Cheap Vegan: spending to save

February 24, 2010

It seems like we’ve got a lot of people searching the interwebs for tips on being vegan on a budget.  Isn’t that a little messed up when you think about it?  For years, meat’s been seen as a status symbol intended for those who can afford it, delegating beans and rice to “poor people,” and yet the growing abundance of packaged vegan convenience food has made it way too easy to top the grocery bill of just about any omnivore.

With that in mind, I felt a little guilty with the latest round of vegan cooking videos we’ve got going on the just-relaunched Eazy Vegan Cooking Show.  Our first video is all about how to use a pressure cooker, which can run you around $100 for a good one, and next week I’ll be using close to a thousand dollars in equipment (which is mostly optional, and we got our dehydrator for free, but still!)

By way of explanation, I thought it’d be good to talk a little bit about food budgets and how sometimes “spending to save” can make a lot of sense.

First of all, if you actually use your kitchen instead of eating takeout or relying heavily on “assemble and reheat” convenience foods (I’m looking at you with a mix of love and regret, Tofurky,) you’re going to save a significant amount of money.  From there, it’s a matter of working to lower your average cost per meal.

I love using beans to fill out a meal.  OK, mostly I just love to eat hummous straight out of a bowl, yes, with a spoon, don’t you judge me, but the point is, beans are an incredibly healthful addition to any meal and they make it hard to add much else in the way of bulk.

Canned beans are the most convenient way to cook with beans, but the dry beans are significantly cheaper, and as a bonus they store easily and weigh less than cans, which can make them better choices for both you and the environment.  The only challenge is that they’re a pain to cook, in my opinion, without a pressure cooker.

I spent some time looking up prices for canned versus dry beans, but it seemed to vary by location a fair bit, so do your own math.  My main point today is that if you’re willing to commit to regular additions of beans in your diet, it doesn’t take very long (under a year, easily) for the savings to add up to the price of a pressure cooker.  (and yes, they do a lot more than cook beans…)

Of course, you have to be careful with this kind of logic!  I often find myself rationalizing far too many “money savers” at a time, which can result in racking up a lot of up-front costs for many items that I won’t end up using (just ask Angela!) – as with everything else I talk about, be sure to make one change in your routine at a time so you can easily figure out what’s working for you and what’s not without being too disruptive to everything else that’s going on with your life.

If I was more opportunistic, I’d salt this post with affiliate links to various pressure cookers available online, but honestly they’re the kind of thing that you can often find used on Craigslist or Kijiji – I think they’re like the home exercise equipment of cooking gear or something.

So over to you – what’s the one kitchen upgrade you’ve bought that’s saved you the most money?  And going the other way, what’s the one you thought would be “the one” but turned out to be a waste?  Let me know in the comments!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

angela_thrust February 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Mandolin for sure! We got it after watching a presentation at the CNE and I use it all the time! Sure it gots a bunch up front, but I slice thing so frickin fast! We got a second one at a garage sale, and now that one is at the cottage. This one rules:

MissBell February 24, 2010 at 8:05 pm

I can't wait to take the pressure cooker I got for xmas out of its box! I haven't yet because, well, I'm not sure how to use it… I'd really like to start eating less canned beans, though. I hear those cans aren't so good for your health.

Kim February 24, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Most used: Our beloved Viatamix blender. Least used: Our fancy Excalibur dehydrator. We had great intentions, but all we use it for lately is Kale chips!

jasondoucette February 25, 2010 at 12:40 am

Kale chips are the reason for dehydrators to exist! I've got a great recipe lined up for next week on Eazy Vegan!

stephie137 February 25, 2010 at 2:50 am

Maybe hasn't saved the most money, but definitely my favourite is the food processor. So much cheaper-than-storebought hummus made in that thing.

Never used the secondhand food mill, though. Redundant?

jasondoucette February 25, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I'm getting frightened over how much of my kitchen is intended solely to enable hummous delivery. Seriously though, what's the cost ratio of store bought hummous to homemade? 3:1? 4:1? I guess it depends on how much tahini you use… If I ever see a home sesame seed grinder I'm done for.

stephie137 February 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Around these parts, the value ratio is at least 4:1.

PonderingWillow February 26, 2010 at 4:39 am

My pressure cooker is by far my best investment. The least used and costing the most in my kitchen would be my fancy schmancy juicer. I just hate cleaning it… And I'm really not that fond of juice…

Do you poop as awesome as you taste?


grace lorraine February 26, 2010 at 9:33 am

Certainly the most expensive item in my humble kitchen has been this fancy can-opener; i spent maybe $10 on it a few years ago. As a result of owning this smooth-action, molded handle tool, i have spent a fortune on canned foods i might have purchased fresh or in bulk. The cost has been more than simply financial–canned beans are more convenient *and* pricier than dry ones–but also environmental, because of the packaging. I've also “paid” with my self-esteem; i feel poorly about myself for my lack of culinary skill and experience that has been enabled, for example, by the ready-made can of soup.

I am very pleased with my “pasta pot,” which was not cheap, but allows me to boil lots of water for cooking … pasta, rice, etc. It has a lovely glass lid so i can keep an eye on the contents without losing the heat. It also provides the potential for me to get more active in the kitchen.

=) Thanks for letting me share.

jasondoucette February 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

That tagline made Angela laugh. I did too, until I thought about it too much…

PonderingWillow February 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I've thought of about a billion more taglines last night after that one….

Laughing preggers ladies make awesome babies.

Doo good deeds!


angela_thrust February 26, 2010 at 3:32 pm

jason had the vitamix when I moved in… now I can't leave 🙂

angela_thrust February 26, 2010 at 3:34 pm

yes! Jason and I each have our own can-openers! I understand your need to have one with a good handle!

angela_thrust February 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Our friend John gave us a really really great garlic press, you don't need to take the skin off each clove before putting in the press. I've been trying to cook at friends houses and get so mad at their presses! Jason: what was the brand name of that press again?

jasondoucette February 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

That'd be the Zyliss. Costs a bit more, but I'm hoping it'll last a bit longer, and it makes cooking that much more joyful. Good example of what I'm talking about, thanks!

thedalyn February 27, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Two weeks ago, I bought this little gem, even though I already had two (kind of) working food processors:
But, the ease with which I can throw together some hummus or salsa or chipotle ranch dressing or any number of other things–hell, I can even make three batches of stuff without cleaning a bowl with this thing–makes it well worth it.

Also, i love my pressure canner which saves a ton of money. We can veggies and fruit we get at the end of the day clearance at the farmer's market and make huge batches of beans that we freeze.

I could wax poetic all day about kitchen gadgets…

jasondoucette February 27, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Wow, canning is a whole other amazing thing that I want to learn more about and share – maybe at the peak of growing season this year when everyone has five neighbours trying to unload their excess…

Laura May 31, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I will teach you to can. So much fun!

Jason June 1, 2010 at 7:25 am

Can can party! I really want to learn that stuff – especially since our freezer is full!

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