04 April 2011

Vegan on the cheap: Eating vegan while on an extremely tight budget

So you want to be or already are vegan? Is your budget a little tight; therefore you cannot spend as much as you would like on food? Perhaps you are student like myself and go weeks at times without any extra money? If you answered yes to at least the first question and either of the other two questions, do not worry, for today I shall share with you the secrets of eating vegan on the cheap. You can of course do a Google search and find all kinds of great ideas for inexpensive vegan meals. We all know that rice and beans is cheaper than steak and eggs any day, but today we will not be discussing how to make affordable vegan meals. To me affordable or inexpensive vegan eating implies that I at least have some money to buy ingredients. Today’s article is about eating vegan on the cheap, and when I say cheap I mean CHEAP!!! We are going to an all new level of cheapness today that you may have never even considered. That’s right; we are talking about scraping by here, so let’s begin!

If you are so poor that you need to be as cheap as we are talking about, then most likely you are either a student or you are working a standard low income job. If you actually have money and you just want to be cheap, then this article is not for you. The first and most important step is to procure a job at a vegetarian or vegan restaurant, or even a restaurant that at least has one vegan friendly item. You need to make sure that you get an employee meal during a shift, none of that discounted meal nonsense that some jobs offer. For example, I work at a local diner by the name of Mid City Grill. Every shift I get to eat what is probably the most delicious grilled tofu sandwich ever created. On top of getting paid, I get to eat a tasty vegan meal for free. I cannot stress enough the importance of this step, without it at times you may starve. You don’t want to eat the same thing that often? Then obviously you must have a little extra money to be complaining like that, so once again maybe this article is not for you.

Now before we go on, you might be thinking to yourself that my way of scraping by as a vegan may not be the healthiest option. You are right, of course it’s not, but I promise you that it’s healthier than the meat eating version of scraping by at this level. Besides, if you are like me then you care more about animal welfare than your own.

The next thing you need to do can be a little tricky to pull off, but it can be done. You need to make friends with someone vegan or vegetarian, preferably a couple. They need to be financially more stable than you. Their income level will allow them to be able to cook and prepare delicious and wholesome vegan meals, meals that you will be horning in on. How do you get in on their meals? That part is simple and I will tell you how. First wait for them to invite you over for dinner, since you are both veg we know this is inevitable because veg people are foodies. We eat together, that’s what we do. Once they have invited you over for a meal, make sure you go on about how delicious it is but without overkilling it. They will most likely be flattered that you loved their cooking so much, and invite you to dinner more often. Offer to do dishes, chip in a little on ingredients, and even help prepare the meals. After a few months of this practice, I guarantee you will be swimming in free vegan leftovers almost on the daily. Now before you accuse me of being manipulative, keep in mind that everyone is benefitting in this situation. Some meals take a few hours to prepare and usually the cook will request your assistance considering that you are eating some of it for free.

If you are lucky enough to secure the job and the friend with leftovers, than you are doing pretty well. Now that you are basically being fed on a regular basis, you might be wishing you actually had some food in your own fridge. There are a couple things you can do to make this happen. The cheapest way to fill your cabinets is dumpster diving. I think by now we all know what dumpster diving is. If you are lucky enough to have an organic or natural grocery store in your area, I suggest hitting their dumpsters. While dumpster diving you can come across anything; fresh fruit, vegetables, bread. You can find guides online that will tell you how to dumpster dive if you are not familiar with the concept. I know that dumpster diving is illegal but hey, so is animal liberation.

The most obvious thing you can do to eat vegan on the cheap is to buy some really cheap things you can prepare for yourself. Assuming you have followed the steps above you are basically eating for free, so hopefully you have a little bit of money leftover in your pocket from your restaurant job. Here is a list of really cheap food items you can have in your house for nights when you are off work and your friends are out of town:

Spaghetti Noodles and sauce
Peanut butter (and jelly)
Fresh Vegetables
Fresh Fruit
Almond Milk (or whatever you like)

Pretty much just basic stuff like that, whatever you want in your house. If you have combined all these steps, you will never go hungry again. You should be spending hardly any money on food, if any at all, which makes logging your groceries into your personal finances software a total breeze, right? Hopefully soon you graduate or get a better job, so that way you can incorporate a healthier balance of foods to your diet. If anyone has anything else to add on how to be extremely cheap as a vegan or has insanely cheap recipes, please feel free to post them in the comments for all to see.

Steven Garnett | Facebook | @stevengarnett
Steven is currently pursuing a B.A. in history and women's studies at East Tennessee State University. He is the founder of Vegans and Vegetarians of the Tri-Cities and a student animal rights organization at ETSU. Steven is a vegan, active feminist, and environmentalist. He enjoys film, art, and delicious vegan cuisine and wishes to educate others about oppression, regardless if it's animal oppression or human oppression. Steven's blog.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/nohodamon