I grew up in a family where we didn’t exactly have a lot of money. To be more accurate we were homeless for some of my childhood. We just never had money in our family. My Dad, a college graduate took any job he could, liquor stores, shoe stores and construction. My Mom was a stay at home Mom with 3 kids, and all of us had various health problems that meant my parents could never really dig out of poverty.
People have very skewed views of poverty, frankly it sickens me some of the stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media, certain news outlets and simply bad information.
Being in poverty does not mean that someone did something wrong. It can happen to ANYONE. I know this first hand because I worked a lot with the homeless in a previous job. Sure, were there some people who were addicts? Yes. But were there former professors, hard working mechanics, school teachers, military men/women? Yes.
I’ve heard people in all communities put down people who live in poverty, and it really saddens me. Behind many of those people begging on the street is a story, a family, a history.
And because you might have seen a few ‘bad seeds’ in the poor community, does not reflect on the community as a whole – just like every other group of people in our country, there are the good and the bad. Just like you would not want to be judged for the worst people in the community you are in, neither do people living in poverty.
I say all of this because I believe that many people think that being Vegan would be far too expensive for them. And I believe that in part can be blamed on some of the stigmas (fair or not) about Vegan eating. Let’s face it, some of the equipment and ingredients some of us use are on the expensive end. Let me say this now, I am in no way judging you for having a fancy blender, food processor, dehydrator or for using raw cacao made from a rare cocoa plant only grown in the northern region of Argentina. I’m saying that it can be intimidating and can come across in the wrong way to many people who struggle to just buy a box of mac & cheese every week, and who have to struggle to feed their children.
My parents lived on crackers when I was born because they could not afford my healthcare and food for themselves.
But my parents are nowhere near alone. Millions live in poverty. The saddest part of this is that so many living in poverty believe that they have to eat the worst foods, because they can not afford to eat healthy. This perpetuates even more problems.
Because most people who are struggling financially end up becoming ill, because of that they end up going into severe amount of debt because of healthcare that they can not afford to begin with. (I will be the first to say that living with out health care is near impossible, and yes hard working people can not get it for themselves or their children).
This in turn leads to the government having to step in (some of the time) and that is why our debt and our health care in so out of control in this nation. We spent 143 billion dollars on diabetes last year, and close to 170 billion on heart disease. Two disease in which are completely preventable and reversible.
It’s an issue of epic proportion.
Welcome to the “The Budget Vegan Challenge”
This is what I’m asking:
- For one week you agree to live on a $50 food budget (per person in your household). This is the food stamp budget.
- Do not use any equipment that costs more than $15, with the exception of the following: oven, microwave.
- Spices that you currently have can be used, but you should subtract $3.00 from your total food budget per person.
- 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 from your food budget. (To be clear if you are using your own spices and if you use oil you would be on a $15.00 food budget)
- Write about the dishes you make including ingredients and the cost per meal.
- Include a shopping list.
What I am hoping to accomplish:
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.
It would be awesome to have references for people outside of the Vegan community on how to eat a cruelty free diet. I want people to be able to look up your blogs accounts and learn how to shop and make meals.
It would be great for those participating to understand some of the challenges that people who are struggling financially go through.
Please pick any week between now and the end of August. I will be putting links to your blogs accounts up on a special page starting this Sunday.
I am really excited for all of my vegan blogger friends to participate! I think that it will help so many people in their quest to live a cruelty free life despite any financial troubles they might have.
Budget Vegan Questions & Answers
First I want to clarify – this is not to judge people who like to splurge on a pint of organic blueberries or container of chia seeds, this is to raise awareness about a very real problem in our country (and beyond our country). You do not have to participate, but I would encourage you to look at your grocery budget and ask yourself where you could save money if you had to and what meals could be made more affordable.
Q: Oil: Your estimates of $3.00 per week seem really high, why is that?
A: If you have ever shopped on a very limited budget, you know that buying one big thing of anything is really hard. If I were to buy a bottle of oil that cost 6 dollars even if it was just for one week (and lasted a month), that would mean I would have 6 dollars less to spend on other groceries that week.
We do not need oil to cook or bake, so I see it as a luxury item. If someone was on a budget I would recommend cutting it out to save money (and their health for that matter).
If you are fortunate to live near a place in which you can buy bulk liquids, you could do that for the week, and only buy what you would use.
Q: Your estimates for spices seem high, why?
A. Same reason as above really, I want to closely simulate for people what it would be like to really be on a lower budget for groceries. If you bought one spice for 3 dollars in one week, that would probably mean you would be going with out bread or some other staple for you and your family.
Q: What about salt and pepper?
A. It’s really up to you if you want to include things like this. We used to get salt and pepper packs from salad bars. But again, I want you to think in terms of living on a very restricted budget. If you are buying rare pink sea salt, chances are it would not be something you could easily budget for on a restricted budget.
Q: I live in Europe/Malaysia/Australia/Canada/Mexico what would my budget be?
Europe: 44 euro
Malaysia: 204 ringgit
Australia: 71 aud
Mexico: 974 pesos
Q: My (insert kitchen appliance here) is really an investment, it saves me so much money! Why can’t I use it?
A. I agree that some kitchen appliances are investments. However, if you are living on a very restricted budget, chances are you don’t have the luxury of purchasing anything that is more than 15 dollars every so often. If you wanted to go all out you could look at thrift stores and on the free stuff on craigslist.
Q: What about kids? What is the budget for them?
A. I’m going to leave this up to you a bit – but most budgets would not allow for $50 extra for each child. In real life parents on a budget have to choose feeding their children over feeding themselves. When I was young, my parents would live on crackers in order to make sure we could eat. I don’t want people to starve themselves doing this, so just be aware of your budget and stick as close to it as possible.
Q: I can’t do this right now, but I would still like to help people out, what can I do?
A. If you can’t participate for some reason, but would like to help, you could do something like a post on low budget meal planning, or plan on tweeting about low budget meal plan.
Q: I can’t do this! It is impossible!
It’s ok if you can’t do this, I don’t expect everyone will be able to, again, this is to raise awareness. Millions of people are living on very restricted budgets – in fact some would say that 50 dollars per week is high! My goal is to help people who are on limited budgets who want to go vegan.
Thoughts on The Budget Vegan Challenge
It was Christmas one year, and my family was living in a small apartment. My little brother had a lot of health issues, and the house was really cold. I don’t think that I really understood poverty at that point of my life. I knew we didn’t have a lot, and I knew I couldn’t just ask my parents for new things, but that was about it. That Christmas, there wasn’t that much in the way of gifts, but we kind of understood that was how it was going to be.
I remember my Mom being startled when someone knocked at the door. The next thing I knew there were 2 men dressed as Santa with huge bags, unloading tons of gifts under the tree. They also brought bags of groceries and lined the kitchen with them. It was one of the best Christmas Day’s ever. We got to eat fancy cereal (by fancy, I mean sugary name brand stuff). It was a really amazing day (well what I remember of it).
There were so many people in our lives growing up that pitched in when we needed it, people who let us live with them when we were homeless, people who gave us food and clothing, and for those people I am so grateful.
It’s interesting – in the past few days I’ve had some really awesome people email me, totally on board with doing this challenge, but I have had some people who were really upset and even offended by my post. I was not expecting to strike a nerve at all, more so, I was expecting that people would realize one of two things:
- That it is hard to live on a very restricted budget when it comes to food, and something needs to be done.
- We need more resources for people living on a budget, websites with inexpensive healthy recipes and ideas and so on.
There were some that realized those things, but a very big majority of people ended up asking me really strange questions and became offended by the challenge. I got e-mails saying that “this is impossible and not healthy” or “I am NOT giving up (fill in the blank) just to do this” or people who were asking about a specific spice or oil or appliance or any number of specifics – what if you take the bus to work and don’t have a car? What if you walk? What if you can’t get enough calories?
What I was reminded of, is that a lot of people have never had the reference point of living in poverty. This is not something I am judging anyone about, it is wonderful that so many have not had to go through things like choosing between medicine or groceries or feeding your children before you can feed yourself.
I think that this is part of the problem when it comes to understanding poverty – many people do not have a reference point, and many people make assumptions about how people got there, and what people could do differently.
The truth is that when you are living in poverty you never think about if you can use a certain spice or oil, it doesn’t matter if you walk/bike/take the bus or drive to work, because you still in the end have a certain budget.
This challenge was meant to help people who are living on a budget for food of less than 50 dollars a week and to bring awareness to the vegan community about the difficulty of doing so. It is not meant to help you budget with your very specific set of circumstances. There is no bargaining when you are living in poverty, or when your weekly groceries in part come from a food pantry of a church.
The entire goal of this challenge is to become aware of how difficult it can be to live on a restricted budget and for all of us, as a community to help find solutions.
I can assure you that people who have to worry about if their children will get their medication or food that week, are not concerned with if you can use your special salt, even if it was on sale at the time. They are not concerned with buying organic produce or things with out GMO all the time, because the alternative is that their family goes hungry. They are not concerned with if they are getting enough healthy fats from nuts, if they have to clothe their children for school in a few weeks.
In order to do this, I am going to ask you that you truly sit down and think through your day to day life and the things that you might take for granted, no matter how small they might be. Perhaps you have land for a garden, which is awesome and saves lots of money – but maybe think of the family who lives in a tiny apartment with no land to grow a garden. Perhaps you ride your bike to work, which is great and saves money – but think about the Dad who can only find a job doing day labor 40 miles away. If you have a blender, dehydrator and mixer – all awesome things, think about the mom who has 2 pots and a spatula and could never think about buying an extra appliance over ten dollars. If you shop for organic foods all the time, think about the family who struggles to buy a loaf of bread. If you shop at a organic grocery store, think about the family who has to go to the church food pantry to get some of the basics for that week.
What I would love to see more than anything is, hope. Let’s start thinking of ways the vegan community can help those in need. What if we all committed to dropping off 1 bag of vegan groceries to a food pantry or soup kitchen? What if some of the big vegan communities (like in NY or LA) started vegan soup kitchens or volunteered to make one meal a month for a local soup kitchen. This would not be vegan outreach as much as it would be providing healthy meals to people in need.
I worked in a soup kitchen for a while, and I can tell you they use whatever is donated, and people are very appreciative. You don’t have to advertise the meal as vegan (I would actually advise you do not do that) but instead you are just providing a meal to people who might need one.
My goal in all of this is to foster understanding and hope.