Eating Vegan on $21.00 A Week: The Food Stamp Budget

In life there are many different social classes, interest groups and economic situations. But no matter what a person’s financial status, not a soul should be denied healthy, sustainable food based on income. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Even in a good economy, more families fall into a lower income tier than into a wealthy one. This means severe rationing of portions and supplies – most of the time at the expense of fruits and vegetables, with quick meals and chips and soda being cheaper options. It shouldn’t be a luxury to be able to eat healthily and ethically. Vegan Hope posits a challenge to turn this “status” quo around. Here are their guidelines:

1. For one week you agree to live on a $21.00 food budget (per person in your household). This is the Food Stamp Budget.
2. Do not use any equipment that costs more than $15.00, with the exception of the following: oven, microwave.
3. Spices that you currently have can be used, but you should subtract $3.00 from your total food budget per person.
4.I personally use no oil or spray oil (nor do I recommend anyone use it). However, that is not the purpose of this challenge, if you are someone who uses it I will be asking you to deduct $3.00 from your food budget.
5. Write about the dishes you make including ingredients and the cost per meal.
6. Include a shopping list.

I was pumped about this task for a few reasons.

A. I am faced with budgeting for food on a 20-something’s income
B. I am limited as far as where I can do my food shopping – my feet, public transportation or a bike has to be able to take me there. This is a problem many low-income families face as well. Limited transportation and limited resources make eating healthy (or gasp, vegan) even harder.
C. It is a chance to show just what kind of choices families have to make when trying to stretch $3.oo a day as far as they can.

So here’s how I ate. For one week. On $3.oo a day. Journal style.

I tweaked the spice allowance slightly by combining only the few extras I used into one $3.00 subtraction. My initial $3.00 deduction includes: oil/vinegar, mustard, peanut butter, and salt/pepper in very small rations. So I started the week with $18.00 to spare. ($21.00- $3.00 for spices/butter = $18.00)

DAY ONE
I started the week by making a careful list of what I would eat using the items I already had in my house. My first breakfast was to ration a package of Vans Vegan/Gluten Free Waffles laying in my freezer. ($3.00 for 8 waffles) I allowed myself 1 waffle. (Total $0.38) *Check out the shopping list at the end of the post for full items and prices for each. It’s ok, you can check my math.

Lunch
consisted of a peanut butter & banana sandwich (ahem, thank you Elvis), using a banana I had ($0.20), 2 tbsp. peanut butter (included in my $3.00 spice allotment) and two slices of bread ($0.30). (Total $0.50)

Dinner was leftovers! Nothing gets thrown away when you have to make every penny count. A leftover taco salad helped me save money. It is a simple recipe (and it’s one of my favorites). Using 1 red tomato, shredded lettuce, black beans, re-fried beans and tortilla chips, it’s a healthy and tasty meal on the cheap. And the cost? Well, let’s get ready for some slightly complicated math (come on, I majored in Journalism). I had half of the original meal leftover (from before the challenge). I ate half of that for dinner. So we’ll be dividing the prices in fourths. (1/4 red tomato $0.25 + shredded lettuce $0.15 + tortilla chips $0.50 + 1/4 can black beans $0.45 + 1/4 can re-fried beans $0.37 = $1.72)

Day 1 total: $0.38 + $0.50 + $1.72 = $2.60
$18.00- $2.60 = $15.40 left for Day 2

DAY TWO
Repetition is the name of Day 2 as I have a tendency to run late for work.

Breakfast: 1 Vans Vegan/Gluten Free Waffle (Total $0.38)

Lunch: I made a salad and took it to work. It was simple and healthy and consisted of lettuce ($0.20), 1/4 tomato ($0.25), 1/2 cucumber ($0.50), oil/vinegar (included in the initial $3.00 spice allotment) and a FREE banana that my office sets out on Monday mornings, much to my approval. (Total: $0.95)

Dinner: Craving something resembling a carb after walking in 100-degree heat I made cold pasta salad. You’ll notice I use the term “salad” for anything I decide to throw together in a pot or bowl. The whole thing was, just my style, easy and cheap. Using a coupon for a $1.00 box of generic wheat pasta (1/4 box for $0.25) with oil/vinegar and salt/pepper (included in allotted $3.00 for spices) and 1/2 red tomato ($0.50) it was a nice refreshing dinner for a total of $0.75.

Day 2 total: $0.38 + $0.95 + $0.75 = $2.08
$15.40 – $2.08 = $13.32 left for Day 3

Another thing to point out is that I live within walking distance to a farmer’s market. That is how I can afford super cheap veggies. BUT many farmer’s market do not take the food stamps debit card that now replaces paper food stamps because they don’t have the equipment to run them. Without the leisure of cash, people relying on public transportation and food stamps may have even more limited resources for healthy food.

DAY THREE
It’s the story of my life: I was running late and forgot to eat breakfast…which made lunch harder to wait for, but I didn’t want to spend any extra dough–However misfortune (a.k.a lack of planning) struck again and I realized I forgot my lunch. Dun dun dun, this isn’t starting off well. (Note: I’m emphasizing this lack of planning to say that people living on a very thin budget have extra stresses every morning to plan out how NOT to spend money. How many times have you been faced with that struggle?) Luckily, nuzzled in the back of the work freezer I found my lone Amy’s Black Bean Vegetable Burrito, which cost more than I would’ve wanted to spend had I brought home-cooked food — racking up $1.79. I also grazed the free snacks at work–which once again, I realize not everyone has the luxury of doing.

Once at home I decided to chow down on the last of the taco salad for fear of it going bad. For a total of $1.72. (See Day 1 for taco salad calculations).

Day 3 total = $3.51 ($1.72 + 1.79)
$13.32 – $3.51 = $9.81 left for Day 4 (To put it in perspective this is now $2.45 per day)

DAY FOUR
In the morning I survived on free coffee at work to get me through to lunch. I guess I’m not much of a breakfast person. Shun me if you must.

Lunch: I brought a homemade sandwich

[(2 slices of bread ($0.30), lettuce ($0.15) and onions ($0.10)] using a small amount of mustard (included in my $3.00 initial deduction) Lunch total = $0.55

Dinner: Brown Rice and Greens

  • 2 cups spinach ($0.50)
  • 1 cup brown rice ($0.32) with salt/pepper

I only ate half of the recipe and saved half for work the next day. ($0.82 divided by 2 = total of $0.41)

Day 4 total: $0.55 + $0.41 = $0.96
$9.81 – $0.96 = $8.85 left for Day 5

DAY FIVE
Breakfast: 1 slice of toast ($0.15)

Lunch: Brown Rice & Greens leftovers from last night ($0.41)

Dinner: Hodge-podge stir-fry

  • sauteed zucchini ($0.50)
  • onions ($0.10)
  • red bell pepper ($1.00)
  • 1/2 package frozen spinach ($0.50)
  • salt/pepper (included in original $3.00 subtraction)

Dinner came to a total of $2.10 divided by 2 = $1.05

Day 5 total: $0.15 + $0.41 + $1.05 = $1.61
$8.85 – $1.61 = $7.24 left for Day 6

DAY SIX
Back to my old tricks for breakfast, I grabbed a vegan waffle on my way out of the house. Not quite “Lego my Eggo” for a measly $0.38.

Lunch: Finally getting the hang of eating half and saving half, I enjoyed my zucchini stir-fry from the night before, totaling $1.05.

Dinner: Lazy Rice and Beans (A variation of this recipe).

  • 1 can black beans ($1.75)
  • 1 tomato ($1.00)
  • 1 onion ($0.10)
  • salt/pepper (included in $3.00 deduction)
  • 1 stalk celery ($0.50)
  • 1 cup brown rice ($0.32)

It isn’t quite the creole cuisine you southerners have become accustomed to but if you use enough pepper, it’s ALMOST like Sriracha. (I’m just kidding Sriracha, you know I love you.) Using only half, this dinner dish cost $1.84 ($3.67 divided by 2)

Day 6 total: $0.38 + $1.05 + $1.84 = $3.27
$7.24 – $3.27 = $3.98 left for DAY 7

DAY SEVEN
Breakfast involved, guess what? A WAFFLE. ($0.38) Luckily I love them.

Lunch: Leftover faux Red beans & Rice for $1.84.

DINNER of DAY 7: My favorite thing ever. 1 Taco Bell bean burrito. Not the healthiest. But an end of the week, Friday night treat. Sales tax aside, this little baby with no cheese and done up the Fresco way cost a lovely $0.89.

Day 7 total: $0.38 + $1.84 + $0.89 = $3.11
$3.98 – $3.11 = (drumroll?) $0.87 to spare at the end of Day 7. You know what this will buy me? A delicious COLT 45. (Well, with the help of a little spare change.)

A lesson to be learned. Plan ahead. Only buy what you need. And save up for a wonderful Friday treat.

—————————-

My food items :
2 cans of black beans (estimated $1.75/can)
1 can re-fried beans ($1.48/can)
Tomatoes (A bunch of 4 is $4.00, so one is $1.00)
Head of lettuce (From farmer’s market for $0.75)
Package of pasta (3 packages for $3.00)
Package of vegan waffles ($3.00 for package of 8)
Tortilla chips ($2.00/bag)
Onions ($2.00/bag)
Potatoes ($2.00/ bag–$0.20 for one 8 oz potato)
Frozen spinach ($1.00/bag)
Brown rice, precooked ($0.16 for 1/2 cup)
Bread, whole grain ($1.79/loaf or 12 slices)
Banana ($0.20 per banana at the farmer’s market)
Zucchini ($1.00 for 1)
Cucumber ($1.00 for 1)
Celery (1 stalk about $0.50)
Red bell pepper ($1.00)

By | 2016-10-17T10:42:40+00:00 September 2nd, 2010|Consumer Perspective, Lifestyle|50 Comments

About the Author:

Graduate of MU Journalism program. Love mustaches, vegan-things, LOST and beer.

  • Meg

    I think it’s an interesting challenge, and probably one well worth doing. As you do touch on, it is very important to realize that one’s food budget alone is not the only issue for many poor people trying to obtain healthy food. Access is a huge issue. Many do not have good grocery stores nearby and they often have very limited transportation. Many also work long hours which limits how much time one has to shop and cook, as well as what stores are open when one is able to shop. Being at the mercy of the corner store usually means higher prices and much fewer fresh foods.

    There’s a great blog post on this subject here:
    http://challengeoppression.com/2010/08/31/food-is-power/

  • Meg, with all due respect, the original Food Stamp Challenge was merely to force people accustomed to not using food stamps to realize just how far (or rather, how not far) they go to feed people. As I understand it, the original challenge was aimed at encouraging a change in the Farm bill to increase food stamp allowances.

    This challenge is a play on that challenge. This challenge is simply to point out that the most expensive protein sources are often of animal origin. If people switch to beans and rice or peanut butter sandwiches, then their money goes farther.

    Granted, there are definitely problems with access to healthy foods in poor communities. And I completely understand the issue, having grown up in a trailer park with a single mom and having lived in some situations as an adult that made me feel like veganism was impossible. But that’s just how I *felt.* That wasn’t reality. I surely managed to eat a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet without any financial struggles from the time I was 6. The fact is: virtually everyone can be vegan.

    The challenge’s creator said: “Let’s help people who are on a very limited budget by showing them that not only can they be Vegan, but they can do so in a healthy way and have enjoyable meals.”
    She wants to help people. She’s not pretending we can solve all food insecurity problems and save the world simply by blogging about cheap vegan eats; she’s just offering some solutions to some people.

  • Guest

    This is not a health diet. A single waffle for breakfast? Are you joking? The rest of it is awful too. How much weight did you lose? And what kind of job do you do?

  • Meg

    Hi Elaine,

    You may have misunderstood me. I am not criticizing the author of this post, nor the challenge. Just pointing out issues for readers who may not understand the other challenges that many people are indeed facing. I am doing this because I know there are people who will point to something like this and say, “See! It’s easy to eat healthy and cheap! Those people are just lazy fatasses who don’t give a damn!” (Again, not saying at all that the author or the creator of the challenge are among those people.)

    Anyone *can* indeed go vegan because veganism asks that we do only as much as “possible and practicable”. For some, though, that may include foods that are not otherwise vegan because their choices are so limited. Everyone’s situation is different. And people who are facing the sort of issues described Challenge Oppression’s post and worst have to worry about their own survival first and foremost. I myself grew up with a single mom and a very low income in a very rural area and many of the people around me were truly poor, sometimes even lacking basics like regular running water and proper homes (for example, in homes where there might not even be a floor inside part of their trailer, or where they were living in tents or old campers).

    I’m not saying that it is o.k. that they are eating animal products. But, in some circumstances, I do believe that it is morally excusable for them to do so and that the real problem is that not everyone has access to healthy and vegan food. And because of that, education will only help so much — especially when so many of the poor do not have easy access to computers even, nor the time to use them.

  • Two things to point out: My job involves sitting at a desk all day — not many calories being burned there. But also that this shows it’s hard to eat a healthy diet very cheaply in neighborhoods with low access — Without proper planning, eating unhealthy seems like the easiest option. Though also — I love waffles.

  • Good blog link — these were the exact issues I was attempting to point out. I live in a neighborhood, though rising in popularity, once was deemed poor. There are few stores within walking distance (though luckily there is a farmer’s market –food stamps in debit form are not accepted at all stands — nor is it open at convenient hours) so really the options are to take public transportation, purchase what you can carry from the Walgreens that doesn’t sell produce, and make due with that. I think you make very valid points — and I was not attempting at all to say it’s easy to eat healthy — it’s not, and my lack of planning proved that.

  • Skinny101

    agree,yes i need to be on budget!.. but looks like your diet plan consist lots of carbs!..

  • Tsnengpr

    While I understand the point of this exercise, I would also like to point out that if you are living a lifestyle that requires you to watch every penny, I would agree that this was a way to do it.  But if you are also concerned with health, than I suggest that you stay away from canned foods as their processing takes almost all of the nutrition away and adds way too much salt to your diet.  I am disappointed in the choices made for your week’s vegan diet was very little on the fresh food front.

  • MarieFromOttawa

    I also would never recommend this – a waffle for breakfast? or coffee for breakfast? Sure you can “live” on this plan, but will you be healthy and happy?

  • Seaghn White

    Interest in concept, followed by tepid response to execution of concept. Probability hipster was on food stamps: 86.29%. Probability hipster is still on food stamps: 71.72%. Probability of hipster contributing meaningfully to like-minded-friends: 13.44%. Probability of hipster contributing meaningfully to society: Negligible. Probability of hipster pouring water-based paint down trousers in a public space, masturbating in front of awe-struck-audience-including-young-children, and being photographed doing in exchange for bulk quinoa, simulating birth of a bearded Dachshund, which is to be skinned, whilst quoting Germaine Greer: 100%.

  • Justine

    I would be so hungry. Looking at Day 3, that’s maybe 300 calories all day until dinnertime. I just can’t eat so little.

  • Justine

    Day 2, I mean

  • Guest

    Hi! I really enjoyed this posting because it was realistic and not condescending. I was curious about what brand of vegan bread you can buy for $1.79 a loaf? Where I live a loaf of vegan bread costs me at least $5.

    To the guest who said “this is not a healthy diet.” I am not trying to speak for the author, but I believe the point of this challenge is to eat on a food stamp budget, not eat as healthy as possible. Doing both is difficult, as the author demonstrates.

    I am so sick of the “it’s so easy! Just eat beans and rice” rhetoric. You people do realize rice has almost no nutritional value, right?

  • Arletta Sloan

    In fairness, I don’t think this was supposed to be a health plan.I think it was supposed to be an experiment to see if it could be accomplished well enough to remain healthy.

    I could be wrong, but, that’s what I think. Why? Because, no one is saying “Eat this way and you will be healthy.” They are saying it’s a challenge.

    Instead of nit-picking what they did, you are supposed to be fired up to see what you can do. I have seen there is at least one person who posted something along those lines.

    Even though I do not accept the challenge, for a reason stated in a different comment, I will try to remember to get back here and post how I’ve done if and when I get signed up for food stamps, again; because, it is important to show people that it can be done.

    That’s one of the things that kept me reading this post, because, I am writing a diet book, of sorts, based on just this kind of thinking and in regards to people with needs such as mine, in the hopes that it will help others; and, yes, that there will be enough sales (at as low of a cost as possible) to help me. Most diet plans, even the ones that claim to be low budget and easy are full of things I simply can never, or seldom, afford, like juice, bagels, meat, eggs, quinoa, nuts.

    Though, I could afford quinoa, if I could get to the right store while they were having a sale. I just mostly cannot get there. But, I digress.

    The main focus of my plan, that I am attempting to devise to help myself, is that it must be incredibly cheap and fairly easy, as well as incredibly healthy; and, it must be sustainable, barring complete and utter chaos caused by war, blight or famine, so that fat poor people can, hopefully, be thin, slightly less poor, definitely less stressed out people.

    I commend the person who posted this for making the challenge.

  • Jen

    A lot of breads are already vegan. If you go with white bread, you can probably find a loaf for under a dollar in some places; for whole wheat bread, you can probably find loaves under $2 in most places.

  • Shari

    This is great you tried this, but literally this is barely surviving and not counting even 1200 calories; it is severely low in calories and tho vegan, also in overall nutrition. This diet for many months to years would lead to a host of illnesses. The real person on food stamps would likely be tired often, lose their min wage job and not live long…

  • Shari

    I too will try this challenge. This week. I will also try to find a homeless person or family that wants to be vegetarian/vegan to support after seeing this.

  • Joanna

    So much of what you see now a days is people with extremely closed minds putting down anything they couldnt imagine.
    1) Depending on your location food cost ranges, even store to store.
    2) an Individual’s needs DO vary, case to case basis
    3) What do you do to listen to what your body tells you it needs?
    4) WHO NEEDS 2000 CALORIES A DAY? THE FAT AMERICA?!!?
    SO SPOILED to a point of ignorance. So to any and all rude critics how are you so much better? humble yourselves, open your mind and free your precious spirit with another point of view without searching for ways to deem anything inferior. Bully, ignorant humans remember You get what You give, you have hardened your own hearts and only you have to live with it.

    Wonderful article my dear! I will be doing this with my family, how exciting!
    i cook enough to serve only, no leftovers hahaha, but i appreciate that if you make too much you dont trash it. However i am a crave eater, i dont eat as often so it may work out, if not Ill just have to fine tune a bit more.
    Thank you for sharing your life experience!
    -ladysaphariah

  • You actually have to be pretty careful. Most store-bought brands of whole wheat bread I’ve run across contain whey and other milk products (I’m more flexible about sugar…most of which is not vegan…but others aren’t).

  • Seq

    Actually, the human body needs 1800-2400 minimum. Do some proper research, like scientific stuff and not cosmo.
    Thanks.

  • Taline

    This is one of the worst diets I have ever seen. I would be STARVING if this is what I ate and I honestly usually eat between 1200-1400 calories a day which is on the low side of average. This diet would be a good way to convince people NOT to go to vegan.

  • hiraethed

    How is sugar not vegan? Honest question from new vegan

  • In non-organic cane sugar (beet and coconut are OK), bone char (exactly what it sounds like, charred bone) is used to bleach the sugar (a sort of filtration process if I remember). I typically buy organic which is always vegan though you can find non-organic vegan can sugar brands, too (there’s a list online somewhere). Hope that helps!

  • Rachel

    Lets get this straight, if (as she says) youre sitting on your ass all day, you are not burning enough calories to have a plan that consists of nearly 1,500 or 2,000 calories a day unless you want to gain weight. If you’re sitting around and doing nothing youre not really burning calories, youre literally sitting on your calories. So its not unhealthy, in fact it is is a pretty logical plan.

  • Amy Black

    you’ve missed the point. Most people on foodstamps work multiple jobs and do not have time to prepare food, they also go to the grocery store once a month and buy everything then,

    This is utterly tone deaf. No way the nutrients you are taking in would suffice for someone working two or three jobs and possibly taking care of children.

  • Amy Black

    as someone on poverty who receives foodstamps, this is not helpful in any way at all. It convinces people, wrongly that you can easily do these things, eat healthy, etc.

    A lot of people live in food deserts where produce is not readily available, and the calories presented are not enough for a person working multiple jobs. Produce also won’t last an entire month. You never shop week to week because that adds to the gas bill. Everything gets frozen.

    also, who cares if someone is fat or not, that isn’t even relevant to health. That’s just privileged people judging poor people because they don’t have access to healthy foods or even produce in some places. When it comes down to eating or not eating, healthy food is sort of irrelevant. It’s just fat shaming.

  • Amy Black

    what an idiot. You try working two or three jobs and taking care of kids on under 2k calories a day.

    calling us spoiled is ironic as hell, because you are presuming that your privileged lifestyle is easily accessible to the poor and it isn’t.

  • Amy Black

    figuring out which sugars are bad is literally not an option for a poor vegan.

  • Figuring out which sugars are not vegan or actually purchasing them? Being vegan is a luxury. It’s easy enough to be a vegetarian, but being a healthy vegan does come at a premium (at least in part because of issues with economies of scale for vegan-centric products like supplements).

    However, even most of the poor (62% of people making less than $30k in 2012…that has doubtlessly gone up with recent efforts by companies and the government to provide subsidies and low-cost services) has access to internet via a library/school computer if not a smartphone. Many I’ve encountered during service work purchase an old smartphone and use it with free wifi. Yeah, there are stressors on the poor, but it seems really insulting that you can’t give them enough credit to quickly Google “vegan sugars” at someone point and save it to their phone or write it down. (Kids type papers on smartphones because they don’t have an alternative…That’s the issue, not Googling something.)

    Purchasing such sugars is another matter. Off of Walmart’s website, the cost per oz was $0.033 versus $0.82 for traditional versus vegan which is a bit more than 2.5x. If you live in a region where beet sugars are grown, your store brands might actually be beet sugar and thus vegan so this difference in cost could be eliminated. Alternatives to sugar will also work in most cases, such as corn syrup (which is a lot cheaper though health effects are not well known) and apple juice concentrates.

    It would certainly be incredibly difficult to be poor and vegan (I personally would revert to vegetarianism if I hit hard times) but you really ought to give more credit to the resourcefulness of the poor.

  • Becky Struck

    No kidding. I was excited because I found a list I could use until I read more and yea we would not be healthy. Ugh 🙁

  • Brandy

    Rachel, as a fitness trainer, this meal plan will put anyone’s body into starvation mode. For example, if you are 210lbs and around 5’4″ and wanting to lose weight you would need to consume 1,564 calories, for someone who does not plan to work out and is sedentary. For a woman who is 150lbs, 5’6″, and looking to neither gain nor lose, she would need to consume 1,703. These are all for people who are sedentary, do not workout and are not planning to. This is completely unhealthy.

  • Alice

    ” Without proper planning, eating unhealthy seems like the easiest option.”

    That is true whether you are vegan or not.

    I, too, don’t think this is a very balanced diet. And I think that one could do a little better than this on $3/day. For one thing, I don’t buy peppers for $1 each. Ever. And I can buy a whole big bunch of celery for $.69. The local discount grocery has beans for $.69 for a 1 lb. can and dired pinto beans for $.50/lb. Tomatoes are in season and once can buy them for $.69/lb. at the grocery, even less at the farmer’s market but that’s a distance away. I doubt I’m spending $3/week on spices or condiments.

    After reading this article, I started thinking how I would construct my diet if I were restricted to $3/day. I’ve been thinking about it carefully. I’m eating up some perishables in my refrigerator that would not fall into this regimen, but once I’ve finished them, I’m planning on trying it. However, I will use the actual cost of ingredients used (I will measure and weigh them) since I think the $3 for spices or oils or condiments is arbitrary and not necessarily a fair reflection of my actual usage. I plan on starting this within a couple of days. I’m not sure I’ve got the self-discipline required to do this but I’ll give it my best effort. I may fail miserably. I will report back and let you know how it went. I will restrict myself to groceries which are within 2 miles of where I live, which is in an urban area. There *is* a Whole Foods about a mile from where I work and, while I would not normally look to them for low-cost food, they come in cheaper than the others when it comes to 1 quart containers of soy milk. I’m a single person, live alone, and half gallons just go bad on me, though I suppose I could freeze it. I’m thinking of making my own. I used to do it back in the day, before you could buy it in the grocery store.

    Jessi, I do admire you for having the courage to do this and putting yourself out there. You inspired me. I actually have to live pretty frugally, I’m very low income, but I’m good at doing it. And when I was in my 20s I had to live extremely frugally. We at a diet based on beans, grains, and mostly home-grown vegetables. We weren’t vegan by choice, we were vegan mostly by necessity. We bought grains and beans by the bushell or 25 and 50 pound sacks and stored them in 5 gallon buckets. We ground our own flour, made everything from scratch – bread, waffles, soy milk, soy “sausage” and burgers, tofu. It was just what we did. I still make my own bread, but I only bake in the cool weather, it’s too hot to turn on the oven here in the summer.

    Well, thank you for the inspiration. I’ll let you know how it goes.

  • Alice

    “Being vegan is a luxury.”

    Uh, I was vegan back in the early 70s because I was living below the poverty level and beans and grains and mostly home-grown vegetables were the cheapest, most nutritious options available. We ate beans at every meal – breakfast, lunch, and dinner – and did not buy prepared foods of any sort. It was necessity, not luxury.

  • Alice

    Having a smart phone is a luxury, too. One which i live without. Too expensive.

    A nutritious vegan diet does not have to be expensive. It can be incredibly cheap. That’s why I ate vegan.

    What is expensive is ignorance – not knowing how to construct a balanced, healthy diet on a tight budget. And convenience. If you buy convenience food, you are going to pay a premium for it.

  • Alice

    “Let’s help people who are on a very limited budget by showing them
    that not only can they be Vegan, but they can do so in a healthy way and
    have enjoyable meals.”

    Not everyone wants to be vegan, but for those who do, creating models of low-cost vegan diets that cover one’s nutritional needs is a good thing.

    Even for those who do not aspire to be vegan, demonstrating that one can create a healthy, nutritious diet by using beans, grains, and vegetables – all of which are low-cost – will help them to live a healthier life.

  • Alice

    I agree that I would never criticize anyone whose options are limited and who do what they can to get by.

    I lived in rural Missouri in the poorest, least populated county in the state. Probably half the population was getting some sort of government food assistance. Everyone had access to dried beans, which are cheap and nutritious and easily available. Granted, people’s options were limited but lack of understanding of how to construct a low-cost, nutritious diet was probably a greater problem than lack of access to nutritious food.

  • Alice

    Hi, there, I’m back again. And I’ve decided to do this – if I can.

    Looking back over Jessi’s food diary – it does not appear to have sufficient calories and seriously lacks protein. I thought I could do better than that. However, it’s proving quite challenging. I came in at $2.85 today. I’m writing up exact costs, will post on my FB page, which is public.
    Calories: 1605
    Protein: 59 g
    Fat: 43 g
    Carbs: 265
    Calcium: 49% RDA
    Breakfast: bran flakes, home made soy milk, a banana; lunch: black beans & rice, sliced tomato, kale; dinner: chili, tortillas, broccoli, a peach; snacks: peanut butter & celery, half a cup more of the chili and one tortilla.

    This is going to be more challenging than I expected. I already admitted I may set myself up for failure. We shall see.

    One word of apology to Jessi: she said she bought a “stalk” of celery for $1. In my world, a “stalk” in an individual piece and the whole package is a bunch. However, I noticed on the package that it said “celery stalk.” So, I may have misunderstood. My sincere apologies, Jessi.

    I need to put it into a format that’s readable, but I will keep a running diary.

    I had to fight temptation a few times today. I wanted to eat things that definitely weren’t part of the plan.

    It’s weird to walk into the grocery store and have to ignore almost everything in it since it’s all way to expensive, even the cheap stuff.

  • Alice

    Fresh food is expensive. As for canning, it depends on what it is. Canned green vegetables lose most of their vitamins but tomatoes are not processed for long and retain more of their nutrients. When you are on this tight of a budget, fresh vegetables and fruit are a luxury. Try constructing a balanced diet on $3/day and see what you come up with. I’m doing it and barely squeaked by today. Tomorrow it will be more beans and rice, less fruit.

  • Renee Ramsey

    I disagree, FAT IS relevant to health! Being overweight leads to all kinds of health problems. I am DIRT POOR, and I would love to eat healthy, I want to go Vegan so badly it hurts, but it’s not affordable at all. So, I must eat what I can in the vegan menu, and simply leave out the rest. I am healthy, and have much more energy than I did when I was eating all the junk, meat, dairy, etc. I am by no means “privileged”, but as far as being overweight goes, unless you have a thyroid problem, or some other medical condition that causes you to be overweight, there is truly no excuse for it. I don’t have the means to eat as healthy as I would like to, but I still eat enough to make me feel full without eating junk. Before anyone gets on their high-horse here, let me give it to you straight. I am disabled, I get a GRAND TOTAL of $753.00 a MONTH, and only $110.00 a MONTH in food stamps. If you need more details as to why I took a stand on this, reply to this comment and I will gladly answer any questions that I can.

  • Jaylah

    This amused me. $21 dollars per week? On disability, I get about $21 per MONTH. This, of course, assumes my disability check covers all of the rest of my living expenses, plus some for food. Fat chance.

  • Alice Sanvito

    No, the human body does not need a minimum of 1800 calories a day. Do some proper research.
    I’m female, 63 years old, 5’5″, moderately active. All calorie calculators I’ve used have come up with an estimated 1600 – 1700 calories a day for me.

  • Alice Sanvito Lbt

    If you are referring to *me* as an “idiot)” – well, that isn’t very nice. And it’s inaccurate.

    Your caloric needs depend on your age, your sex, your size, and your activity level. To say that “the body” – i.e. everyone – needs a minimum of 1800 calories a day just is not true. My caloric needs, by several calculations, are about 1700 calories a day and I’m moderately active, but I’m also 63 years old and not that big of a person. My weight stays stable at that. A younger but small woman with a sedentary job
    would probably do fine on that, too.

  • Alice Sanvito Lbt

    You left out age. The older you are, the less calories you tend to need.

  • ☪shaky warrior

    This is much too low in calories to thrive.

  • OK Jessi, I call for a re do. Waffles? Frozen burro?

  • Christie

    This is great! Thank you for doing this. In my state, many people only get $16 in food stamps, if they’re lucky. I am low-income and a college student (and became a vegan 3 months ago), so anything that gives advice for eating on a strict budget is a huuuge help. I would add more veggies and fruit and some nuts/seeds to my day. People tell me that veganism is expensive, but it isn’t if you don’t buy a lot of pre-made or “exotic” foods and looks for coupons and sales. I was vegetarian since I was 14 (I’m 23 now. I had the vegetarian thing down!). Luckily, there’s a fabulous farmer’s market that does take food stamps for those who have them where I live (and in other cities I visit). Anyway, thank you again and I hope you have a good day. 🙂

  • Nia Lorre

    Still as relevant and helpful today as it was when written. Thanks Jessi, you rock.

  • Nia Lorre

    A luxury? Really?
    Like people with celiac disease eat gluten-free are eating luxuriously?
    I hope you have pulled your head out of your anus subsequent to writing this condescending comment.

  • @nialorre:disqus, in the intervening time, I have since moved and lived a year in the poorest area of Newark, NJ (read: food desert) and lived below the poverty line. Having experienced this first hand, I still resolutely agree with my comment.

    Let’s be clear here, you’re analogy is terrible. Those with Celiac disease, including my friends and relatives, can die from eating gluten. Having been a vegetarian for 20+ years, I would probably puke if I ate a steak, but would be perfectly healthy if I accidentally consumed a bit of butter in something a friend made. Even butter-levels of contamination are too much for one with Celiac disease They are absolutely not the same. It must be hard to see with that plank in your eye.

    But moving back to the point, in order to purchase a variety of veggies like leafy greens and products like soymilk, I had to take two buses or walk a few miles through some pretty dangerous (nightly shootings and the like) blocks to the full grocery store. The neighborhood store had packaged goods (chips, soda, non-vegan granola and candy bars) plus a limited refrigerated section (milk, eggs, and juices). I did actually continue eating vegan (almost totally beans and rice, @alicesanvitolbt:disqus, but we did not have the privilege of home grown vegetables having moved in after the growing season or the necessary yard space for much), and promptly ended up with multiple nutrient deficiencies while my roommates who ate vegan at home but meat and dairy at lunch were perfectly healthy. I saw mothers with multiple young kids hauling food to my neighborhood on the two buses from the supermarket, but I could carry infinitely more than they could with kids in hand. I can’t imagine having to make that hour trip even more often, as they would need to, with kids in tow; I imagine they didn’t. Further, that supermarket was only built the year previous and so the area was once even more of a complete food desert than I experienced. Similarly, many do not have the time (working multiple jobs with long commutes and kids to take care of) or a yard to garden) to purchase nutritious vegan food, let alone the time to prepare largely more time intensive vegan recipes. So I will say this again, eating vegan (and maintaining health with a sufficiently varied diet) is not easily possible for many in food deserts (i.e. “a luxury”).

  • Low-Income Senior

    I am a really low income senior living in California on SSI. In CA, if you’re on SSI the state gives you additional money instead of food stamps, included in your SSI monthly income. The additional money for one person is $160/month (2017) or $5.33/day or $37.33/week. This is to make up for a higher cost of living, etc. I think the food stamp challenge amount has gone up since this blog post was written, though, but this is the amount I am dealing with in 2017.

    Farmer’s markets do not have cheap vegetables anywhere I’ve lived in California. They cater to organic lovers and to the people who can afford to help subsidize small local growers – basically, the Whole Foods Market consumers. Maybe farmers markets are cheap somewhere else, but I’ve lived in very poor and very wealthy areas in CA since I’ve been on SSI, and I couldn’t afford to buy produce at any of them. For most poor people, your cheapest produce will be at Walmart and it still won’t be cheap. So, what are the alternatives?

    First I want to mention something that’s so obvious to me, that nobody ever talks about in these food stamp challenges, and that is the fact that you can make soup and eat really cheap and healthy, if you turn what you have into soup. And a veggie soup with lots of lentils, beans, and rice can be really filling. As I type this I have a pot of lentils soaking. I keep baggies of cooked brown rice, beans, lentils in the freezer.

    But, here are some tips on how to spend your money – from someone living on and actual food bank budget, and recently decided to be vegan:

    1) Food banks, if you have one, for free food and veggies. Sometimes you’ll get fresh veggies, sometimes canned. Patrons often give away what they don’t want to each other or trade. So, you could start letting everyone know that you are willing to give up your meat in exchange for their veggies or whole wheat bread. There will usually be some kind of animal protein – eggs, tuna, sometimes chicken and even red meat, sometimes cheese and milk. Others will love to have yours. I feed mine to my dog 🙂 Sometimes you can ask the food bank for whole wheat instead of white bread, if they have it, or trade with someone in the parking lot. You’ll almost always get beans and rice, bread, pasta, and cereal. Sometimes even whole grain. You’ll usually get some canned fruit, sometimes some fresh fruit.

    2) Dollar stores. You have to know your prices in the other stores, but if you can get to one, you can often find great deals. Even if you’re leery of China. I bought some jars of sliced mushrooms that came from Poland last time I went – for $1.00 each. They also (at least in CA) carry the packaged crispy tortillas (tostadas), for just $1.00, and those make not only great meals, but are also awesome tortilla chips – for way cheaper than bagged tortilla chips, and normally are fried in plant oil and actually pretty low in fat & calories.

    3) Tortillas are cheap and are made of whole grains. I even learned that you can heat up and soften corn tortillas by just getting them wet and throwing them into a frying pan on high heat – they turn out great and no oil needed (trying to lose weight). Fill it with beans, rice and some canned Mexican tomatoes with chilies (see below) and you’re set.

    4) Most stores have a Hispanic, non-perishable section where stuff is cheaper. Canned Mexican tomatoes with chilies are awesome and you can get them for $1 or less per can, depending on where you shop. The dollar store here always has them. Way cheaper than a fresh tomato, won’t go bad, already chopped with chilies added (not super hot) and they’re great on burritos, in soup, etc. It’s a super cheap chunky salsa alternative. Mexican spices in the cellophane bags are way cheaper, and sometimes their dried beans are cheaper. You’ll often find Hispanic brands that are cheaper in this section, that is the same stuff you’d buy in a different aisle in the same store – dried beans, canned veggies, hot sauce, spices – check it out.

    5) Beans and lentils are cheap as are rice, and if you go to the food bank, you’ll get plenty for free.

    6) Buy frozen veggies like chopped spinach (I hate kale) to add to soups, etc. Some frozen veggies are cheap and some not so much. I’ve found spinach to be cheap and I love it. Canned veggies if you don’t have enough freezer space or they’re just cheaper, etc.

    7) Canned garbanzo beans are pretty cheap – put them into a blender with a little oil and garlic or whatever – really cheap hummus.

    8) Canned tomato sauce is cheap.

    9) Pasta is really cheap.

    10) splurge on soy milk and coconut milk, which also don’t go bad quickly. Same for coconut oil. You can actually buy them from Walmart for cheaper than other stores, too. And their shipping is cheap (Walmart overall is cheaper than Amazon Prime).

    11) Cook in big batches and freeze or can smaller portions for easy meals later. Plus, that way you’re not having to eat the same meal all week or cook every day to get variety.

    Drives me crazy that they didn’t also mention you will have to buy toilet paper and toothpaste, and other toiletries that you can’t buy with food stamps. Let alone plastic baggies for freezing food or lids for canning jars, etc. In some states, like where I live in CA, some people get their food stamp allotment as cash instead of money that can only be spent on food. When you need to choose between coffee – or toilet paper – which do you choose? You quickly learn to stretch your food, so you have money for the stuff you can’t buy with your food stamp money.

    But anyway, the main way to eat lots of veggies and whole grains when you’re really poor, is to use cheap fresh veggies that don’t go bad quickly, like onions, carrots and potatoes. Then, buy canned or frozen veggies, and dry beans. Poor people can’t buy bags full of fresh produce – it’s too expensive.

    And you decide what to eat based on what you have in the house, not what you’d ideally love to have for dinner – the ingredients decide the dinner, rather than deciding what you want and then going and getting the ingredients. Forget most recipes. You learn to get creative. But, onions and carrots are pretty cheap. Celery can be pricy, so sometimes celery seed is the way to invest your money for celery flavor. But, you can get a decent soup started if you have these basics, then you see what’s in the cupboard and create accordingly.