By Dustin Rhodes
Last night for dinner, I made one of my favorite and most simple meals: a humble black bean bowl. I roasted corn, sautéed some poblano peppers; made an aromatic brown rice, with fresh lime, cumin and coriander; then some garlicky black beans and fresh cilantro. The star of the meal is what we call “crack sauce” at my house, because it’s so addictive: a chipotle sauce, with the most sublime, silky texture and more than a hint of heat, drizzled on top. We always joke that it will be our last meal—this simple bowl, essentially, of rice and beans, garnished with fresh avocado. Also, we put crack sauce on everything.
When people are poo-pooing the idea of becoming vegan—claiming it’s expensive or somehow bourgeois—I can’t help but think about all the ridiculously delicious meals I eat that taste luxurious and cost nearly nothing. I often make bread from scratch—which is a fraction of the cost of anything at the grocery store and surprisingly simple to make (I am a die-hard no-knead bread baker using the infamous New York Times recipe). Is there anything on earth more delicious than homemade bread (UM, NO).
The main reason people claim that a plant-based diet is expensive is because they stopped by the “vegan section” at their local grocery store and saw all of those new vegan burgers-that-bleed and factory-made faux chicken and “artisanal” (why is everything referred to as artisanal these days!?) almond milk, not the “regular” almond milk, which is a fraction of the price.
Yes. Those things are expensive. Yes, I sometimes buy some of those things because some of them are good—but they are also what I would consider a luxury item. And yes, some of them are gross and terrible; but to each their own. The point is: You do not have to buy them. If you do, you do not have to buy them often. If you want to buy them but they aren’t in your budget: you can make almost anything from scratch — including plant milks, burgers, mayo and practically anything else. The only thing I have never made successfully is yogurt. My last batch of almond-based yogurt was so bad, the memory of it will never fade — namely its rubber-band texture and plastic flavor. But I digress. And to be fair, there are people more talented in the kitchen than myself who I am sure make amazing non-dairy yogurt.
Granted, the access to prepared vegan food, grocery stores with fresh produce—not to mention the amount of time on one’s hands—varies from person to person and family to family. My own mother lives in a small, rural town, which would—by definition—be considered a food desert. However, she’s able to buy fresh produce and plant-based meats (something she loves) at the nearby Wal-Mart.
While there are quite a few plant-based cookbooks aimed at very inexpensive meals, I don’t recommend them. I have tried several and, to be honest, I haven’t been impressed; they’re gimmicky, focusing on sticking to the cost rather than looking at the bigger picture. To me, it’s a smarter approach to use a great cookbook—one where the food and recipes appeal to you—and learn to make some of your own staple items that you’d no longer have to buy at higher costs at the local grocery store.
For instance, Miyoko Schinner wrote The Homemade Vegan Pantry, and it has recipes for nearly every staple item: homemade cheese, bread, mayonnaise, almond and soy milk, jam, etc. None of the recipes require fancy equipment or hard-to-find ingredients. America’s Test Kitchen’s Vegan for Everybody also has a lot of great recipes for staples such as cheese, cheese sauces and burgers, that are especially fantastic—and not expensive or difficult to make. These pantry items—which are found in many recipes and, to be sure, are delicious—are what cost more money at the grocery store.
There are also some great resources on Facebook—namely Plant Based on a Budget, which has 162,000 members. The organization, which also has a website, plantbasedonabudget.com, helps vegans come up with creative, healthy and inexpensive meals, whether it’s for yourself or whole families. Another great Facebook page is Vegan Dad—which is written by a father of three, who’s also history professor; his recipes are outstanding and, obviously, very family-friendly.
The moral of the story? Just say no to people who say “it’s too expensive” to eat plant-based meals. It’s just not true. Animals thank you and, the naysayers notwithstanding, so will your wallet.
Development Director Dustin Rhodes is in charge of fundraising for Friends of Animals and is a contributing writer for Action Line. He resides in Asheville, North Carolina — a progressive, animal-loving community in the Blue Ridge mountains.