When you tell people you’re vegan, you get variations on one of three responses: 1) “I’m sorry to hear that you will be the first person in the Western world to ever die of protein deficiency;” 2) “But if we don’t eat the cows, won’t there be too many cows?” and 3) “I would be vegan myself, but I can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods!” (often said while scarfing $15 chorizo-stuffed olives from Brooklyn Larder). So we could sit here and argue over whether vegans smell bad or what will happen with the bovine reckoning after the cows rise up; but the idea that it’s more expensive than a meat-based diet is a silly one. So author Victoria Moran argues in part of her new book Main Street Vegan, her effort to meld vegan diet ethics into everyday life. Moran, who’s been vegan for 28 years, since back in the days when you had to mail-order soy milk powder from a guy in Ohio, has seen the pursuit of a plant-based diet shift from a fringe idea into a mainstream movement. The Harlem-based author talked to us about how a vegan diet can save you $4,000 a year. Want to know more? We’ve got three copies of her book — which contains cover quotes from Russell Simmons and Michael Moore — to give away! Find out how below.
What’s your quick response when people give you the “I can’t afford to be vegan” line?
Yes, you can go into a big natural food store and see these wonderful convenience foods that are really, really pricey, and you’re saying ‘I’m not going to save $4,000 this way. But when you think about the basic plant foods, the foods that have really sustained most of humanity for most of our time on earth, they’re pretty cheap.
So Tofurkey is a sometimes food?
We’re talking fruits and vegetables in season and beans, which are practically free if you buy them dried, and soak them. Nuts and seeds aren’t too bad either. Yes, they’re a little bit pricey but you buy them in the bulk containers, but they’re pretty concentrated so you don’t need to eat a lot of them. If you keep veganism simple, it’s a much less expensive way to eat than the traditional American diet.
What are some rookie spending mistakes people who try veganism make?
What happens when most people become vegetarian or go on to become vegan they’re looking for what is going to fill the place on the plate where the meat used to be. It’s wonderful that the convenience products exist. The fact that you can get vegan ground beef, you can get vegan ham and turkey and cold cuts, and you can now get wonderful vegan cheeses. But the things that fill in for animal-based foods tend to cost more money. So you want to have those as just a little punctuation, like the little exclamation mark for the meal. But most of your meal is going to be your simple fruits, your vegetables, the grains, the beans, and that’s going to be really cheap.
What I tell people who are considering veganism and worried about the budget: chances are you weren’t eating Kobe beef and caviar before so you’re not going to be eating the vegan equivalent of those foods now.
One of the best things about New York City is the ability to grab some cheap street food like pizza and hot dogs. What’s the vegan alternative?
One of my favorites is Chipotle. I know it’s a chain and fast food and all that but the food is really excellent. These Maoz places, they’re fast middle-eastern, cheap and healthy. There are all these salad places you can just duck in. And there are also some great food carts, like NY Dosas on the southwest corner of Washington Square.
What are your favorite vegan cheap eats?
My favorite in Brooklyn is Rocking Raw. It’s so lovely, they have this beautiful back yard area, last time I was there having this wonderful extraordinary food, very reasonably price. There was this big thud on the table and everybody jumped. An apple had fallen off an apple tree. It’s like you’re in Brooklyn but you feel like you’re out in the country somewhere. [Update: Rockin’ Raw is currently relocating!]
A place that’s expensive but if go for lunch not that expensive: Pure Food and Wine in Irving Place. At night, yes, it’s very five star super gourmet with the prices that go with it. I go there for lunch and get this extraordinary Caesar salad that has slivers of that wonderful raw cashew cheese in it, beautiful seaweed so it really has that Caesary kind of taste. It’s $12 plus you get all this wonderful atmosphere and they also have outdoor seating in the warm weather.
And ethnic food, right??
That’s the thing people don’t understand. Before we had all these vegetarian restaurants in New York, we had vegan food from other countries. In Ethiopia, they take Lent very seriously, and everybody in the country is vegetarian for six weeks a year, so they’ve developed these wonderful dishes that are completely vegan. In China, the monks were creating these magnificent meat-free dishes 1,000 years ago.
What do you splurge on?
If it’s going to be for dining out, then that’s Pure Food and Wine at night. Candle 79 is just so elegant and lovely. This is a place I feel good taking people who eat meat. It’s really elegant and quiet and delightful.
To win a copy of Main Street Vegan: give us your favorite cheap vegan dish or cheap veggie restaurant in the comments! (Make sure to register so we can contact you). We’ll pick a winner on Friday, May 18, at 5 p.m.
Moran’s recommended cheap recipe: Lentil-Spud Burgers
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cooked lentils
1 cup steamed or baked potato (mashed with peel)
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs, or cracker crumbs
1 teaspoon dried chives
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat ovet to 350. Coat a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute until softened, about 2 minutes.
Combine the lentils, mashed potato, broth, breadcrumbs, chives, parsley, oregano and basil in a large bowl; add the sautéed garlic and any oil left in the skillet, season with salt and pepper and mash everything with a fork until smooth.
Form the “dough” into 4 medium or 6 small 1/2-inch-thick patties. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 30-35 minutes, turning the patties halfway through cooking time.
Serve on whole-grain buns with lettuce and tomato slices, or over steamed greens.