Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vegan MoFo! Day 6: Can Veganism Be Cheap? The Barebones Vegan Solution (Part I: Kitchen Equipment)

I've been thinking a lot about whether veganism is a demographic choice. In other words, is veganism a "privilege," limited only to the middle and upper classes who can afford it? Or is veganism accessible to everyone, regardless of income?

Apparently, others have been thinking about this issue lately, too. Bess of idreamofgreenie just informed me of Business Week's article about veganism being for the rich and powerful. The article cites recent vegan converts including Bill Clinton, Bill Ford, Russell Simmons, Steve Winn, and Mike Tyson (yes, he's vegan), among others high up on the financial ladder, like CEOs and major business owners.

However, as a vegan, I can say that you don't have to be wealthy to be vegan. This past August, Natala at veganhope set up a really thought-provoking $21-a-week-challenge to show that it really is possible to eat vegan on a tight budget. Twenty-one bucks is the amount of money allotted to you, per week, if you receive food stamps here in the US. Check it out.

Veggies = a huge part of a healthy vegan diet. How can you get the most for your buck?

Now, I have not tried Natala's $21/week challenge, but I do have some ideas for eating cheaply as a vegan. As a PhD student, I have been living off small stipends and student loans for several years, so I have some experience with finding cheap vegan deals. Throughout this Vegan MoFo November, I'll be posting a multi-entry series on what I'm calling The Barebones Vegan, offering tips and advice on how to be vegan on the cheap.

I recognize that some of my suggestions will take more time than their more expensive alternatives, but if you have the time, the patience, the internet access, and the interest, there are some low-cost ways to be vegan. 

Here we go:

T h e  B a r e b o n e s  V e g a n  K i t c h e n  E q u i p m e n t 

Because home cooking is ultimately cheaper to do than eating out, I list the basic kitchen appliances and tools you'll need to acquire in order to create your own meals. Nothing fancy here, just the stuff you'll need to get by.
  1.  A reasonably-priced blender. In my opinion, a blender can do most, if not all, of the things a food processor can do, and they are generally cheaper. Glass jar blenders can do more (such as blend frozen fruits and ice) and are sturdier, but a cheaper, plastic blender will work just fine as long as you don't put ice or very hard frozen fruits in it. The smaller you chop your fruits before freezing them, the less likely you will injure a plastic blender. You can also partially thaw frozen fruits in a bowl of warm water prior to tossing them inside the jar. 
  2. Pots and pans. You can get by with: 1 very large pot (for soups, stews, curries, pasta puttanesca, etc.), 1 medium-sized pot (for re-heating things, cooking rice, making sauces, single-serving items, steaming vegetables, etc.), 1 large frying pan (for stirfrys), and 1 medium frying pan (sometimes you'll want to have two things sauteing at once). It's best to have lids for the pots and pans, too. Nonstick pots/pans tend not to last long, plus who knows what those "nonstick" chemicals will do to you as they inevitably scratch off the surface! Look for cast-iron, which will last you a LONG time, is easy to clean, and tends to be much cheaper than stainless steel (for example, a cast iron skillet goes for around $25, whereas a stainless steel one is over $100).
  3. A cookie sheet and a casserole pan, for baking desserts, seitan, casseroles, vegan pizzas, tofu, etc., plus re-heating food. 
  4. One decent-quality 8'' or 10'' chef's knife. This will save you from needing any fancy schmancy food processor-type dealie. Plus you won't really need to buy a variety of other knives, this way. I, personally, do most of my chopping and food prep with just one quality knife. Keep the knife clean and dry and it should last you a long time.
  5. Two wooden spoons. Two because you'll sometimes be cooking two things at once on the stovetop.
  6. A wooden cutting board. Trust me, these will save you money in the long run, as their plastic counterparts tend to get gnarly pretty quickly. Just be sure to keep your wooden cutting board clean and dry, and it should last you a long time.
Skip the toaster, as you can use your broiler for toast. A microwave is also unnecessary, because you can re-heat your foods using your broiler, oven, or stove-top.

Try to avoid paying full-price. How can you get these cheaply? Check out The Freecycle Network, where you may be able to find free, used kitchenware, plus you'll be participating in a very eco-friendly practice. Craigslist.com is also good for finding cheap (sometimes even free), used appliances. Amazon.com is maybe the 3rd cheapest option, since you'll have to pay for shipping, although Adam says you can sometimes find expensive blenders that have been refurbished selling for half their original price. Also, thrift stores and yard/garage sales can be great to find cheap deals.

Lasagna doesn't lie. You can go veg - it just takes a little know-how.

Stay tuned for upcoming Barebones Vegan posts this month, including the Barebones Vegan Pantry, the Barebones Vegan Fridge & Freezer, The DIY Guide To Cheap Veganism, and more.

Hope this helps!


P.S. Please feel free to share your own suggestions on how to eat vegan for cheap!!! I may end up using them in future Barebones Vegan posts. 


  1. It's all about the home-cooked beans :P

    We cook a whole bunch and then freeze them in little baggies. It's actually not that time-consuming at all if you soak the beans overnight.

  2. Thanks for the shoutout!!

    Some of the key vegan staples are among the cheapest foods (rice, potatoes, beans, bananas, noodles) so I definitely took issue with the points in that article.

    A friend of mine did her own very extreme challenge to eat vegan on $7 a week (after encountering a great deal of doubt over whether she'd be able to afford being vegan) and she was able to sustain that lifestyle for some time (and even limited any food she didn't pay for).

    Check it out at http://vegandollarmenu.wordpress.com

  3. @almiragoesvegan, that's a great idea. I will include that in one of my next Barebones Vegan posts.

    @Bess, no problem! I can't believe your friend was able to eat on $7/week! I mean, that's 1/3 the amount of one week's worth of food stamps! I am definitely going to check out her site... Will add it to one of my next posts.

  4. Great list! It definitely is easy to eat cheaply as a vegan. So cheaply that for many people around the world, they eat vegan meals quite regularly just to save money. It seems silly to me that in the U.S. we talk about it as being "elitist".

    I'd substitute a carbon steel wok (with a glass lid, preferably) and a cast iron Dutch oven for the frying pan and casserole dish, if possible. Both will add a lot of versatility and you may find that you don't need some of the other things then.

    For example, my husband and I use the Dutch oven both in the oven and on the stove top. He likes to deep fry his seitan in it. And it has the added benefit of being able to be easily used while grilling or even camping (though there are special models for this if you plan to do that a lot).

    I use the wok a lot. Because of its shape, it does well with a variety of size dishes and cooking methods. You can also deep-fry in it, though I tend to stir-fry, sauté, and boil. You can steam with it if you have a bamboo steaming basket. I don't like having to clean the bamboo, though, and I tend to steam a lot at once, so I usually use a steamer basket inside my stock pot.

    Speaking of, I've had great luck steaming rice in a Pyrex bowl on the steamer basket (1 cup white rice, 1.5 cup water, 45 minutes -- a little longer for brown rice). That trick will save you from buying a rice cooker, though some like the convenience of a rice cooker. And you do have to make sure the pot does go dry with this technique. I use a penny in the pot to help alert me and am sure to turn the flame down to low once it starts boiling. (Plus, no peeking!)

    If you have a pressure cooker, that REALLY helps when cooking beans -- or so I hear. We're getting one soon from family. You can find them at thrift stores pretty easily, in my experience, but make sure the seals are still good.

    If you get a wok, chances are these days it will come with some wooden spatulas. I like those. If you're using a cast-iron skillet (another thing we use a lot), a good metal spatula with rounded corners is a must. It will not only help you flip food, it will help smooth out the seasoning on the cast iron helping to give you a great non-stick surface over time.

  5. I know you can live as a vegan cheaply...thanks to R, my very own financial advisor. The basics are not expensive, it's the processed vegan stuff that's pricey and it is probably better to limit intake of processed foods anyway. You can get a lot at the LA chain of the 99 cents only stores that happens to be vegan...including soy milk and produce!

  6. Meg, I know, it is so backwards that veganism has bad reputation in the US for being expensive! Thanks for adding to my efforts to dispel this myth!! If you don't mind sharing, how much do Dutch ovens and steel woks usually go for? Also, this is probably a silly question, but do you mean you steam your rice by putting it inside of a Pyrex bowl and then putting that bowl inside a pot on the stove?

    queerveganrunner, yes, in my opinion, R should write her own book on how to be a cheap vegan. I am actually serious! Also, soy milk for 99 cents, are you for realz!?? Is there someone getting screwed somehow? I mean, I'm all for 99 cent soy milk, but I just don't want there to be some kind of soy milk black market... Maybe I am just being cynical.

  7. Hi CYoFC!

    Well, it definitely depends where you buy them. I got our Lodge Dutch oven at a specialty kitchen store a few years ago and it wasn't super cheap, but it was a good investment for us. But nowadays you can buy one from Walmart.com of Amazon.com for less than $50 and even less on Ebay. And occasionally you'll find them at yard sales and thrift stores, though probably not as much as cast iron skillets.

    If you have an Asian market nearby, you might want to check there for a wok, but you can also get them online or in other stores for under $50 if you don't need anything too fancy. We got an Asian Fusion wok back when they were sold at Bed Bath & Beyond. Just be sure to get the carbon steel and not the non-stick coating because that will limit its lifetime (and I hate to think of what's getting into the food).

    Also, your mileage may vary with a wok. They work best with a gas stove, at least if you are trying to do traditional stir-fries. But they're still very versatile on electric ranges.

  8. @CYoFC

    "Also, this is probably a silly question, but do you mean you steam your rice by putting it inside of a Pyrex bowl and then putting that bowl inside a pot on the stove?"

    Yes -- well, sort of. And not silly at all! It's not the usual technique, I know.

    I use a metal steaming basket between the bowl and the bottom of the pot. Something like this: http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_00840996000P?vName=For%20the%20Home&cName=Cookware&Gadgets&sName=Stockpots%20&%20Steamers&sid=IDx20070921x00003a&ci_src=14110944&ci_sku=00840996000P

    I don't know if it's really necessary. Perhaps it isn't, but I feel safer using it and think that it probably keeps the glass bowl from dancing around in the pot or getting too hot. And it's so useful for steaming other things like artichokes (not cheap, but a weakness of mine).

  9. Meg, thank you so much for the advice! This is helpful!!!

  10. Also, do you have a blog? If so, I'd love to check it out!

  11. Awww, thanks, CYoFC! My pleasure!

    No, no blogs currently. And I've never really blogged about food or veganism. Maybe I will one day, though!

    You can find me on Twitter as @mmmeg.

  12. I actually enjoyed reading through this posting. Many thanks.
    Kitchen Equipment