I think it would be fair to say that only a few years ago the perception of “what a vegan eats” would have been lettuce, tofu and grass! Ok so I’m being silly but for many a world without animal products in their diet would have seemed extreme and boring, particularly as there were very few “direct replacements” for the conventional meat and two veg. Apart from some exotic products that were expensive and not readily availble it was often perceived expensive as well. So its that true or is being vegan cheaper? lets have a look.
The good news is that change has been happening rapidly over the past decade and even more so over the past few years. Infact in 2016 a Mori poll showed that approx 540,000 people over 15 identified as vegan in the UK. Research conducted by comparethemarket.com in 2018 has seen that number increase to over 3 million, a rise of over 600% and almost 7% of the population.
It’s no wonder then that major retailers are taking note. Most supermarkets now have their own range of vegan food and these product ranges are seemingly increasing by the week. The same can be said for a vast number of high street restaurants and cafes who now also offer a variety of vegan options. While this should be embraced as good news we want to take a look at the cost of being vegan.
So we are going to ask, is being vegan cheaper or is it more expensive? To help us give our answer we are going to take a look at what we have inside our kitchen cupboards.
What’s is a vegan diet?
Hopefully for most of you reading this the answer is pretty straightforward but let’s just clarify particularly for those newly vegan. Of course a vegan avoids consumption of all meat and fish products just as a vegetarian would. The difference for most people is that as a vegan you also avoid anything containing eggs, dairy products and honey.
But that’s not all because a vegan diet is one that avoids any animal product derivative of which there are many that people are not aware. Some of these ingredients are difficult to spot, especially those used as additives or fillers in processed foods or used during the manufacturing process.
Some of the key ingredients to look out for are the following:
Casein – Casein is a protein derived from animal milk and is the main component in cheese making. Sometimes casein will be added as an ingredient in products that are non-dairy.
Gelatine – Gelatine comes from animal collagen and is a colourless, odourless gelling agent often used in sweets, chewing gums and even some processed foods.
Carmine/Cochineal – Carmine is a pigment from the crushed female cochineal insect. Use primarily as a red colourant for foods particularly sweets and even some fizzy drinks
Isinglass – Isinglass is a clarifying agent derived from fish bladders and used when making wine and brewing beer. Want to know more about vegan booze? See our article asking Is Alcohol Vegan?
Whey – Whey is the liquid that remains once milk has been curdled and then strained. It is often used for cakes, cookies, sweets, speciality breads and often added to nutritional shakes.
So a vegan diet is one that avoids food where any animal product or derivative has been used either as an ingredient a bye product or as part of the manufacturing process. So now let’s try and answer that question, is being vegan cheaper or more expensive?
The cost of switching to vegan
The reason for writing this post was because I have received a number of comments from people saying that they would like to try a vegan diet but they can’t afford to. Also people who have recently transitioned saying that their shopping bill has increased. I do occasionally receive comments from new vegans saying how delighted they are that they are not only eating healthier and not harming animals but are also saving on their shopping bill. So why the different points of view? let’s take a look.
The chances are that the majority of those who find they are spending more on their food after a transition to a vegan diet have been raised on the standard British/American diet of meat, potato and a possibly a side dish of veggies. Because of this tradition switching to an entirely new plate display and palette of tastes can be difficult at first. This is where many of the mock meats and “traditional” food replacements came in to play.
As we noted earlier virtually all major supermarkets now have their own range of vegan products many of which are “direct replacements” for the traditional meat dish. The creativity and quality of these meat imitating dishes is impressive making them perfect transition foods for someone coming from a standard British American omnivorous diet.
However, we now come to the cost issue, our research has shown that the vast majority of those who find that a vegan diet is costing them more is because they are primarily buying a mix of pre-prepared omnivorous meal replacements as well as mock meats and cheeses. While we absolutely agree there is a place for this kind of food, (we love the happy pear vegan shepherd’s pie on a winters day!), a move away from this kind of food to a more whole food plant based diet is one we would recommend.
After all if you have been brave enough to change to a vegan diet for the animals and the environment why not also consider your health and your pocket. Let’s explore this idea further
Being Vegan is Cheaper – and healthier to.
A quote I use often when asked about my lifestyle is that “I am vegan for the animals and the planet and eat a whole food plant based diet for my health”. From our own personal experience I could easily expand this quote to say for my health and my wallet. My answer to the original question in the title of this post, is being vegan cheaper? for us is a resounding yes.
Why is this, well mainly because we have always prepared fresh dishes utilising lots of legumes, grains, fruits and veggies. As omnivores we would use meat, fish and dairy in our cooking and removing these from our diet and replacing them with plant based wholefood alternatives has actually saved us money. Let’s look at some specific examples of replacements we would use in place of meat.
Mince beef – today in our local supermarket (as I write this I am in Las Palmas) 1kg of lean mince beef is 7 euros while a 1kg of fresh red lentils is only 2,30 euros and red kidney beans come in at only 1.85 per kg. Chicken – well currently 1kg of chicken breast is 6,25 euros but 1kg of chickpeas only 1,85. There are of course exceptions, plant milk is typically more expensive than dairy but this does not constitute our main meal ingredient.
In our experience cooking fresh and replacing your old meat ingredients with healthier plant based options you will save money.
What’s in our Kitchen? – Our Vegan Essentials.
So you are vegan but so far your diet has been mainly pre-packaged meals and meat substitutes but now it’s time to move on and stock your kitchen with the staples required to make delicious, nutritious and cost effective plant-based meals at home.
Ideally certain items should always be found in your kitchen so you are able to throw together a tasty nutritious vegan dish at a moment’s notice. Let’s have a look at what we typically have in our kitchen. Our longer lasting vegan items include:
- Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas and all kinds of beans
- Grains such as buckwheat, oats, quinoa and wholegrain rice
- Canned beans (all kinds)
- Canned tomatoes (chopped and whole)
- Dried herbs and spices we currently have over 25 from anise to turmeric!
- Plant milk cartons always unsweetened (usually oat and almond) and always an Oatley barista for my coffee!
- Raw nuts such as almonds, walnuts and cashews
- Raw seeds such as pumpkin, chia, hemp and sesame
- Sauces and oils such as tamari, sesame, flax and olive
- Vinegars such as apple cider, balsamic and white
- Whole grain pasta including whole wheat, spelt, quinoa and brown rice
- Whole grain flours including chickpea, buckwheat and oat
We always have the majority of these items in our cupboards. We recommend that you always maintain a stock and the best way to do this is to have an ongoing shopping list. As soon as you open the last of a particular item make sure you add it to the list for your next shop that way you will never be without these core ingredients
What’s in our vegan fridgefreezer
Most the time I love opening our fridge door, why, well because it is usually full with such a range of wonderful colours it reminds how lucky we are to have such options available. Of course there are occasions when stocks get a bit low but typically all that is required is some basic planning and an ongoing shopping list to keep your fridge nicely stocked.
Our fridge is of course our temporary storage space where our perishables are kept and where items come and go a lot quicker. In our fridge, we normally have:
- Open cartons of plant milks
- Open and left over sauces such as mustard, salad dressings and vinegars
- Open packages of seeds and nuts
- A whole range of salad items (with the majority being local and seasonal)
- A whole range of vegetables (with the majority being local and seasonal)
- Cut or peeled fruits
- Meal leftovers
- Tofu, tempeh and seitan
- Vegan cheese and mayonnaise (yes we do have this as well!)
- Cooked grains or beans
This would be a typical representation of what’s in our fridge. Planning is always key so we will normally have a plan for the leftovers. Cooked grains or beans can be added to whatever dish you are preparing particularly salads. Cut veggies, fruits and salads are always best kept in the fridge. Let’s get a bit colder and go to the freezer
Let’s cool things down a bit more and look at how best to use your freezer. A freezer is a great asset if you know how to use it properly. Take advantage of the ingredients you have when meal prepping and produce extra and freeze for another day. This can be done with complete meals and with leftovers for when you don’t have time to cook or just don’t feel like it.
Freeze fruit that is going to over-ripen and use for smoothies. Precook grains and freeze so that they are readily available to be added to a meal when time is short. Our top tip for the freezer are ripe bananas. If your bananas are becoming overripe or if they are on offer at the market, peel them and put them in the freezer.
On a summers day you can mix the frozen banana with blueberries, or indeed any other fruit, in a slow blender to produce a natural fruit “ice cream”
Top tips to make “being vegan cheaper”
Ok so we know that certain processed meat and cheese alternatives make the transition to veganism a lot easier for some as they move from the traditional American British plate which is heavy in animal products. We know that this transition may well increase the cost of their weekly shop.
We also know that a well-stocked kitchen and a little creativity will mean that you can prepare and consume tasty healthy and economic plant based meals whenever hunger strikes. So let’s finish with 10 simple tips to a make being vegan cheaper.
Learn some simple recipes and prepare your own meals. Simple doesn’t have to be boring and we will soon have a long list of simple recipes added to the site but until then check out our top vegan books for beginners to get some ideas.
Love whole foods. Plant based whole foods should be the base of any healthy diet. The best thing about these tasty nutritious foods is that they are also the cheapest ones
Buy local and in season. Foods that are local and seasonal not only taste better but also are a lot cheaper
Buy in bulk. Larger packs often provide better value for money. Check out the unit cost by weight or volume to make sure you are getting the best deal
Freeze leftovers. We have already mentioned this but freeze leftovers, a small portion of one day’s dinner will make a nice lunch for another day. Both fruit and veg can be frozen to make smoothies or soups
Buy frozen. Frozen fruits and vegetables can often be a great alternative when seasonal options aren’t available. They are usually flash frozen to retain their nutritional profile and of course won’t perish.
Do your research. If you have various local food markets or supermarkets close by research to find the best deals across the different stores. You may find there are foods on offer you haven’t previously cooked with and this could be your opportunity to try something new!
Use the farmers market. If you are lucky enough to have a local farmers market use it. Not only will you be supporting local business but often the produce is cheaper than large chain supermarkets. Visiting at the end of the day can also be great for discounted produce
Grow your own. Of course not something that we can all do but even if it is only a window ledge of herbs such as basil or mint, it will save you money, is really satisfying and you know it will be fresh and organic.
Plan ahead. Before heading out to shop be sure to plan your meals and make a shopping list of the ingredients you need. Think about portion sizes and making extra to freeze. Always take in to consideration foods you already have that may need to be used.
So what’s the answer is being vegan cheaper? Well the truth is it’s entirely up to you. If you are buying vegan ready meals, faux meats and expensive snacks then of course you may well me spending more than you did eating meat. The good news is that eating super healthy and vegan can be extremely cheap.
Take the chance to try out new but simple recipes and mix things up to get all the nutrients you need. You will soon find there is no need for expensive ingredients to achieve a delicious and nutritious vegan meal.