As more and more people took up a vegan lifestyle last month, for the challenge dubbed "Veganuary", we ask: can you save money by going vegan?
This question is asked so many times. When I talk to people or read articles they say the same thing: "it's expensive".
Conor Carey, living in Barcelona, told the BBC that for the first 10 days of January this year he tried to go vegan but actually found he was spending more money."To be vegan, it helps to be rich. If you open any vegan cookbook you come across all these expensive ingredients."Pine nuts are crazy. They're the most expensive. There is nothing cheap about them."
He is not the first nor last person to say this, but you have to look at this in another way. Many recipes that are online or in books are complicated and involve lots of ingredients. Some of these ingredients are not the everyday things you would stock in your pantry. I would call them luxury ingredients. You do not need to be using them in your food every day. This goes for the so-called 'superfoods'—even more so. Many are completely unnecessary and are expensive.
I've been vegan/plant-based for over 20 years. There was a period during that time when I was spending huge amounts on food and even more when I was vegetarian. Buying processed foods made it expensive. That was the one and only reason early on. Foods were not labelled superfoods then—that came later. When I did jump on the 'superfoods' bandwagon, my food bills went up even more. I no longer believe in 'superfoods', food is food, and I only buy something if I enjoy it and I can afford it.
The other factor that played into making food expensive where the recipe books. Complicated recipes and expensive ingredients. I've been reading: How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. It's not a vegan cookbook and it's not your normal cookbook either but I love the ideas and thought about food. What she says about learning cooking at home could not be more apt:
Cooking is best learned at your own stove: you learn by watching and by doing. Chefs themselves know this. The great chefs of France and Italy learn about food at home: what they do later, in the restaurants that make them famous, is use what they have learnt. They build on it, they start elaborating. They take home cooking to the restaurant, not the restaurant school of cookery to the home. Inverting the process is like learning a vocabulary without any grammar.
What we have in recipe books is a version of what is made in a restaurant, that you now have to make at home. It does not work. I love this part in the book:
For there is more to cooking than being able to put on a good show. Of course, there are advantages in an increased awareness of and enthusiasm for food, but the danger is that it excites an appetite for new recipes, new ingredients: follow a recipe once and then – on to the next. Cooking isn’t like that. The point about real-life cooking is that your proficiency grows exponentially. You cook something once, then again, and again. Each time you add something different (leftovers from the fridge, whatever might be in the kitchen or in season) and what you end up with differs also.
That's what happens with recipe books. We move from one recipe to another, we are excited and want to impress either ourselves or other people. I came across a statistic about how **many of us only read less than 25% of a recipe book** before moving onto the next one. Cooking something over and over again is a great way to experiment and be interested in food. Change the way you cook that particular dish, use a few different ingredients. I do that every week and I never get bored. Basic food can be exciting and different. Learning to cook basic food from scratch is a great way to get the skills. You need to make food without referring to a recipe book always. You get used to the ingredients. How they work in different dishes and you begin to look at using seasonal ingredients.
The combination of basic cooking and seasonal ingredients makes being vegan/plant-based cheap. Find 10 basic ingredients you like and experiment with them. Use a very limited number of spices/herbs that you like.
One of the food combinations I return to time and time again—sweet potato and broccoli. I steam them both and then add some seasoning, olive oil and apple cider vinegar. That is my base dish. I vary it from time to time by adding any of the following: salad leaves, pumpkin seeds, butter beans, mashed sweet potatoe, sunflower seeds, cayenne pepper, shredded carrots and the list goes on.
One of my meal variations using broccoli and sweet potato.
Once you start to make food this way, the recipes are in your head. You don't need to look at a recipe book every time you want to make something. You look at what ingredients you have and then decide what you can make based on your experience in using them. The time spent making the food is reduced. I don't spend more than 20 to 30 minutes making food most of the time. Usually, it's much less. I love cooking but that does mean I want to spend my whole time in the kitchen or struggling with ingredients.
Another common question is: 'where do I get my protein from?' The simple answer is that we get more than enough protein by eating a variety of foods. The human body does not need much protein. Unless you are doing some serious physical training. You can avoid all the so-called 'high protein' expensive processed foods.
You can save money by visiting ethnic shops for dried pulses, beans, lentils, rice etc. Local markets for fresh fruit and vegetables. Supermarkets are convenient but not always cheap and you will end up buying more processed foods.
Have a basic food pantry. These are ingredients that you use everyday. You are comfortable using them without referring to recipe books. I will talk more about a basic food pantry in another post. I do mean basic—10 to 20 items. Having a basic food pantry will allow you to create something from scratch with the least effort and keeping costs low.
The BBC News article, Veganuary: What did it cost you?
This article was updated on 5 February 2019