Eating Healthfully Affordably
Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, 30 Day Vegan Challenge
One common excuse people can use to not go vegan is to talk about how expensive it would be. They have never looked into it, but they just somehow ‘know’ that it is.
On Day 4, Colleen breaks down nicely what it really costs to not eat a plant-based diet – wholefood, of course. A junk food diet is still a nutrient poor, unhealthy diet regardless of its animal content.
Day 4 comments not only on the immediate monetary costs for the individual, but also on the hidden, long-term costs of healthcare (and time lost if you do get sick from a lifestyle related illness or disability); the social and economic costs of a sick, under performing population who need expensive medical care, heart surgery and pharmaceuticals to make it into old age. There are also the huge environmental costs of animal agriculture – direct monetary costs like the amount ratepayers hand over to clean up water damaged by the dairy industry, and the more indirect lifestyle costs, such as no longer being able to swim in our waterways. Underlying all of this are the true victims, the farm animals, who pay with their abused bodies and lives, and the wild native species who lose their habitats and food supplies.
The chapter also includes a few useful tips on how to shop (and not to shop) to help your dollar stretch that little bit further.
Out of interest, I decided to do a simple cost comparison to see how a wholefood vegan diet looked next to a typical, everyday Kiwi one. My conclusion is that plant-based will not cost you more, and overall is likely to end up being less expensive.
Note: Eating vegan does not have to be less expensive. Once you become more conscious of what you are eating you may even choose to spend more for the adventure of trying unusual produce or to buy higher quality. I can pay $3 – $4 for a large tub of sweet, rain-damaged ‘seconds’ strawberries at the end of the season, or I can spend $10 – $16 on export-quality.
For this cost comparison, I went to the New World website, looked up their ‘cheap and easy’ family recipes and took the top one – Chicken pasta “with just 4 ingredients, this colourful pasta dish is a family favourite that doesn’t break the budget”.
1 kg bag of frozen stir fry vegetables
1 jar of sweet and sour or butter chicken simmer sauce
300 g shredded chicken
400 g packet of fettuccine
When I was at the supermarket (Countdown, but prices at New World would be similar) I looked the ingredients up.
The cheapest I could find was $6, a stir-fry mix of green beans, carrots, sweet corn, onions, snowpeas, cauliflower and red peppers.
At the vegetable shop carrots are $2.50 for two kilos, an onion is a few cents, a 300 g bag of beans is $2, sweet corn is 5 ears for $2, red peppers are $1 each (or 3 for $2.50), no cauliflower or snowpeas, but plenty of other veges like bok choi you could replace them with in a stir fry.
Depending on what veges you buy, if you choose to use fresh vegetables it could cost you under $3 for a kilo of stir fry veges. Colleen’s advice is to buy your vegetables and chopped them up all at the same time for the week. I have been doing this and it works really well. Pre-chopped veges in the fridge get used way more.
However, the $6 bag of frozen veges is still vegan and precut is definitely easier if you are busy.
I went with the sweet and sour sauce because it is vegan (unlike the butter chicken). Jars range in price between $2 and $6. Select Meal Base Sweet & Sour 485 g is $2.50 a jar. It looks like a reasonable choice.
However, you could make you own very easily. Here is a basic recipe. The first time you buy the ingredients it is an upfront cost, but you only use small amounts, so the cost per dish is minimal. The only exception to this is the pineapple juice. A litre of pineapple juice is $3, and a cup is around a quarter of that. I estimate making your own sauce will cost about $1.30. The huge advantage of making your own sauce is that you can adjust and add to make something that suits your own tastes. But it does take about 5 minutes to make.. [Also, like a lot of American recipes this one uses a ton of sugar, personally I would cut it in half].
For 400 g fettuccine, the cheapest I could find, without eggs, is $2.50 dried, and $3.50 fresh.
For 300 g chicken meat without bones, the best price I could find was chicken breasts $1.70 / 100 g; so that is say $5 for the chicken.
That means around $16 to feed a family of four chicken pasta; about $4 per person. Depending on the quality of the pasta, vegetables and sauce it could cost a little more, or even less if you go to the vege shop instead of the supermarket.
Everything in this recipe is vegan or can easily be vegan, except for the chicken. What could you replace the chicken with? A quick Google search reveals that vegans use cauliflower, squash, beans, tofu, mushrooms, peas, seitan, vege sausage, a handful of nuts – you get the idea. There are no shortage of things to swap the chicken for.
Personally, I would just add more vegetables, but let us assume that you haven’t been vegan long enough to stop feeling anxious about ‘where will we get our protein’, and so want to swap high protein for high protein. Tofu is the obvious choice. The cheapest in the supermarket is $1.45 / 100 g and the most expensive $1.70 / 100 g – note that the starting price for chicken meat was 1.70 / 100 g. Also, the Chinese vege shop sells freshly made tofu for around $5 – $7 a kilo, making it cheaper still. Alternatively, you can buy frozen baked or fried tofu (some ready flavoured) at Asian food shops for about $1.50 / 100 g – you don’t even have to cut it up, just toss into the wok.
Although you don’t necessarily need it for this recipe, a marinade would add more flavour. Marinades for tofu are quick and simple to make; cheap also, once you have purchased the base ingredients, because you only need very small amounts. The best part of making your own is that you can adjust to suit yourself and the dish you are making. Make more than you need and store it in the fridge. A good idea is to marinate the tofu when preparing the meal the day before and let it sit in the marinade until dinner the next night. [You can buy pre-marinated tofu at the supermarket, but $2.40 / 100 g, which is ridiculous!]
So, in conclusion, for around $4 per person you can feed a family a cheap meal with the flesh of a dead animal or you can feed them more food and healthier food in a similar meal for a similar price.
Note: Colleen also addressed the issue of animal agricultural subsidies in the United States, which makes animal based food cheaper for consumers. This is not an issue in New Zealand, as the last time a farmer got a government subsidy was 1984. However, as an export dependant economy our government does fund off-shore promotion of our agricultural products and is very engaged with international trade deals and negotiations.