How to eat vegan with little-to-no money

Linda is a joyous and relaxed vegan who can cook organic, healthy vegan food for less than $1.50 USD a meal. We’re serious. We got chatting to her to uncover the secret of creating budget vegan recipes.

“You can make a huge difference by choosing what you eat and demonstrating that it's delicious,” says Linda.

"So, even if you don't want to be an outspoken activist, just taking a plant-based meal to your work or to a potluck can turn someone's life around.”

Why Linda started a plant-based diet

Linda is a recipe writer from Raleigh, North Carolina. A friend sparked her veganism at a Christmas party. How? When she told her friend that she was writing a new cookbook they said: “I hope it's vegan”.

Linda's friend told her that, after his fifth heart attack, his doctor told him that he wouldn’t live much longer. He went away and read The China Study by Dr Colin Campbell. After reading that he started a plant-based diet.

“He lost 30 pounds,” Linda tells us. “He looked fantastic.”

“He said: ‘Linda, you know that being a vegetarian is the entry path. But it's not enough.’”

“And he said: ‘Linda, I just want you to think about what you're doing with your cookbook. Merry Christmas.’”

Linda laughs reflecting on it and says: “I stayed up all night and read The China Study.”

“My husband woke up the next morning and I said: ‘Hi Honey, I know it's December when all the parties are, but we're going vegan.’”

“Once you get the call it’s time to change. And that's what we did.”

Health benefits of a whole-food plant-based diet

“I started having health improvements within a week,” Linda tells us.

Linda experienced many health improvements when she started a plant-based diet. This included her migraines and arthritis disappearing, weight loss and increased energy.

“I'm 63 now,” says Linda. “It breaks my heart to see how many people my age have problems that possibly could be averted with a better diet.’

Linda’s vegan budget challenge

The Cook for Good project started when Linda and her husband decided to take on the Food Stamp Challenge twelve years ago. (For readers who haven't heard of the challenge this Food Stamp Challenge article will give you insight into this.) They lived on a $1.50 budget per meal.

“And by the end of the first week, we loved the food.” Linda tells us. “It was fantastic. I was having to cook from scratch. No processed food. Homemade bread. Plenty of vegetables and fruits because that's what you can afford. Lots of pasta with tomato sauce. Lots of beans.”

“And we realised. It's not just that we're just saving money. It's that we have no more trash to throw out and we're having to buy local.”

Four tips for a cheap but healthy diet

Linda tells us her secrets for thriving of such a low food budget:

  • cook with the seasons

  • avoid waste

  • eat a vegan diet

  • cook at home.

“That's it,” she says. “If you do that then your food budget is so low that you're actually cooking well below what the U.S. government says is the thrifty diet.”

Three of Linda’s budget-friendly recipes

Win-Win-Win Hummus

“It's a no oil, super-thrifty thing. Because you're using the dried beans and no oil. I use the broth from our olives instead of olive oil,” Linda explains. Linda makes it from dried beans saving the bean broth to make aquafaba too!

Light Cashew Cream

Linda sneakily uses half eggplant and half cashews in her cashew cream. It can be used for lasagne filling, mac and cheese and more! “Cashews are relatively expensive and they're also relatively high in fat. Using eggplant means I’m cooking more locally. I can buy eggplant directly from my farmer and that's a fantastic thing.”

Stoup (Stew Soup)

Linda explains: “Just keep a container of leftovers in the freezer and you know every once in a while you take it out you thaw it. And you put in whatever is wilting in your refrigerator. You're reducing food waste and you're having a couple of free meals a month. From food you otherwise would throw down the drain.”

Can you eat organic food on a budget?

Linda proves that it’s possible to thrive on an organic diet, even when you’re on a budget.

“Sure it's more expensive,” she says. “It's more expensive than conventional or industrial food, as I'd rather call it. But that's assuming that you're buying the exact same food and you're cooking at home and you're avoiding waste.”

After the success of her food stamp challenge Linda wrote Wildly Affordable Organic. It’s a whole book which details exactly how to live thriftily and eat organic too.

Cooking dried beans will slash your budget

Linda tells us that bulk-buying dried beans is one of her secrets. She also saves the broth to use as egg-replacer.

“When I think of all the chickpea broth I've thrown away it just makes me weep. A lot of these things once you do it, you go: ‘why have I been doing that?’

Cooking vegan food for the homeless

Linda volunteers with a local group called Vegans for Peace at the Love Wins Community Engagement Centre.

The centre works with homeless and at-risk community, coming from a place of love and non-judgment.

Linda, second from left, with some fellow members of Vegans for Peace.

The group chooses a different culinary theme every month. “We've done cookout, Mediterranean, Italian,” Linda tells us. “We did Chinese one time and an Asian guy who came said he was so happy because he said he never gets anything that's like home-cooking at soup kitchens.”

“About eight to 10 of us go there. We bring along food, we do some prep there and then the community comes through,” Linda tells us.

“About 50 people come through and they serve themselves. And then we serve ourselves. And we all sit down and have lunch together. Which is fantastic, because it's not just: 'oh here I am saving you and I wouldn't dream of eating with you'.

You go and have real conversations with people and over a period of time you get to know folks.”

“We've heard from the coordinator that the people who attend say: ‘when are the vegans coming back?’”

A final note from Linda

“It's very intimate to disapprove of someone's food. Because food is love, food is community, food is tradition. So it's really hard to bring that up. It's easier to inspire people that you're not that close to. So let's show the way to each other's people.”

“It took eating a plant-based diet for about six months before I was able to think about what was going on to create animal-based food.

It's really hard to look at that if you love bacon and ice cream and whatnot. Cognitive dissonance is really strong.”

“My life was turned around at a Christmas party by somebody who had a brief chat with me. And when you do this, you can help not just the animals and not just your budget but it's also wonderful if you're interested in the environment and social justice.”

"No matter what reason you choose to have a vegan meal, please do it. Because you'll do so much good.”

Need more of vegan budgeting hacks from the legend that is Linda? Make sure you sign up for her newsletter on the Cook for Good website.

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