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Can Poor People Be Vegan & How To Survive As One?

A blog by Laura Buchenlicht

A glass cup filled with coins has a green seedling sprouting at the top

There are a lot of myths surrounding veganism, most of them aimed at keeping people away from it. I’ve looked at some of the “stereotypical vegan” types in fiction in my last blog, but today I want to talk about what many non-vegan (and even some vegan) people think is THE stereotypical vegan in real life.

In Western culture, veganism is mostly seen as a fancy diet for weirdos – not an ethical stance against animal exploitation, strangely.

People tend to associate veganism with a number of identity traits, and one of them is being middle class and financially well off (others being white and female). It is assumed that vegan food is expensive and leading a vegan life is equivalent to living in luxury and basically giving yourself airs and graces, like a bored aristocrat – Let them eat cake, but let it be vegan!

What is the reason for this and is it true? It certainly is true that capitalism likes to punish vegans (at least, that’s what it feels like) by a brand typically having only one or two vegan options that are noticeably more expensive than the seven non-vegan options.

There also are a lot of completely vegan brands that really do have ridiculous prices. So what came first – companies thinking that vegans are wealthy or society assuming only wealthy people can go vegan?

It’s hard to say, but it’s sure that they are influencing each other. Another important factor to keep in mind here, is education and how it sadly still is a privilege.

Due to systemic elitism and capitalism, most people in higher education have a middle class background. As veganism is clearly related to student culture and higher education, this is likely one of the main reasons why being vegan is associated with being middle class.

So is the lack of higher education and money an insurmountable barrier to veganism?

Of course not. Statistics give us an overview of general trends, but they blend out the individual. People from all walks of life have been, are, and will be vegan, not just white female middle class university students!

Although there’s a lot of talk about stereotypical vegans, how about turning the tables and looking at stereotypical carnists? Are they just the polar opposite?

The truth is that a meat-heavy diet is very middle class too, this time actually handed down from an aristocratic lifestyle.

In the European Middle Ages and early modern times, hunting was a privilege of the upper class, as well as “owning” a lot of farm animals. Being able to afford eating meat every day was a status symbol.

This is why the typical aristocrat of these times struggled with too much cholesterol, heart diseases, arthritis, gout, and other diseases connected to poor nutrition and lack of exercise.

The vast majority of people only had meat once a week. This is similar to how it still is in the majority of countries around the world. Most traditional cultures have been predominantly vegetarian for ages.

Enter capitalism. As a brainchild of feudalism, the importance of owning and conquering land gradually turned into the importance of owning and making new money (of course they are still closely related).

With modern times came the industrialisation of farming, and together with a power shift from upper class towards middle class, this brought us the average middle class Westener, who also eats meat every day, but now with more toxic chemicals.

So this already puts our picture into perspective a bit – a meat-heavy diet is the default of Western middle class, but this is only made possible by the subsidence of the meat/dairy/egg industry (meaning that the government gives money to these industries, so they can offer low prices and survive as an industry). Due to this, animal body parts are typically not terribly expensive.

But despite all of this and the above mentioned vegan luxury products, a plant-based diet can actually be cheaper than a carnist one.


The key here is becoming aware of our culture of heavily processed foods and fast food, which distorts the picture. There is this myth that vegan food is a modern invention, and therefore expensive.

For some reason, people tend to forget what should be our absolute essentials – the base of that annoying nutritional pyramid, if you so like.

Namely vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, and cereals (meaning bread, and anything else that’s made of grains, like pasta, rice, couscous, quinoa, or lentils).

Of course these are vegan by nature, mostly healthy, and also some of the cheapest food you can find. Your body doesn’t really need anything else.

But due to Western society’s disconnection from nature, we’ve basically forgotten what is good and natural for us, and tend to be addicts of sugary and fatty foods.

If you look at your shopping basket, you will notice that the vegan sweets and the vegan fast food are the things with the big prices.

Which of course doesn’t mean that poor vegans are necessarily healthier. But the point here is that being vegan and poor is definitely possible, and the easier the healthier you buy/eat.

I should know, as I survived as a homeless vegan, including four weeks in which I only had a 100 EUR. Finding out about the cheap, healthy vegan basics in that time literally saved me.

So whether you’re a vegan on a budget, want to reduce how much you pay for food, or just eat healthier, you’ll be sure to find lots of vegan inspiration for free online.

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