Lentils

“I could never go vegan. It’s too expensive!”

Chances are, if you’ve been vegan for any amount of time, you’ve heard this before. Repeatedly. Perhaps even from the same people, whenever you sit down for a meal.

There are many ways to go about your vegan grocery shopping – but, and I must say this – the same rings true for an omnivore’s shopping. It’s a perpetuated myth that veganism is what makes a vegan’s food expensive, and it’s not true.

Let’s start with something obvious to many of us, but maybe not to the wider population: vegans are not the only ones who eat vegan food! Do you see omnivores shying away from apples, oranges, bananas, bread, beans, nuts and seeds? Well, maybe some of them do. But I’m pretty sure that the stray piece of toast finds its way onto the plate of a couple of non-vegans each morning with breakfast. These foods are not expensive, and they’re already in many shopping carts!

So what does make eating – vegan or otherwise – expensive? Processed food. Ok, yes – if you’re filling that cart with Gardein, Boca burgers, Field Roast, and Daiya cheese wedges, I can see how your weekly bill isn’t something you can sustain affording. But the same can be said for the non-vegan counterparts to those products. This is a case where moderation is a good thing… go easy on the convenience foods!

And while we’re on the subject of convenience foods, let me just point out that you can be a junk food vegan. Potato chips and soda for everyone, and cheap, too! But that’s not really where we want to be. We’re supposed to be ambassadors for how incredibly awesome the vegan life is, after all, and it’s not very awesome when it’s filled with grease and high fructose corn syrup. If someone tells you it’s too expensive to be vegan, and your argument is ramen noodles and Coca-Cola, please stop it!

If any of us wants to save money at the supermarket, we’re going to have to stop watching Extreme Couponing and put down the sugar, salt, and artificial colorings. Step away from the four dollar package of Oreos, people; you can buy at least three pounds of lentils for that kind of money! (note: I don’t have a source for this, except my last trip to the Shop Rite a town over)

Yes, you heard me – three pounds of dry lentils for around four dollars at your local supermarket, and it will yield fifteen cups of cooked. That’s thirty servings of lentils. Is anyone out there willing to tell me that’s too expensive? Do you know how many meals you can incorporate that amount of lentils into?

“But I can’t just eat lentils for the rest of my life!” you say. Fine – buy yourself a cookbook and get cooking! Ellen Jaffe Jones’ Eat Vegan on $4.00 a Day is proof that veganism does not have to be expensive… and that four bucks covers all your meals for the day, so tell me again why you can’t afford to eat healthy? The beauty of a cookbook like this is that it not only walks you through eating well for less, but it gives you the recipes to make tasty meals. If you aren’t a natural cook, that’s really an important part of it.

And what if times are really tough? What about people who are relying on food stamps to eat? Earlier this year, Rory Freedman, author of my personal vegan-maker, Skinny Bitch, tried eating vegan for a week only on what the average Californian gets in food stamps: thirty-three bucks. And she did it.  Eating vegan on a budget – even the smallest – is not impossible. It just requires some mindfulness in what’s going into the shopping cart and the willingness to prepare some meals.

It’s true that the wrong foods are subsidized and that there is so much wrong with the food industry today, from what they serve to children in schools to the fact that it’s easier to find a fast food joint in some cities than it is to find a supermarket. But it’s up to us to vote with our dollars. It’s up to us to change a system that is obviously not working. Eating a healthful vegan diet can benefit our wallets now, at the register, as well as later, when we’re not paying for medical care that stems from the standard American diet.

I’ve heard it said that eating vegan is something that only the privileged can do. Not true, at least in the way it was intended, but let’s twist that around. Yes, we vegans are privileged – with the opportunity to make our voices heard, to lead by example, and to eat really great food for less than what people may think.

Photo credit: anitasarkeesian via Flickr