Rising Food Prices: What's A Vegan To Do?

It's no secret that food prices have gone up, and all signs point to this trend continuing. Many factors are responsible for this increase, including the surging cost of transporting food. Some may wonder if it is possible to eat a healthy vegan diet and not spend an entire paycheck. The answer is yes! In this article, I will share some strategies that have worked for my family.

My husband, two small kids, and I comprise a family of four. For the past six months, we have cut our weekly food budget by approximately $65 (a savings of around $280 per month). Previously, we spent around $200 per week on groceries. At the beginning of the year, I made a commitment to spend less on groceries, and we now spend approximately $135 per week on a nutritious, tasty, and mostly organic vegan diet. Here’s how we do it:

  1. We order in bulk. We eat a vegan diet full of an array of whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. I buy almost nothing processed; I make most everything from scratch. Many people think this takes a lot of time, but there are some time-saving tips that make it possible. (See sidebar.)

    We order all of our bulk grains, beans, nuts, seeds, oils, vinegars, and many other products from wholesalers for food-buying clubs, such as Azure Standard, , in eastern Oregon. (See the sidebar on page 30 for information about food-buying clubs in other locations.) We order monthly, and they deliver to several ‘drop points’ around town. In my basement, I have 25-pound bags of spelt berries, oat groats, black beans, garbanzo beans, pinto beans, green split peas, and kamut berries. The foods form the basis of our meals; I even grind my own flours from the whole grains and make my own peanut butter. This is good for the environment as well— 25-pound bags mean a lot less packaging and waste.

  2. We have a weekly, rather than monthly, food budget and we stick to it. For years, we had a monthly food budget that we tried to follow, but for some reason, it just never worked for us. Now, I keep a notebook and record every trip to the grocery store on the day that I shop. When I’ve reached our weekly limit of $135, we’re done, no matter what. Often, I have several more items on my list than I have money for; I then prioritize and put items back on the shelves.

    Several times, we’ve been out of something I consider to be a staple, but I find that, rather than this being a burden, it’s an opportunity for creativity to sneak in. Once, we were out of oatmeal and our next 25-pound bag wasn’t due for a couple of weeks. I went to the basement to see what was on hand. Finding grains such as quinoa, millet, rye, oat groats, and spelt berries, we breakfasted on a delicious cereal blend of six whole grains, sesame seeds, and raisins as well as waffles made with freshly ground kamut and buckwheat flour for a couple of weeks. Now, I’m looking forward to being out of oatmeal again!

  3. When shopping, I really look at the prices and don’t buy things that just cost too much. Organic asparagus at $3.99 a pound? Not going to happen. Maple syrup at $13 a bottle? Well, we love our maple syrup on our Sunday pancakes, but we’ve stopped using it in baking. And I might start diluting it with water. Also, we’ve been using homemade strawberry syrup from berries that we picked at a local farm. In the past, spending just $7 on something we wanted but didn’t really need didn’t seem like a big deal. Now that it represents 1/20th of what I can spend that week, it is a big deal.
  4. We’ve prioritized what we buy organic. We have a list of the fruits and vegetables that are highest and lowest in pesticides, and we will buy conventional for items that are least likely to have pesticide residues at times.
  5. We buy local and in-season. Not only are prices often lower, the shorter transportation distance is better for the environment. This year, we joined a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA, and for an up-front investment of $350, we receive a box of fresh, local produce each week for 22 weeks. (That’s $16 per week.) We also shop at our local farmers’ market for good deals grown close to home.
  6. We garden. A small investment in seeds and other gardening supplies produces a bounty of delicious produce for the entire summer and, in some cases, years to come.
  7. We preserve fruits and vegetables. I freeze, dehydrate, and make sauces and jams using local produce purchased when prices are low and with excess produce from our garden and CSA. Right now, I have approximately 80 pounds of blueberries in our extra freezer - all from a local farm where we paid $1.25/pound for u-pick berries or $2/ pound for the ones that have been picked. I also

    Time Saving Tips
    • Cook beans in large batches (4 or more cups dried) and freeze in 3-cup containers. I like to soak beans overnight and cook them early in the morning.
    • Cook double or triple batches of soups. Then, have some for lunch or dinner the next day and freeze the rest.
    • Cook double or triple batches (2-3 cups dry) of grains, such as rice, millet, quinoa, oat groats, and kamut, for a multitude of uses over the course of the next few days. Use them as a base for soups or a stir-fry; to mix with legumes, veggies, and sauce for a nutritious salad; and to create a delicious, wholesome dessert with cinnamon and a sweetener.
    • Keep veggies prepped and ready to add to sandwiches and salads, to sprinkle on soup for added color and nutrition, or to mix with grains, legumes, and dressing for an easy salad. Ideas: shredded carrots and cabbage, washed and chopped greens, and sliced peppers.
    • Keep sauces and dressings on hand to flavor legume, grain, and vegetable dishes. Make a really quick meal with already-cooked grains, legumes, veggies, and sauce.
    • Make a big batch of trail mix each week - add raisins, cranberries, walnuts, almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts. Portion into reusable containers for on-the-go snacks.
    • Begin dinner preparations in the morning. If you’re using grains and/or legumes, measure, rinse and drain, add fresh water, and let soak all day, with the grains and legumes in separate bowls. When it’s time to make dinner, drain, add new water, and cook. Cooking time will be lessened from all-day soaking. (Note: Some grains will require less water.) Also, get out all herbs and spices in the morning so they’re ready to go.
    • Use a Crock-Pot® slow cooker.

    Buying Club Wholesalers
    • Associated Buyers
      Website: www.assocbuyers.com
      Phone number: (603) 664-5656
      Service area: New England
    • Azure Standard
      Website: www.azurestandard.com
      Phone number: (541) 467-2210
      Service area: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Alaska, and Hawaii
    • Neshaminy Valley
      Website: www.nvorganic.com
      Phone number: (215) 443-5545
      Service area: Massachusetts, Connecticut, southeastern New York, New Jersey, southeastern Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and northern Virginia (as far south as Richmond)
    • United Buying Clubs
      Website: www.unitedbuyingclubs.com
      Phone number: (800) 522-7633 x54243
      Service area: Northeast, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic states
    have several bags of frozen strawberries and approximately 25 jars of strawberry freezer jam from berries we picked. Soon, I plan to freeze peaches, nectarines, plums, tomatoes, and tomato sauce.

    Using our dehydrator, I made delicious fruit leathers from local blueberries and strawberries and from last year’s frozen peaches. I also dehydrated several batches of kale and collards from our garden and will add these to soups this winter. A couple of friends have promised to teach me how to can tomatoes and peaches.

We could probably save even more by shopping at large grocery outlets and by using coupons; however, in addition to saving money, we are also committed to caring for the environment, supporting local growers and eating a nutritious, minimally processed whole foods diet. Besides, so far, we have not found many coupons for 25-pound bags of grains and fresh fruits and vegetables!

All this probably sounds like it takes time—and it does. But it saves money, and it feels like it’s worth it. It also provides richness to our lives in terms of connection to the land, to the seasons, and even to other people who are trying to do the same thing by networking for ideas, advice, and assistance. It’s about priorities— I may not have the cleanest house on the block, but I know that my kids are developing an appreciation for the value of a dollar, and an understanding of where their food comes from. And that is worth it!