The poor vegan’s guide to eating raw and organic on the cheap in the Bay Area »
As an early 20-something living in the Mission, working for just above minimum wage at a peace nonprofit in East Bay, balancing my drive to be an ethical consumer while adhering to a hella tight budget can be a real challenge. To avoid breaking the bank, I often bypass expensive bars, shops, concerts, clothing stores in favor of free or inexpensive local shows, lectures, art openings, meditation classes and second-hand clothing and wares. But as an ethical vegan who eats primarily raw, when it comes to feeding myself and those I care about, there are no exceptions: I refuse to purchase anything but organic, local when possible, fresh produce and raw vegan food.
It’s a no-brainer that a diet rich in raw foods is extremely healthful and sustainable for the planet. Cooking foods, especially greens and other nutrient-dense vegetables, kills their live enzymes and makes them less usable by the body. I personally believe that life is about balance, and I am certainly not out to keep anyone from downing ample quantities of Souley Vegan’s sinfully good baked Mac n’ Cheese. But it’s indisputable fact that we vegans need to care for our health. I would argue that the raw food movement has been really remarkable in that it brings a lot of folks to veganism that might not otherwise be motivated to care about food-justice issues. The vegan and raw food movements definitely intersect, but it would be naïve to say that someone who is raw is vegan. Many raw foodists eschew cooked foods but still eat raw dead animals and consume feminized animal protein (raw cheese, milk, etc.).
Unfortunately, raw organic vegan food in the Bay Area has gotten a bad rap for being pretentious (ahem, Landmark) and/or financially inaccessible. This keeps a lot of lower-income folks, especially minorities, out of the raw food movement. A recent raw food festival I went to at the Living Light Raw Culinary Institute in Fort Bragg, Calif., featured speakers, music, tons of raw food products and ultra-fancy, expensive appliances like Dehydrators, sprouters, spiralizers, and ultra-fancy juicers and blenders and, unsurprisingly, very few young people and people of color. This event only further confirmed my suspicion that the raw vegan divide seems to follow class and age lines, and that’s something that I think can easily change. It’s something I want to see change.
So how is it possible to be an organic raw vegan food while living on the cheap? My first piece of advice is to glean as much information as you can from the Internet about what raw foodism is all about and how to do it right (you probably won’t feel super hot if you eat only raw nuts and dried fruit). For some Bay Area-specific tips, check out my nifty guide below. If you’re lower-income and struggling to be a raw food vegan, please share your story with me. I would love to help us band together to figure out creative ways to make raw veganism easier and more fun!
1. Go to Farmers’ Markets as they are about to close. Many vendors offer surplus produce at free or heavily discounted prices.
2. Check grocery stores produce sections for bulk bags of slightly bruised or perfectly ripe organic produce. These are often marked down to almost nothing.
3. Find a Food Not Bombs in your area: The vegan organization provides free, mostly organic vegan meals, which often include raw food.
4. The Gratitude Bowl. Café Gratitude offers a sliding-scale raw vegan dish. It’s filled with kale and tahini and is very filling. If you can afford to subsidize someone else’s bowl, it’s a great way to support lower-income folks’ access to raw food veganism.
5. Visit Alive!* at the Tuesday and Thursday Ferry Building Farmer’s Markets. They offer many hearty items at a much smaller price than they do at their restaurant.
6. Host a raw vegan potluck with your friends. Everyone can chip in and defray the costs while creating a delicious spread. Try Gone Raw for recipe tips.
6. Buy Kaia Foods.* A raw vegan company located in Oakland, Calif., Kaia is committed to making truly affordable raw foods including granolas, sunflower seeds and fruit leathers that are delicious and totally healthy. Plus they donate 1% of their profits to combat world hunger.
7. Sprout your own sprouts! Bike over to Rainbow (or any other grocery store) and pick up some bulk dried chickpeas, mung beans, lentils (just not kidney or black beans, they are poisonous raw!), soak them overnight, then let them air-dry in a mason jar with a bit of cloth or mesh on top. Rinse them once or twice a day, letting them air dry until they have cute little tails. To avoid any bacteria that might grow in those wet, moist environments, after sprouts are full grown, soak them in a bowl of water with a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide (it’s totally safe!) for half an hour. Rinse, and store in an airtight container in the fridge for super-filling, super-cheap, protein-rich, crunchy treat for salads, wraps, etc.
*Full disclosure: my beautiful, also raw vegan girlfriend works at Kaia Foods and I myself worked for a total of one days at the Alive! Farmers’ Market stand.
This post was written by Sarah E. Brown. Thanks, Sarah!