Vegan Diet – Eating Healthfully Affordably
When people make the transition to a whole-foods, plant-based diet, one of the things they notice is how much less money they spend on food. I’ve seen it time and again. Now, I realize you may be saying, “But wait! I just spent a lot of money restocking my kitchen!” I understand you may have had to replace some animal-based products with plant-based ingredients, but I imagine we’re talking mainly about condiments and the like. Because these items will last you a long time, keep in mind that you won’t be buying these staples week after week. I think once you get beyond the initial 30 days, you’ll be better able to more accurately calculate what you’re spending on your weekly groceries. My hope here is to debunk the myth that eating a vegan diet is more expensive than eating an animal-based diet, and guide you to eating healthfully affordably.
Animal proteins are generally more expensive than plant proteins. The cheapest cuts of beef, such as ground round, average $3.00 per pound in the United States; boneless chicken breasts average $3.40 a pound, and canned tuna is about $2.00 per pound. Contrast that with dried beans and lentils at less than $1.00 a pound and rice well below $1.00 per pound. Tofu is also usually under $2.00 a pound. The cost of nuts and seeds varies, and although pine nuts tend to be expensive, you can always choose sunflower seeds, which contain nearly the same amount of protein at a fraction of the price.
CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING:
Convenience foods—vegan or non-vegan—simply cost more than whole foods.
CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR:
In order to make the most healthful and affordable choices, make whole plant foods the foundation of your diet.
If you price out vegetarian meats, such as veggie dogs, they do tend to cost about $5.00 a pound, so this is just another reason I emphasize basing your diet on whole foods. If you want to indulge in these convenience foods once in a while, that’s fine, but keep in mind that even when you buy non-vegan convenience foods, you’re paying more than if you bought whole foods. Ultimately, in terms of the most healthful and most affordable food, whole plant foods win every time—over processed foods and over animal products.
CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING:
The problem isn’t that organic, locally grown, ethically produced foods are expensive; the problem is that unhealthful, ethically questionable products—such as meat, dairy, and eggs—are artificially cheap.
COSTS BEYOND DOLLARS
Notice I’m using the word affordable—not the word cheap. There’s a big difference between eating affordably and eating cheaply. I’m not talking about eating cheap food, which is what we’ve all become accustomed to, primarily due to government subsidies and buy-backs for meat, dairy, and eggs. Because of these artificially cheap products, we tend to complain when we have to pay the true cost of whole, organic, nonsubsidized foods. The problem isn’t that healthful plant foods are expensive; the problem is that unhealthful animal products are priced artificially low.
Aside from changing our buying habits, we need to change our thinking when it comes to the money we spend on what we eat. Traditionally, people have praised “cheap” animal products because it means more people can buy what are in reality very expensive things to produce, ignoring the fact that there are costs to consider other than the actual dollars we spend—costs to our health, costs to the Earth, costs to the people who produce our food, costs to the animals—and there are many ways to reduce these costs, to the benefit of everyone involved.
I admit I tend to romanticize the stories my parents tell me about their families during the Depression. They were very poor and literally counted every penny. They tell me how excited they and their siblings were when they had enough money to buy half a loaf of bread or a lollipop. I’m certainly not trivializing the difficulties they experienced; rather, I appreciate the simplicity of how they lived and the gratitude they felt being able to afford what they could. We all know how much we appreciate something we have to fight for. And in our days of plenty, we don’t have to fight for much, and so I think we tend to appreciate less.
Admittedly, I’m overwhelmed when I go into a grocery store, because the choices we have are frankly ridiculous—almost embarrassing. So although I’m grateful for the privilege of having so many options, they actually just make me more inclined toward simplicity—the simplicity we’re often forced into when we’re in a recession, when income is low, or when we need to get a better handle on our budget. This simplicity has so many benefits, including:
• Appreciating what we have
• Saving up for what we really want
• Using up what we have in our cupboards before going shopping
• Choosing healthful whole foods rather than expensive packaged products
EATING AT HOME
Cooking at home is one of the best ways to eat affordably. Today, almost 50 percent of Americans and 30 percent of U.K. residents eat their meals outside of the home. Eating out that much takes a toll on our wallets, on our bodies, and even on our taste buds. Restaurant chefs are trained to maximize the use of oil and salt, so their calorie-dense dishes contribute not only to weight gain and health problems but also to our palates lacking sensitivity, coated as they are with fat and sodium. Eating out should be regarded more as a treat than as a daily rite.
I say this aware that people working in offices are often bound by lunchtime meetings and people who travel extensively for work have little choice but to eat in restaurants. What I’m suggesting is that when we are able, we choose home-cooked meals over restaurant fare. Although this may not be as possible for the lunchtime meal, I do recommend that you at least strive to eat breakfast and dinner at home. You will notice a huge difference in how you feel and how much money you save.
CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING:
Because restaurant chefs are trained to maximize the use of oil and salt, their calorie-dense dishes contribute to weight gain, health problems, and dulled palates.
CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR:
Make eating at home the norm and eating out a treat.
BUYING IN BULK
When I suggest buying in bulk, I’m not referring to going to those large warehouse stores and buying fifty packages of paper towels. I’m talking about shopping in the bulk section of grocery stores and natural food stores, where you can buy dried foods, such as pasta, grains, flour, oatmeal, lentils, beans, and even herbs and spices, from bins, choosing exactly how much you want and paying for the weight of that food rather than for the brand name or packaging. Not only is buying in bulk less expensive, it is also much more Earth-friendly, especially if you bring your own bags or containers.
Keep in mind that if you want to be a savvy shopper, it’s best to look at the cost per unit to determine the true cost of an item. The unit price tells you the cost per pound, quart, or other unit of weight or volume of a food package, and it’s usually posted on the shelf below the food. You save money when you compare the cost of the same food in different-sized containers or different brands. For example, if you want to buy frozen orange juice, you may find a 6-ounce can that cost 64¢. The unit price for this small can is $3.42 per quart. A 12-ounce can of frozen orange juice in another brand may cost 89¢, and the unit price is $2.38 per quart. Here, the larger container is less expensive.
COOKING FROM SCRATCH
Perhaps it takes more effort than calling the pizza guy, but cooking from scratch is healthier and more affordable, including when it comes to baking.
It’s true there are vegan cake, brownie, and biscuit mixes out there, but if you’re looking to save money, those are unnecessary expenses. Let’s take a look at the cost of my Drop Biscuits. Parsing out and pricing all of the ingredients called for, it works out to $1.15 to make 12 biscuits; that’s a little more than 10¢ per biscuit.
Look at the Chocolate Cake recipe. Depending on the type of cocoa you use (organic, fair-trade will be more expensive), the cost for the entire cake is $3.46 if using more expensive cocoa and $2.75 if using less expensive cocoa. This is less than any cake mix you’ll buy in the store, especially when you consider that when you use those cake mixes, you still have to add your own oil, so you’re paying a lot of money for just flour, sugar, and cocoa. And it costs substantially less than buying a pre-made cake in your grocery store or bakery. That goes for the frosting, too. It’s true a lot of frostings sold in grocery stores are vegan, but they’re usually loaded with corn syrup and artificial preservatives. Making your own frosting is not only less expensive but also healthier.
CHOOSING NUTRIENT-DENSE FOODS
Cost considerations go well beyond dollars and cents. We want to get the best monetary bang for our caloric buck, but ideally, we want to get the most nutritional bang for our caloric buck as well. Physiologically, we need calories (i.e., food) in order to give us the energy to function properly. Just as we need to fill a car with high-quality fluids in order for it to run well, so too do we need high-quality fuel in order for our own bodies to run well. When we fill our cars or bodies with junk, they’ll run all right, but not at their optimal level, and that should be our goal.
This is the principle behind avoiding eating empty calories. They may fill you up, but they don’t provide you with the nutrients you need to function well. It’s like filling up a gas tank with water. The tank might be filled, but it’s not filled with a substance that allows it to run, and in a short period of time the car will break down. Processed and refined foods are basically empty calories, because though they have the same energy content of any other calorie, they lack vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fiber. The same can be said of meat, dairy, and eggs—they provide a lot of calories but very little nutrient value in return. No fiber. No antioxidants. No phytochemicals.
You want to make the most of the calories you take in—and make these calories nutrient-dense. Think of how much money we spend in the form of empty calories, including beverages, sodas, juices, and fancy coffee drinks. A lot of calories are spent with very little return in terms of nutrition.
CHALLENGE YOUR THINKING:
Processed and refined foods as well as animal products may fill you up, but they don’t provide much nutrient value in return.
CHANGE YOUR BEHAVIOR:
Get the most nutritional bang for your caloric buck: choose nutrient-dense foods.
Based on their nutrient-per-calorie density, the winners are:
• First place: dark green leafies such as kale, collard greens, chard, mustard greens, and turnip greens.
• Second place: other green vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, asparagus, celery, cucumbers, peas, green peppers, snow peas, snap peas, string beans, and zucchini.
• Third place (but still complete winners): non-green veggies like beets, tomatoes, carrots, squash, bell peppers, and cauliflower and fresh fruits.
Make no mistake about it: eating nutrient-dense foods also has very tangible cost benefits in terms of the medical bills you won’t be paying in the long term. Coronary bypass surgery and cholesterol-lowering drugs, diabetes drugs, and dialysis—all correlated with animal-based diets—are incredibly expensive; a bypass surgery or angioplasty procedure can cost nearly $60,000. Some 16 million people are living with some form of coronary heart disease, and 1.2 million people suffer a heart attack every year. As a result, there are more than 425,000 coronary artery bypass graft surgeries performed in the United States each year, making it one of the most commonly performed major operations. All this pain, misery, expense, and death for a preventable disease.
Take advantage of some of these nutrient-dense foods by making the Garlic and Greens Soup, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Caramelized Onions and Toasted Pistachios, and Muhammara (Roasted Red Pepper and Walnut Spread).
As one of my favorite vegan doctors, Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, always says: “Coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never ever exist, and if it does exist, it need never ever progress. When people learn to eat plant-based to eliminate heart disease, it could inaugurate a seismic revolution in health.”
BECOME A SAVVY SHOPPER
Don’t fall into the traps of overspending and making unhealthful food choices at the grocery store. To avoid this:
• MAKE A LIST: Having a list and sticking to it is vital to saving money. This is where planning your meals ahead comes in handy. Knowing what you want to eat for the week enables you to look through your recipes carefully enough to create your shopping list and prevents you from having to run out to the store for one item, which always winds up turning into several by the time you leave the store. According to studies, 70 percent of shoppers enter the grocery store with a shopping list but only 10 percent adhere to it. Commit to buying only what you need and resist temptations along the way.
• LOOK DOWN: Items on the lower shelves tend to be less flashy, less processed, less intensively packaged—and thus less expensive.
• EAT BEFORE YOU SHOP: Old but helpful advice. We never make the best choices when we’re ravenously hungry.
• CHOOSE LOCAL: Because most supermarket produce travels thousands of miles before arriving, it’s bred for longevity, not flavor. To experience maximum flavor and freshness while supporting your own local farms, choose locally grown fruits and veggies as much as possible, either by buying them at farmer’s markets or by shopping in grocery stores that adhere to the law that requires them to notify customers where certain foods were grown.
• KNOW WHEN TO CHOOSE ORGANIC: Because organic produce is priced according to its true cost, it feels more expensive than subsidized, artificially cheap conventionally grown produce. To help you make the best decisions about when to buy organic, it’s helpful to know which fruits and veggies have more pesticide residue than others so you can make informed choices. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides” at foodnews.org.
At a glance, the following produce tends to be so heavily sprayed with toxic chemicals that many experts recommend eating them only when they’re organic: apples, bell peppers, celery, cherries, imported grapes, kale, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raspberries, and strawberries. These are called the Dirty Dozen. Those least sprayed are called the Clean Fifteen and include asparagus, avocado, cabbage, cantaloupe, eggplant, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kiwi, mangos, onions, pineapple, sweet corn, sweet peas, sweet potato, and watermelon.
• DON’T BROWSE: Think of the different departments as separate stores within the supermarket. Just as you wouldn’t shop at every store at the mall, think of the grocery store this way. Just target the sections that provide the healthiest fare and avoid altogether those that are filled with empty-calorie products.
• PUT OFF GOING TO THE GROCERY STORE: When you “haven’t a thing to eat,” take a long hard look at your newly veganized cupboards, freezer, and refrigerator. Most likely you have enough to make a few more meals before heading to the store. Make a stew with those canned beans; make a pilaf with that brown rice. Spoiled as we are, we think we have to run to the store every time we’re low in the staples. Be creative and stretch out the time between your visits a little longer. You’ll save a little money and perhaps enjoy seeing what you can come up with.
Applying these principles, you’ll save loads of money and prevent costly and life-threatening diseases.
Grains are one of the easiest things to cook, as long as you know how to boil water. Cooking times and grain: liquid ratios vary. Here is a helpful guide.
|RAIN TYPE||GRAIN: LIQUID||COOKING TIME|
|Brown rice (short or long grain)*||1 cup: 2 or г/г cups||Simmer 45 minutes.|
|Basmati rice* (white)||1 cup: W* cups||Simmer 20 minutes.|
|Basmati rice* (brown)||1 cup: 2 cups||Simmer 40 to 45 minutes.|
|Bulgur wheat||1 cup: 2/i cups||Simmer 25 minutes, (luff, let sit for Ю minutes. Or boil the water, pour over bulgur, cover and let sit for 1 hour.|
|Ouinoa· (pronounced KEEN-wah)||1 cup: 2 to 3 cups||Rinse guinoa in a strainer, and add to pot along with water. Cover, and bring to boil for 10 minutes or until water is absorbed. Fluff, and cover until time to serve.|
|Couscous(pronounced KOOS-koos)||1 cup: 1Ά cups||Bring water to boil. Add couscous,|
1 tablespoon Earth Balance or olive oil, and Vi teaspoon salt. Remove from heat, stir, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.Amaranth·1 cup: 3 cupsMix with corn, scallions, and cooked beans. Simmer 25 to 30 minutes. Do not salt until thoroughly cooked.Pearled barley1 cup: 4 cupsSimmer 60 to 70 minutes.Millet·1 cup: Z’/г cupsSimmer 15 minutes, remove from heat, fluff, and let sit uncovered for 20 minutes.Wild and brown rice mix·1 cup :3cupsSimmer 35 minutes.Polenta· (cornmeal)1 cup: 4 cupsBring water to a boil, add 1 teaspoon salt, and slowly add polenta, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to gentle simmer, stirring for 2 more minutes. Cover and cook for 40 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.