Eating Vegan/Vegetarian In A "Food Desert"/ "Living Below The Line"

I currently live in a food desert. The last house I lived in when I lived with my dad was also in a food desert. The Apartments I lived in before that when I stayed with my mom was in a food desert. The apartments I lived in before my parents divorced was in a food desert. I have always lived in places where the USDA claimed was a food desert. The thing is though, the markets and shops were not that far away.

A food desert is defined by having a SUPERMARKET within 1 mile to half a mile from your front door in a Rural area, or 10 miles if it is an Urban area. It does not take into account dollar stores, Asian and Hispanic food marts, mini marts, ma and pa stores, or the recent increase in store delivery services and online grocery delivery services. In fact, it doesn’t even take all supermarkets into account, as I show an example of in one of my older posts.

One sad fact is that we believe that today, a little more than a mile to walk to the grocery store is too much of a walk. I rarely had a car to transport me from the store and back, often having to carry bags upon bags of food home in a broken down baby stroller that my mom kept after her kids grew too old for it. A mile is not far of a walk at all, and if you think that a mile puts you in a “low access” area, you’re lazy.

Plus the reason Food Deserts exist is also because many of them occur in places where there is low population density. If there is not a lot of people, there is not going to be a lot of stores.

So that out of the way, I was told by a pretty well-known vegan once that living in one of these areas makes it extremely difficult to be vegan. As someone who lives in a food desert and was once vegan, let me blow that out of the water, while also destroying the myth that it is hard to be vegan while in poverty. I live in poverty, I would know how hard it is.

Live Below the Line is supposed to teach people how hard it is to eat while in poverty. I can agree that for many people who spend hundreds of dollars on food for themselves, this might be a good eye-opening experience, but many people didn’t do it right according to their YouTube videos. I live in the US, so I am supposed to be able to live on 1.50 a day for 5 days. So 7.50 cents for 5 day grocery budget, which is very similar to my budget right now, which is about 2-3$ a day.

But being vegan on that is difficult… right?

No. Eating at all is pretty difficult, but it can be done. I personally walked to 3 convenient stores today to take the prices of various items so I can make a meal plan of vegan or vegetarian options for 7.50 to last me 5 days. I personally don’t have the funds right now to buy any of this, but I will show you what I’d buy if I had to live off this:

Dollar General

  • 1 lb rice – 85 cents
  • 1 lb Pinto Beans x 2 – 2.00 (If vegetarian, switch 1 pound for dozen eggs, 1.35)
  • 16 oz of Pasta – 1.00
  • 1 lb container oats – 1.65
  • 5 pack Ramen (don’t use sauce packet) – 1.00
  • 1 can mixed veggies – 65 cents

This all adds up to exactly 7.50, or 7.15 if vegan. Calorie and Protein wise?

  • 1 lb of rice is about 600 calories
  • 2 pounds of Pinto Beans is about 2,160 calories, 144 grams of protein
  • 16 oz of pasta is about 1600 calories, 56 grams of protein
  • 1 lb of Oats – 1700 calories, 56 grams of protein
  • Ramen Noodles –  1900 calories, 40 grams of protein
  • 1 can mixed veggies – 245 calories

If you are ovo-vegetarian, the calories and protein do not differ greatly if you do the eggs instead. This would give you about 1650 calories to consume per day. More if you switch the rice for a loaf of bread. The calories in similar for the other stores as well:

Family Dollar:

  • 1 lb 2 oz of oats – 1.75
  • 2 lb dry beans – 2.50
  • 1 lb spaghetti – 1.00
  • 5 pk Ramen – 1.00
  • 2 lb rice – 1.80

This goes only 35 cents over the budget

Dollar Tree

  • 16 oz Oats – 1.00
  • 24 oz of pasta – 1.00
  • 2 lb of rice – 1.00
  • 2 Lb Dry beans – 2.00
  • 10 oz Peanut Butter  1.00
  • Whole wheat Bread – 1.00

50 cents under budget, and this provides you with the most about of calories per day for your dollar.

But you’re still going to be hungry!

Depending on how much you eat daily, you will probably never feel fully satisfied on this budget, which is what it is meant to portray. Even if the average amount people spend while in poverty differs from individual to individual, and food costs in each country also differs. But depending on where you shop and other things can differ as well. Many families and individuals also get food assistance from food banks, friends, family, and/or the government.

Many people also live in a TRUE food desert, and for them this will all be different. And eating this way for long periods of time might result in nutrient deficiencies. There is not much you can do about that living on 1.50 a day.

But what about seasoning!?

No, I would never expect anyone to eat dry foods. But you can get  free seasoning. Most fast food places have packets of salt and pepper, you can just walk in and ask. Taco Bell has hot sauce and sugar and Jelly, and most burger places have free packets of sugar, ketchup, and mustard. So if you are living on 7.50 every 5 days, you should not be spending any money on seasonings.

Conclusion

It’s not hard to be vegan living on this budget, in fact, spending money on dairy and other animal products would make living like this much harder, with maybe the exception being eggs.

The idea that being vegan is hard while living in poverty or while living in a food desert is complete bull. It is actually easier to be vegan in these areas, because the cost of beef, chicken, and cheese is very high, while the cost of vegetables and grains are pretty low.

If you get your food from donations and food banks, this article is not about those very rare cases where one cannot in any way choose what they can eat in the first world.

Eating Vegetarian At: Culver's

Culver’s is a fast food burger joint that I personally never been to, although they have restaurants situated all over the US, mainly in Wisconson, Illinois, and Minnesota. I have yet to hear anything bad about this place, so let’s dive into the menu and see what I would be able to eat as a vegetarian if I went.

Vegetarian:

  • Fries
  • Cheese Curds
  • Onion Rings
  • Green Beans (made with butter)
  • Dinner Roll (Contains a small amount of Eggs)
  • Cheese and Broccoli Soup
  • Garden Fresco Salad (Cheese)
  • Side Salad (Cheese)
  • Veggie Patty? (Apparently it is not listed on the menu but many Culver’s have one)

Vegan Choices:

  • Fries

As a warning, the Gravy in the Mashed Potatoes and Gravey is made with beef shortening, and the Cauliflower and Cheese soup is made with Bacon Fat, as does the Au Gratin Potato soup, and the Wisconson Cheese soup. The Stuffed Green Pepper soup has beef crumbles in it. Always be wary of foods that look as if they might be vegetarian, because most of the time they do contain small amounts of meat in it, usually in the form of fats or broths. Which I understand, but it is still rather inconvenient,

They have a fair amount of choices if you are a lacto-vegetarian, I personally would enjoy eating here because of the cheese and broccoli soup. Although it does have a fair amount of fat, especially Saturated Fat, it also has a large amount of protein at 10 grams, and fairly small amount of calories, at 220. But when it comes to vegan, or even ovo-vegetarian options, you are again out of luck.

Most fast food restaurants that have meat-free options do cater more towards Lacto-vegetarians than any other group of vegetarian, and it does make sense in the long run, because most vegetarians still consume dairy, especially newer vegetarians that might not be too keen just yet on kicking the cheese habit.