expensive? For less ingredients?? It’s criminal, it really is. The same can be said for special vegan ready meals made with things that I can’t even pronounce, that cost more than a mortgage.
Luckily, we are not prisoners to the confines of the vegan section. Countless foods and drinks, even entire meals, just happen to be vegan anyway. Why pay £3 for a packet of special Free From cookies when you could spend the same amount on 5 packs of Oreos? If you hadn’t already heard, Oreos are vegan. Here are some more examples:
- Almost any ready salted, prawn cocktail, BBQ, paprika or bacon flavoured crisps.
- There seems to be a misconception that most bread is made using milk; this isn’t true at all! Avoid brioche, and maybe double-check the label of especially posh bread. Otherwise, bread is invariably vegan.
- Starbursts are vegan in the UK, so are Skittles, Millions, Jelly Tots, Flying Saucers… it’s a big list. Chocolate might be quite tough to find dairy-free, but your dietary transition when it comes to sweets should be pretty easy.
- In a restaurant without a vegan menu? Look out for curries (very often made with coconut milk instead of cream), chilli (with beans not mince obviously) and pizzas can easily be made without cheese (as devastating as that can be).
- It would take forever to organise all of these, so here’s a random list of vegan things to finish us off: peanut butter, pasta, most instant noodles, stir fry sauces, baked beans, mustard, ketchup, brown sauce, bourbons, party rings etc. etc. Basically, there are a lot. Just make sure to check labels, because posh versions of these things sometimes have a cheeky bit of milk thrown in there.
Being vegan on a budget does not mean that your meals have to change
Okay, it does a little bit. But hear me out. In my first weeks as a vegan, I searched desperately online for cheap vegan recipes that actually looked appealing. Amongst all of the stuffed aubergines, ratatouilles, niche expensive ingredients and uncomfortable amounts of mushroom, there was little that jumped out to me.
The solution: cook the same meals that you normally would, and just make a few substitutes.
This works out cheaper than learning a catalogue of new recipes with extravagant ingredients and takes the hassle out of eating vegan. Given the flexibility of vegan meats and your ability to effectively bend them to your will, the chicken that you would normally throw into a curry could be replaced by countless different alternatives. So, make the pasta dish that you always used to; just swap out the cheese for vegan cheese (it’s nice if it’s melted), and the meat for any substitute that’s on offer. Use your grandmother’s secret shepherd’s pie recipe, but whack in some vegan mince instead.
The diet becomes so much less daunting when you realise that you don’t actually have to make much change. It’s also worth noting that whilst real meat goes out of date pretty quickly and can be a pain to freeze, vegan meat is designed to last much longer. You also get the pleasure of being healthier without having to eat a salad, which is a win-win as far as I’m concerned.
But how do I stick to a balanced diet?
Pretty easily, actually. There is no need to eat an entire cow every day in order to get your required protein. In fact, four pieces of seeded bread and a tin of beans equates to all of the protein you need in a day. Nuts are full of protein, as are vegan meats, most dairy-free milk and even green vegetables. Your bodybuilding programme will not be affected. Trust me.
In terms of calcium, understandably people worry that cutting out cow’s milk will leave them without many options. However, though dairy may well be the celebrity of the calcium world, there are countless other sources of the stuff that you’re probably already eating anyway. Green leafy vegetables like broccoli or cabbage, alternative milk, seeds and pulses, bread… they’re all full of that sweet precious calcium.
Ultimately, so long as you chuck a few beans or pulses into whatever you tend to cook, and keep eating those nice starchy carbs like rice and pasta, you should be okay. You need to eat fruit and vegetables, of course, but you’ve always had to do that so you can’t blame veganism for that one. The only thing that can be hard to find outside of consuming animal products is vitamin B12. It’s good for your nervous system, and therefore pretty important. Lots of vegan products are fortified with B12, though, such as breakfast cereals, marmite and soya milk. Just make sure you pick some up on your next shop, or you’ll have let me down.
Now is the time!
Like the majority of people, there is a very good chance that you are reading this whilst sitting comfortably in quarantine. Therefore, it is probably reasonable for me to assume that you have a lot of time on your hands. Why not channel some of that time into picking up a new diet?
The handy thing about veganism is that, aside from the fruit and veg, a lot of what you eat and drink is designed to last a while. Alternative milks, for example, do not have to be stored in the fridge until they are opened, and put cow’s milk to shame in terms of longevity. Vegan cheese and meat will also outlive the majority of their animal counterparts.
All of this is very helpful when your trips to the shop are limited.
As a vegan on a budget, it is so important to avoid waste, both financially and environmentally. So, during the quarantine, make the most of vegan produce and its beautifully long shelf life.
To be vegan on a budget, you should allow yourself to fail
Here is my final piece of advice, and it’s important, so lean in and listen close. If you are transitioning from a completely normal diet to vegan, you should let yourself slip up occasionally (if you feel you need to). This helps to avoid such intense cravings that can lead you to fall off of the wagon entirely if you finally allow yourself a small bite of meat one year down the line. That’s what happened to me, and it took a while to get back to where I am now.
It’s much easier when you can spend out on all of the new and most expensive vegan products. But for a lot of us, those top-end alternatives aren’t easily available.
Just remember, that being vegan 99% of the time instead of 100% is still going to help the planet in the same way. Don’t listen to people when they say it’s all or nothing.
Veganism is a fantastic and healthy way to improve your life, but it is certainly worth exploring Fledglink for more life-advice if reconstituted soy protein isn’t your thing. Check out Jord Chesmin’s “Healthy habits: making a fresh start” if you’re still in the mood for some self-improvement.