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Tips for a new vegan?
BizarroNinja Posted at 2012/05/28 1:58am reply to

Posts: 3
I and my wife (who posted recently as TealLikeTheColor) have been vegans since last Thursday. So far we are great with the change and have found some delicious foods at Whole Foods. Overall though I am noticing that much of the vegan food is a lot more expensive than regular groceries. I was hoping some of you might have awesome tips on where to shop or what to buy that may help us cut the cost a bit on that bill.
peter Posted at 2012/05/28 3:20am reply to

Posts: 1530
Congrats on making the switch! This is totally common for new vegans, so consider your issue to be a normal one. However, it's a myth that being vegan always means spending more for food. It all depends on how you do it.

A big way to save is to do your own cooking. Packaged foods and dining out can be awesome, but they can add up. Vegan cookbooks of all types are out there, plus there are always tons of recipes online (including on here) that are easy to find through Google. Some are pretty fancy with exotic ingredients, but others are geared towards eating on a budget, like this one:

I haven't tried this cookbook, so I can't give a personal recommendation, but it is an option nevertheless.

So find some recipes that sound appealing, and get good at making them. Shopping in bulk might also help. You don't have to shop at Whole Foods all the time either. I do most of my shopping at HEB, and the other natural food stores have some great deals. Whole Foods does as well, surprisingly - their pizza is especially a good deal, particularly on Thursdays. Check out what's on sale each week. Usually their flyers are posted online.

There's also a Facebook group called Austin Vegan Deals, which is updated occasionally. It may help.

Lastly, it's important to note that vegan food is sometimes more expensive. There are a lot of reasons for this. Sometimes it's the subsidies that go towards animal agriculture. Sometimes it's marking up a product because the company is targeting an exclusive, niche market. Other times it's simply supply and demand, or the amount of overhead the company has. Often, though, it's because of the quality of the product and how it's made. Vegan-friendly companies often want to reverse the pattern of "externalization" that most corporate entities are guilty of. In other words, the products are more expensive because the company gives a damn, actually taking into consideration the ethics (animals, environment, health, labor) of production - and in that case, we should happily pay more for them. All that said, I totally understand the need to shop on a budget, and buying expensive items is not necessary to be a vegan at all.
weigand Posted at 2012/05/28 1:05pm reply to

Posts: 535
Yeah, the best thing for avoiding the vegan tax is to buy bulk foods and prepare everything more or less from scratch. Do it that way, and you can make a lot of food all at once and have it throughout the week. One meal could easily cost less than a dollar. At that point, the items that will add the most cost to your food will be spices and herbs. For those, you have to look at Asian and Indian supermarkets for the best prices on bulk spices and such. Next costliest will be fresh veggies, and for those you can try frozen veggies to save some money. Or if you really must have fresh, you can look at the growing schedules and buy only when veggies are in season - out of season veggies cost twice or three times as much. Fruits are also something you'll want to buy only in season. Bananas are super cheap year-round. Beware of cheap, out of season stuff flown in from other countries, because by the time it arrives in stores, it's already been weeks since picking, and the freshness and flavor may be poor, even if the price is right.

Vegan specialty foods all cost at least two or three times as much as the non-vegan analogs. For example, one of those frozen microwave dinners from Amy's Foods will cost $4.00. It will have half the volume of food that a typical non-vegan microwave dinner will have, and the non-vegan one will cost only $2.00. Yeah, the vegan ones are non-GMO and organic, whereas the non-vegan ones aren't. But that still doesn't make up for the dramatic increase in price. The reason for it is that they know us vegans have little choice and will pay a premium for convenience foods. Sucks, but it's true.

Vegan ice cream is another example. Vegan yogurt. Vegan pies. Vegan cereal. Vegan meatballs. Vegan "chicken". Etc. All cost a lot more than non-vegan versions.

So you can either make stuff yourself or pay the price for getting something convenient.

Oh, and by the way. If you're shopping at Whole Foods, you're already going to be paying a lot. But if you do, try to buy "365 Brand" stuff. That's Whole Foods' own food label brand, and they typically price their stuff much less than the competition for essentially the same stuff.

And, if you want to start making food with bulk foods, you should look at cuisine that uses a lot of legumes and grains in their food. For example, Indian or Ethiopian food.

- Steve
carrie Posted at 2012/05/28 3:58pm reply to

Posts: 781
Over time you'll get to know your grocery stores and where you can get the cheapest convenience foods (because those convenience foods are sometimes pretty handy to have around, as we all know). For instance, you can buy Amy's products at HEB for a significantly cheaper price. I can get an Amy's dinner for about $3, as opposed to the $4-5 dollars elsewhere. The Amy's soups are cheaper at HEB too. But Whole Foods has a frequent bread buyer card, and their store brand breads are cheaper than buying Rudy's at HEB. They also have cheap frozen pinto bean and rice burritos. Wheatsville sells tofurky slices more than a dollar cheaper than HEB. So, I have found that it's a matter of figuring out which convenience products I prioritize buying and learning where I can get the best deals. Natural Grocer often has a lot of good deals on convenience stuff too. Good luck to you!
mollyjade Posted at 2012/05/28 5:52pm reply to

Posts: 441
What sorts of things do you like to eat typically?
BizarroNinja Posted at 2012/05/28 6:13pm reply to

Posts: 3
Breakfast foods was usually tacos or cereal

Lunch was usually sandwiches (pb&j or ham or turkey & cheese)

Dinner foods were usually burgers, pizza, chicken, chili, burritos, or curry.

I am more than willing to try lots of new things. I am not a picky eater for the most part. I am going to miss cheese the most, but I have already found that Whole Foods has some decent cheese-like options (if you know of other awesome cheese-like options please share).
BizarroNinja Posted at 2012/05/28 6:15pm reply to

Posts: 3
Thank you everyone for your responses so far. I really appreciate the support and advice.
Jessica. Posted at 2012/05/28 7:08pm reply to

Posts: 444
I just want to comment on the "vegan tax". Americans pay so little for food, and it's criminal how we treat farmers. Monocropping requires pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and is subsidized to keep the farms afloat when they're getting paid pennies per bushel. Furthermore, the whole reason factory farming exists is because it cuts costs even more and produces cheaper meat, thus resulting in even more animal suffering. Our whole system is basically fucked.

When we choose organic produce from local farms, we'll notice a price increase. It doesn't last as long in the refrigerator and sometimes has imperfections that make it look weird. But it tastes better, it provides a living wage for the farmers (some of whom you can meet at farmer's markets in town), and it's much better for you and the environment.

Vegan convenience foods tend to cost more than non-vegan foods, but there are many reasons for that. No one is subsidizing the seitan industry. The folks at Upton's aren't rolling around in their millions, and Chris & Crystal aren't flying the country in their private jet that they earned from us vegan suckers paying such a premium for their products.

As a vegan retailer who only sells convenience foods (at the moment), I truly believe that we should be spending our money on the best food we can get our hands on. Humans don't need flat-screen TVs and designer handbags to survive, but we do need good food. One idea would be to increase your food budget by cutting back in other non-essential areas.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't shop around to find the best deals. For example, there are too many pizza places that DON'T charge extra for Daiya for me to patronize the ones who do. Same goes for charging extra for soy milk at coffee shops. Often, vegan food IS cheaper than non-vegan options.  For example, the veggie burrito at Freebird's is less expensive, as is the case at many restaurants around town,
Jessica. Posted at 2012/05/28 7:15pm reply to

Posts: 444
Here's a recent article that just popped up on my Facebook feed:
ErickSM Posted at 2012/05/29 8:33am reply to

Posts: 44
>Thank you everyone for your responses so far. I really appreciate the support and advice.

Daiya cheese is fantastic! You can use it on lots of things. Also Follow My heart has a good cheese alternative that melts great. best thing to do is try different ones and se which you like best. Just be careful because there are some soy cheeses that will b placed with the vegan ones that do contain milk products. read the labels and you should be good.
UTexasMark Posted at 2012/05/29 9:10am reply to

Posts: 352
Austin has a lot of new vegan places to eat with tons of fancy foods vegans didn't used to have, but back in the day being vegan meant you probably learned to cook.

PBJ, rice and beans, pasta, tacos, veggie burgers, soups, tofurkey sandwiches, and burritos are a huge part of my diet and they're all pretty cheap meals.

It's the splurging on pizza and popcorn tofu subs that ends up costing a lot (but seems worth it most of the time).  Whole Foods has $10 large pizzas on Thursdays and doesn't charge extra for Daiya cheese.
Iron Clad Ben Posted at 2012/05/29 11:04am reply to

Iron Clad Ben
Posts: 189
Bananas are $0.68/lb organic at HEB.  I eat 30+ a day in smoothies (cost ~$5/day).  That is pretty much the maximum nutrients/$ you can find.

And I just had to say that seitan is a wheat product, so the government IS subsidizing it.  The top 3 foods the government subsidizes are corn, wheat and soybeans.  So we really can't complain that the government is shafting vegans.  These companies like Amy's just know that veganism is more popular among the affluent so they can charge a premium for their products.  They are also smaller than a lot of the really big food corps out there, so their cost structure is higher.  Personally for me things are much cheaper (and healthier) on a diet of fresh produce, especially when I buy in bulk.
mollyjade Posted at 2012/05/29 11:50am reply to

Posts: 441
>Breakfast foods was usually tacos or cereal
>Lunch was usually sandwiches (pb&j or ham or turkey & cheese)
>Dinner foods were usually burgers, pizza, chicken, chili, burritos, or curry.

If you're making pizza at home, just going without the cheese and using dollops of homemade pesto or a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt can be really nice.

Chili, burritos, and curry are all easy to do vegan and are pretty cheap. This is the chili we make most often, and it costs just a few cents to make. But there are a million vegan chili recipes out there.

My family loves these chickpea cutlets. They're inexpensive, easy to make in batches, and freeze well. They might be a good sub for those chicken dinners.

For sandwiches, I like hummus; tomato and avocado; and tempeh bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Chickpea salad is good as well. And almost any salad is good in a wrap.

Good luck finding new favorites!
weigand Posted at 2012/05/29 5:14pm reply to

Posts: 535
Hmmm, 30 bananas a day? That's about 3000+ calories. Most of which is sugar. Not enough protein. Not enough vitamins and minerals, except for vitamin C and potassium. Not a great choice for the bulk of your calories in my opinion.

Totally agree that these are subsidized crops. It's not the subsidization that's the problem. The high price of vegan convenience foods isn't from the higher cost of raw ingredients (even after adjusting for the fact that they're non-GMO and organic) . It's from the companies (like Amy's) that know vegans have less choice and will buy their food at the higher price point.

- Steve
Jacob Posted at 2012/05/30 12:01pm reply to

Posts: 2454
I don't think Amy's has higher prices for their vegan products compared to their non-vegan products.  Amy's cost more than most brands because they use quality organic ingredients.  
weigand Posted at 2012/05/30 5:25pm reply to

Posts: 535
Well, let me do a little math. Correct me if I'm wrong with any of the following...

First, the cost of organic raw ingredients is typically about 50% more than non-organic:

Let's compare a typical vegan microwave dinner with a typical non-vegan one...

An Amy's vegan Asian Noodle Stir-fry is 300 calories total, contains 9 grams of protein, and contains 10 ounces of food. It typically costs around $4.00-$4.50 at the local Whole Foods Market. I've seen it go for $5.00 sometimes also... This is a pretty typical example of vegan microwave dinners. You get about that many number of calories, protein, and weight for the price point of about $4-$5.

For the non-vegan comparison, take Marie Callendar's Spaghetti and Meatballs. It is 490 calories total, contains 23 grams of protein, and about 15 ounces of food. It typically costs around $2.00 to $2.50 at the local HEB and Randall's... This is also pretty typical of non-vegan microwave dinners on price, weight, calorie and protein count.

Note that you're getting more food, more calories, and more protein when you buy the non-vegan food. And you're paying a lot less.

Comparing them both for quantity of food (by weight) vs. price:

Amy's: $4 / 10 ounces = 40 cents per ounce

Marie Callendar's: $2.50 / 15 ounces = 16.7 cents per ounce

And so you're effectively paying 140% more for the vegan food. And yet, the cost of the raw organic ingredients should be in the neighborhood of just 50% more on average (see link above) . The difference is 140%-50% = 90%.

And so that is the vegan tax, 90%. That is how much more we pay just because it's vegan, after adjusting for the higher cost of organic ingredients.

CONCLUSION: Yes, this is just looking at two products I found more or less at random. And it's just using the average cost of organic ingredients, not specific costs (I don't have access to that info) . And I'm sure you can find examples where there may be a vegan microwave dinner that's as cheap as a non-vegan one. But on average, I believe you'll find that the vegan tax exists. A broader and more rigorous analysis would be welcome.

- Steve
veganbicyclist Posted at 2012/05/30 8:52pm reply to

Posts: 28
Convenience foods cost more.  The "tax" is not because it's vegan, it's for the convenience of somebody else making food for you.  Buy ingredients in bulk and cook at home for the most economical approach.  Cooking meals for the week and refrigerating/freezing saves time during the week.  

Amy's (the example repeatedly mentioned here) sources higher quality ingredients from close to their production facilities (most come from within 200 miles according to their website) to reduce the environmental impact.  They're supporting organic, domestic farms all along the west coast.  That costs more than cheap commodity produce from dubious sources around the world, and is a necessary premium borne out in the retail price at your grocery store.  I would venture to guess that ConAgra (makers of Marie Callendars) is making a heckuva lot more money than Amy's despite the alleged vegan tax Amy's piles onto their goods.

To Jessica's point: it costs a lot more to source responsibly produced ingredients.  Amy's - and many other vegan/vegetarian/natural foods makers - has strict requirements for how their suppliers treat the the people who work on the farms and processing plants.  That oversight by Amy's and the additional steps required of producers adds costs to the product.  

Small, vegan businesses don't have the scale and buying power (as Ben mentioned) and don't command the kind of tax breaks/ incentives/write offs that big consumer packaged goods companies are the beneficiaries of.  So it costs more to get the final product out to consumers.  

Organic, fair trade, rain forest alliance, and non-GMO (etc.) certifications costs more to produce and drives up the retail but means that it's better for the planet, the air we breathe and water we drink; for the animals in reduced exposure to toxic pesticides; better for the farmers/field workers/producers who are not exploited, earn a fair wage for their day's work and aren't exposed to harmful chemical pesticides.  Reducing the impact on the environment and bettering the lives of animals (including humans).  

Sounds like veganism to me.
Amelia Posted at 2012/05/30 8:55pm reply to

Posts: 361
A few random things:

Some prices depend on the size of the company. Of course Pilsbury cookie dough is going to be way cheaper than Celeste's Best Vegan cookie dough. But, Pilsbury is a national company with giant factories, and Celeste's Best is a local company working on a much smaller scale, and selling to local retail shops.

Where the food is manufactured/produced has an effect on the price. Some companies use dedicated vegan equipment in factories, so that automatically drives up the price because there is not as much demand for those products. Same for things made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.

Some veg companies are more invested in their workers and suppliers and the quality that comes with it. That means a higher price, too. This is from the Amy's website:
"As part of this commitment, Amy's Kitchen uses natural, and organically-grown vegetarian ingredients from environmentally responsible supplies and ensures that employees and contractors work safely and comply with company policies and the law, to prevent pollution and to protect the environment.  Training is provided to our employees on these company policies and legal requirements."
Those extra steps take time and money on the companies part.

You'd be hard pressed to find a vegan ice cream that isn't made in a dairy on their off-processing days. There's simply not a financial way that a small vegan company could afford to build their own "dairy" that could produce the volume of product that an already-in-place commercial dairy can. The only one I know of that uses their own equipment is the Chicago Vegan Foods people.

The biggest price spike is for packaging. If you're a crafty shopper with a little extra time, you can buy most things in bulk (even fig bars, shampoo, cereal - you name it!) and save money that way. Hit up farmers markets for cheaper veggies, and look into volunteering at local farms for volunteer/trade. Johnson's Backyard Garden is currently looking for volunteers to pick tomatoes. You can email them and reserve a spot - time slots are 8am-1pm.

However, for things you can't easily buy in bulk, expect to pay an inflated price. Cookies aren't really a part of a "sensible" vegan diet, but we all want one now and then!
Ross Posted at 2012/05/30 9:15pm reply to

Posts: 4541
All great points. Just a note from what I saw at HEB today in regards to Amy's, their burritos are just a tad over 2 bucks, and vegan enchilada/tamale dinners are only $3.28.

An idea for what I personally do for breakfast, is I just buy bulk organic rolled oats(which is pretty cheap in itself), and a bag of puffed kamut ($1.99), mix those together in a bowl with some almond/coconut milk(I think it was $2.68 at HEB for a half gallon), and then drizzle a little maple syrup on top with some raisins. Pretty hearty breakfast and quite cheap happy Of course you can add fruit/seeds/etc. as you desire.
Georgeous Posted at 2012/06/01 8:38am reply to

Posts: 295
We live in south Austin and venturing to Whole Foods is something we do only every 4-6 months or so, and even then only for something we can't get elsewhere. We love shopping at Sprouts- they typically have great sales on produce and their organic is often reasonably priced. They don't have a huge variety of vegan prepackaged foods, but they do have the more popular items (faux meats, non dairy yogurt and ice cream, non dairy milks, frozen foods) but their bakery is awful. We get our bread and tortillas from Central Market, right down the road.
I second all of those who say cook your own food. My husband and I used to spend several hundred dollars a month on food when we purchased things like veggie burgers, Field Roast sausages, seitan, etc. Now that I've learned how to make most of it myself from scratch (and with fewer ingredients) we spend half of that and still eat well.
shumila Posted at 2012/06/05 12:02am reply to

Posts: 14
Personally I am not a huge fan of processed convenience vegan foods. Everything seems laden with salt and other strange things in an attempt to make it taste like "real" food. It took me a while to figure this out but as soon as I stopped trying to imitate animal products my whole outlook to food changed.    

This is what I ate today and it was all pretty cheap and yummy.

- Two slices of whole grain toast with marmalade and a scrape of soy margarine
- Fistful of raw almonds
- Black tea with dash of soymilk (my carton of soymilk could last me a month since I use so little)

Second breakfast (really!):
- Green smoothie with a handful of spinach, one overripe banana, a large leaf of chard, one heaping tbs of hemp powder, half an apple, 8 oz of water, and lots of ice. (If you can afford it a Blendtec blender makes delicious green smoothies. Worth the investment in my opinion.)

Late lunch:
- Daal (lentils) and rice with mango pickle

- Avocado and curried potato burrito with Louisiana hot sauce. (I had an Amy's burrito once and it was nowhere as delish. Try making your own burritos and freezing them for later.)

Before sleeping I will take my supplements: flaxseed oil, Deva vegan one a day pill, and one b12 spray under the tongue.  

I guess I am used to cooking for myself since where I lived before I had nowhere to buy "vegan" groceries.  Once you get through the first couple of months I assure you it will all seem a breeze. You just need to get your bearings and gather fave recipes for now. Like Georgianne I barely visit Whole Foods myself. I prefer Sprouts and the little Natural Grocer near me. HEB always has a good selection of organic produce in a pinch.
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