Thursday, November 18, 2010

Vegan MoFo! Day 8: The Barebones Vegan (Part II)

This post is part of a series I'm writing this month. My hope is to establish a set of basic, essential, and affordable practices for vegans on a budget. You can read the first post here.

T h e  B a r e b o n e s  V e g a n  P a n t r y

Below is a partial list of the cheapest pantry items I've found (based on US prices). They're also very versatile and generally healthy. If you're a vegan trying to survive on a tight budget, these are your non-refrigerated staples.
  1. Nutritional Yeast - Usually bulk bin places are cheaper, but it depends. It's probably cheapest to find a food co-op near you. They generally have cheap bulk bins (and other cheap food, too).
  2. Dried Beans, Split Peas, Lentils - Compare these to the price of the canned variety. Sometimes canned is cheaper, depending on what's on sale and where you shop. These items are great because they're so nutritious (protein, fiber, + vitamins) and they're filling. Eat them with rice, put them on a salad, or toss in the blender to make a bean dip.
  3. Oils - Not totally necessary if you're really watching your fats, however.
  4. Vinegars
  5. Pasta
  6. Rice - A great grain to have on hand because a small amount can be so filling. I've heard that "broken rice" is the cheapest.
  7. Flour
  8. Canned tomatoes and tomato paste
  9. Spices/seasonings 
  10. Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) for soups, stews, casseroles, etc. - This is a much cheaper alternative to fake meat.
  11. Nuts
Bulk bins @ a food co-op. photocred.

T h e  B a r e b o n e s  V e g a n  F r i d g e 

Here are all the vegan refrigerator items you really need, as far as I'm concerned.
  1. Veggies and fruits - A vegan must. You may have to shop around to see what's cheapest. Cost will also depend, in part, on if you want organic, local, or not. Concerned about pesticides? Get to know the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15, the lists of worst and best produce to buy organic as determined by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Still concerned? Well, according to doctors like Joel Furhrman, M.D., no matter what shape produce your produce is in, you're still going to get less pesticides than you would from consuming meat, given that eating animals means eating a very concentrated, lifetime's supply of the pesticides that those animals have consumed. Cheapest fruit I've found? Bananas, hands down. And they give you a lot of options: you can freeze 'em for smoothies, eat them on-the-go, have them with peanut butter, fry them, use them as egg substitutes in baking, etc. 
  2. Tofu - Cheaper and more versatile than fake meat, so you're getting a lot for your money, in my opinion. 
  3. Peanut butter - Get the all natural kind, not the sugary, commercial kind. That stuff's nasty. Trader Joe's sells decently-priced all natural peanut butter. I always refrigerate mine because my 10th grade science teacher told us your peanut butter can harbor botulism bacteria if you don't.
  4. Bread - This one varies widely according to what kind you buy. Be sure to check the ingredients list - sometimes bread manufacturers sneak unnecessary dairy ingredients into their bread. Lately, I've been on a whole wheat pita kick, because I like how I can use for sandwiches, personal pizza crusts, or for dipping in hummus.
  5. Soy or nut milk of your choice - You can also make this, though it takes some time and dedication. It is cheaper to DIY, though, plus you get a lot of other edible products out of the process.
Soy beans. photocred.

T h e  B a r e b o n e s  V e g a n  F r e e z e r

In my opinion, it's generally best to skip most frozen foods, as they're usually expensive. Use your freezer mainly for freezing leftovers plus fruits, veggies, and herbs that you plan on using later. Sometimes, there are cheap deals on pre-packaged frozen fruits and veggies, depending on where you shop.

Oh! There is one exception: many varieties of berries tend to be cheaper if you buy 'em frozen! I, personally, will only buy my organic strawberries when they're in season because they're so damn expensive. All other times, I buy them frozen. Thanks, Queer Vegan Runner, for reminding me of this important exception!

T h e  B a r e b o n e s  V e g a n ' s  O t h e r  S e c r e t  F o o d  S o u r c e s:
  1. Picking fruits growing off public trees - For so many reasons, I think THIS IS AWESOME! Basically, public trees are public property, right? So, this means the fruits of those trees are the public's, too. Free fruit for everyone, YEAH! Lots of cities worldwide are catching on to this and creating "fruit maps" of their area. For example, at this website, you can download a map of the Fallen Fruit of Silver Lake - a great source if you happen to live in/near Los Angeles! Thanks to awesome folks Matias Viegener, David Burns and Austin Young for starting this project! Don't live in Los Angeles? Here you can find fallen fruit maps for other places, including Copenhagen, Denver, Madrid, Malmo, Mira Flores, and more. 
  2. Grow your own garden  - Don't have a back yard? Not to worry. Community gardens are shared spaces of land that you can essentially rent. In Los Angeles, they can be as cheap as $3/month, and I'm guessing that other places are similar if not less. If you live in LA, you can search for a community garden in your area here. If you live in the US, you can search here. Another option? Start an herb garden on your window sill. Herbs, especially, are expensive if you get 'em store-bought! Freeze anything you don't immediately use so you always have herbs on hand. 
  3. Join a CSA group - Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is when a group of people in the same area all pitch in money to the same farm, and in turn, the farm distributes "shares" of the season's crops to each person. It's a cheaper way to get organic produce than if you bought it in the store, because it essentially cuts out the "middle man." Prices, therefore, are based on more accurate costs of growing the crops. I just found this directory of CSAs in the United States, if you'd like to search for one near you. 
CSA delivery box. photocredit.


    1. Love this. I've sent it off to someone who is just starting their vegan path. Thanks

    2. Awesome as always. I was surprised the WF packaged lentils were cheaper than their bullk bin, FYI. Also, berries are generally cheaper if bought frozen, since they are very perishable. FINALLY, I found a recipe for making one's own peanut butter that only requires a food processor. Boo-ya. As soon as we finish the GIANT PB we were gifted from Costco (yep it's the sugary, processed stuff but it was gift, and thus by far the cheapest) I'm making my own nut butters. Take that overpriced nut butter companies!

    3. @omgoshimvegan - Thanks! I'm REALLY excited that this is already going to someone just starting out! That's awesome.

      @queerveganrunner - Thank you, too! And yes, I am slightly skeptical that the WF bulk bins are ever cheap. You really have to be a dedicated bargain shopper when it comes to figuring out *where* the cheapest bulk bins are. Even the bulk bin place where I shop isn't *super* cheap, but I go there because Los Angeles STILL does not have a food co-op (c'mon, people, let's DO THIS!). Duuude, you *must* tell me how much money you save making your own nut butter! Almond butter is going to be especially cheap, I bet.

    4. What a great list! I really have only one thing to add and that is wheat gluten (unless you're staying away from hit for health reasons like celiac's).

      The wheat gluten is for making seitan. That's definitely one of my fave vegan meats and it is CHEAP to make. My husband is the seitan king here and frequently brings deep-fried "popcorn" seitan to the local vegetarian potluck (where it flies out of the bowl).

      Do be sure to do the calculations for CSAs. I LOVE the idea and we have a few in the area but we figured out that it wouldn't really save us any money. The one we looked into the most sold items separately, too, and they weren't priced any higher. And, if we weren't there to pick things up weekly at the farmers' market or didn't eat everything then we'd be wasting money. BUT, we still love getting local veggies at the farmers' market. They're not always the absolute cheapest in town, but the quality and taste especially tend to be far superior.