It is a common misconception that veganism is inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products, and this is often an assumption based on seeing people eat speciality vegan ready meals and faux products. These products are popular and can be really helpful for a transitioning away from animal products, but they aren’t necessary for a vegan diet at all.
Vegan staples include things like pastas, noodles, rice, breads, grains, legumes, nuts and nut butters, lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, bread, potatoes, soy, oats, cereals, and frozen, canned or fresh fruits and vegetables. These items represent some of the cheapest and most nutritious food sources in any supermarket and they are widely available. This makes perfect sense economically because the lower on the food chain you eat, the less work has gone into the final product and thus the cheaper it is. This is why most of the world’s poorest people subsist on a primarily vegetarian diet. Often getting the cost of veganism is a simple matter of understanding what plant based options are available, and how to buy them cheaply.
Despite popular opinion to the contrary, vegan meals can be extremely cheap, even when compared with the lowest quality meats. The first thing to do is to get out of is the mindset that a complete meal must include meat or a faux meat alternative, as this is just not the case. As a general rule meals should include both carbs and protein, and so instead of a staple meat based meal like chicken and rice, you might substitute the chicken for lentils, chickpeas or beans. All three of these plant based alternatives are high in protein, lower in saturated fat, have no cholesterol and are much cheaper per serving than cooked chicken. You can be as creative with a meal like this as you could with chicken, you could make a bean and lentil patty or a bean chilli to go with the rice, or use the chickpeas to make a chickpea and rice curry, all very cheaply and easily. These are just examples, but you can see how many variations of meals you could make with just these four basic, very cheap ingredients.
A related concern is often based on cooking times, that you will not have enough time to prepare these dishes. But using the examples already discussed, there is no extra preparation time when comparing cooking canned beans, lentils or chickpeas to cooking chicken, in fact, in most cases it will actually be quicker. With plant based options you also have the advantage that you don’t have to worry about it going off as quickly as meat will, so you can prepare dishes in advance and keep them in Tupperware boxes in the fridge for quite a while. Most plant based dishes will keep for a long time this way, so you could cook your lentils, beans and chickpeas, keep them in containers, then just add them to some cooked rice for when you don’t have the time or energy to prepare on the day.
The fact that this can be done can be demonstrated in no clearer terms than just how many poor vegans there are. Check the comments on any post about how veganism is expensive and you will find tonnes of poor vegans telling you that they exist, and how cheaply they eat. Most vegans I have met have been poor, or students with very little income at the time they went vegan. In the US, most vegans are in fact on the lower end of the economic scale. Personally, when I went vegan as a student with a part time job as my only income I cut the cost of my weekly shop by a full third, and many other vegans report similar figures. It is very understandable why someone might see vegan ready meals or faux meat products at the supermarket and assume that being vegan is too expensive for them, but whether or not you want to invest in these products, which undoubtedly are more convenient, is entirely up to you.
There are undoubtedly real barriers to going vegan for some people, from lack of food availability to not being in control of what food is bought for you, but the idea that veganism is in some way inherently more expensive than a diet which includes animal products is nothing more than a myth. You can make veganism cost a lot of money if you have the budget, with fresh, organic vegetables, faux products and vegan speciality items, but if you stick to basics it can be done extremely cheaply, we can’t reasonably judge how expensive veganism is by looking at luxury vegan items any more than we judge how expensive a meat based diet is by looking at high end meats and ready made fresh meals. Plant based foods are almost always the cheapest items in any supermarket, and in contrast, you’ll find that the most expensive items in most people’s shopping carts are animal products.
It can be really daunting to start out with veganism when you’re on a strict budget, because you don’t have the luxury of being able to get it wrong one month and overspend. But with a little research it absolutely can be done, I have a guide on how to go vegan on a budget here, a list of cheap vegan essentials here, and some cheap vegan recipes to go with them here. If you need any additional resources, some food ideas or some cheap meals plans then feel free to get in touch; I’d be more than happy to help.