Eating your way through the cost of living crisis

Image: Ella Olsson on Unsplash

Want to save money? Try going plant-based.

A trip to the grocery store has become a stressful chore for many. Your previous loaf of bread priced 50p all of a sudden costs closer to a pound and you have to pick between whether you want to have chicken with your dinner or lunch tomorrow. The cost of living crisis is affecting us all as the price of food rises, reaching the annual rate of 11,6% according to The Guardian

Numerous people who weren’t previously struggling are now for the first time worrying about the price of food, and those who were already struggling are bent over backwards trying to keep up with inflation. More and more people are trying to find ways to save up a few extra pounds – some are resorting to wearing more layers of clothing instead of turning on the heating, or even going as far as skipping meals. But there might also be another surprising way to save up.

According to Food Revolution Network, more people are going vegan or plant-based than ever. There are many reasons behind it: a plant-based diet can be beneficial for the environment as well as for your health – not to mention the animals. While there are countless reasons to go vegan, a plant-based diet can also be an unexpected way to save money

The how-to

Going vegan can be intimidating. Maybe you don’t know where to start or what to eat as a vegan. Maybe the term vegan itself brings you the negative image of a person obnoxiously telling you what you aren’t allowed to eat and that itself can throw you off the idea of trying it out before you even get started. 

The journey of going plant-based looks different for everyone. For Janetta Olsén, 25, it all started when her farmer dad took her to a cow farm, and she saw what reality looked like for these animals.

“It was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” Janetta said. Despite the enormous amounts of land surrounding the barn, the cows were locked inside with no stimulation or possibility to play with each other. After this shocking sight Janetta “cried for three hours”, gave up red meat and shortly after that stopped eating fish and chicken altogether. 

Janetta stayed vegetarian, still consuming dairy for three years, until in 2019 she made the final switch, giving up all animal products and going fully vegan. For her, like for many, the hardest thing to give up was cheese.

“I was one of those people who thought they would never give up cheese,” she said. However, after over two cheeseless months of backpacking across southeast Asia, she came back home determined not to go back to eating dairy. However, Janetta admits vegan cheeses are not always very good and can put people off: “It takes a lot of trial and error to find the ones you like in terms of flavour and texture.”

Is it healthy?

Many people worry about how a vegan diet might affect their health, understandably so. Removing animal products from your diet can be a huge change and like with all diets, you have to be mindful of what you eat as a vegan as well. 

“Going vegan or vegetarian doesn’t give you an automatic clean bill of health. Many plant-based eaters consume processed and refined foods and eat just as little or fewer vegetables than those who eat diets with animal-based products,” Melissa Boufounos, certified holistic nutritionist and owner of MB Performance Nutrition in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada reminds us: “Going plant-based is not as simple as just avoiding meat and/or dairy products. Special consideration needs to be made to sustain health and performance.”

Melissa reminds us that some nutritional gaps might require supplements in a plant-based diet – such as vitamins B12, A, K2 and D, as well as iron supplements might be something worth looking into if you’re planning on going vegan. According to her “vegan and vegetarian diets are also linked to a higher incidence of certain digestive issues” so it’s important to eat a wide range of different foods and be mindful of what you eat even on a plant-based diet.

Jenna Calderara, a certified holistic nutritionist in Massachusettes, United States, also reminds us of the possibility of not getting enough protein – which is a concern for many people going plant-based. She however points out that there’s many vegan options when it comes to protein filled foods such as “beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, seitan, and tempeh”. The price of meat has risen enough to make people in the UK buy less and less meat, and still seems to be going up. Replacing animal products with these plant-based options can certainly be a good, and delicious, money saver.

Both Jenna Calderara and Melissa Boufounos agree that including more plant-based foods into your diet is beneficial. “Plant-based diets may lower blood pressure, help manage cholesterol and conditions such as diabetes and improve your gut health,” according to Jenna Calderara. 

“You won’t know how a plant-based diet will influence your health or performance until you experiment,” Melissa Boufonous said. “What might work for one person won’t necessarily work for you.”

Tips for going plant-based

  1. Take it slow

Going vegan is unlikely to happen overnight and you shouldn’t be expecting to go fully plant-based cold-turkey. According to Janetta the slow transition was crucial for her: “I think those couple of years that I was vegetarian before I went vegan were really important because I got to familiarise myself with all of these different products and food groups.”  

2. Don’t expect perfection

Jenna Calderara believes: “Don’t strive for perfection, strive for balance.” Similarly Janetta emphasises the importance of staying kind to yourself when it comes to changing your diet. “If you have a few products you really love and you can’t find a plant-based replacement, you don’t have to give them up,” Janetta says: “I think as long as you make some sort of change, that already makes a huge difference.” It’s also important to remember not to beat yourself up over tiny mistakes – if you accidentally buy something that you realise has dairy or eggs it’s not the end of the world.

3. Listen to your body

There are so many different ways of including more plant-based foods into your diet, so don’t be afraid to experiment to try and find the right way for you. “You should not feel hungry or stressed out when eating plant-based,” Jenna Calderara said. Similarly Janetta reminds everyone going plant-based to eat enough, which might be a little more than you’re used to with animal products.

4. Get involved on social media 

If you don’t know what to cook, social media will be your best friend. Janetta encourages anyone interested to surround themselves with vegan food – joining Facebook groups, following vegan recipe developers and cooking pages on Instagram and Youtube. “There’s so much support and wisdom and willingness to help you,” she said. If Janetta ever had a question about a product or a recipe turning to these communities online was “really easy and unintimidating.”

The most important thing when exploring this new world of food is to have fun. “I think food is such an important mediator in all our close relationships and communities so just trying out new food is a lot of fun,” Janetta said: “I just think there’s so much joy and love and happiness in discovering new dishes and there’s so much love to be discovered in these processes of trying new dishes or different food or methods of cooking.”

So next time you’re at the grocery store and worrying about the price of chicken, just grab a bag of lentils instead – or better yet, go searching online for cheap vegan recipes and recreate them in your own kitchen.

Words: Lumi Leinonen | Subbing: Istvan Botond Beres

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