When it comes to my health and diet, I'm always up for a challenge, and I never miss an opportunity to better myself mentally and physically. After a recent health scare, I decided to heal my body from the inside out by adopting a plant-based diet. Unlike some people who might slowly transition into adopting a vegan lifestyle, I went headfirst into what some would call an alkaline vegan diet. I had previously heard of the famous lifestyle through the legacy of herbalist, pathologist, and naturalist Dr. Sebi (who was born Alfredo Bowman). The plant-based diet has a limited number of fruits, vegetables, oils, seeds, and grains that one can consume. Dr. Sebi suggests this diet in order to detoxify and restore the body naturally with alkaline foods—according to Medical News Today, he argued that certain diseases cannot be present in an alkaline body.
I was intrigued by this and his philosophy, so I tried it myself, and let me tell you, "hard" would be an understatement when describing this diet. Being vegan is one thing, but on an alkaline diet, you're not even allowed to have rice unless it's wild rice. All of the fruits on Dr. Sebi's list must be seeded and not genetically modified. Trying to find certain fruits that are seeded was quite the challenge. To be quite frank, I don't even know where to find seeded grapes…
Anyway, the diet was hell. I was hungry 24/7, and by day 10, I decided to call it quits and just stick to a vegan diet that was more flexible and doable. After 30 days of going vegan, I was finally starting to get the hang of it, but there was one big thing that I did notice—the declining balance in my checking account. I was spending so much money trying to eat out at vegan restaurants because it was just easier than trying to make an entire meal from scratch. That’s when I started to second-guess my new lifestyle.
I would go to the grocery store and buy food for the week, organic this and organic that. I wouldn’t necessarily spend much because I was only buying fruits and veggies. My grocery list was simple: dried mango (I'm obsessed with it), kale, avocados, rice, sweet potatoes, oyster mushrooms, etc. But I had one problem: I was still so hungry. Cauliflower could only fill me up for so long. I was overdoing it on the potatoes, and the starch was definitely not helping my weight-loss goals, so I needed to come up with a new plan.
Photo:Sveta Zarzamora/Getty Images
But the real kicker was that when I got lazy (which is 40% of the time), I liked to try out new vegan restaurants. Some of my favorites in L.A. are Cafe Gratitude, Sage Plant Bistro, and Gracias Madre. They all have a few things in common—they're pretty Insta-worthy, tasty, and also expensive.
After eating at these places four to five times a week, I was out $80 to $100 every week on top of buying groceries. I spent around $25 during each grocery trip. It doesn't seem like much, but I began to get frustrated when I noticed how expensive it was to take charge of my health.
I'm an avid taco consumer. Like most people in L.A., tacos are a part of who I am. I truly don't even know where or who I'd be without the influence that tacos have had on my mental health and my taste buds. So I was annoyed to find out that I was being charged $24 for two tacos made of mushrooms along with a scoop of rice. When I compared the price of two tacos at a vegan spot compared to a taco truck in my neighborhood, I was flabbergasted, to say the least. I could get six tacos, a drink, and a churro for the price of what I would pay for one mushroom taco, and to be quite honest, that doesn't sit right with me.
Health should be attainable for all. Society is constantly telling us that health is wealth, which I agree with, but it seems that only wealthier people have more access to and can afford these types of lifestyles. It makes absolutely no sense how a green juice can run you $10 to $13 in this city, but a cheeseburger at McDonald's is $2.
So after about a month into my new vegan lifestyle, I decided to buy a cookbook from one of my favorite places, Cafe Gratitude, called Love Is Served. The book has recipes for my favorite vegan dishes, like a vegan Margherita pizza, vegan desserts, and vegan fried "chicken." I was so eager to test it out (and save some money).
I decided to try out a few dishes from scratch that were inspired by my favorite vegan restaurants. Check out what I made below and how much money I saved by eating in.
I made jackfruit tacos from scratch, inspired by Sage Plant Bistro's street taco dish. They were more delicious than I'd ever expected. I was always anti-plant-based tacos because I just thought they couldn't compare to the real thing, but I proved myself wrong with this one. Each taco was truly a party in my mouth.
Street Tacos at Sage Plant-Based Bistro: $17
Jackfruit Tacos at Home: $19
Canned Jackfruit: $3 (a can makes roughly 6 to 9 tacos)
Chili Powder: $2.49
Red Onion: $1.79
Okay, so this recipe was more of a freestyle. One of my favorite places to go near our office is Gracias Madre. It used to have a dish called Chicharron Tacos. Instead of meat, they replaced the taco stuffings with oyster mushrooms, so I decided to see if I could make those mushrooms myself. Because I didn't have a recipe on hand, I found a Chicken-Fried Mushroom recipe in my favorite cookbook, Love Is Served. This was probably the easiest dish to make, and they were so good. The mushrooms really make for a great meaty texture and a wonderful recipe to think about when you're missing fried chicken.
Vegan Fried Chicken at a Restaurant (Chicharron tacos): $22
Fried "Chicken" at Home: $34
Oyster Mushrooms: $6.99/lb
Almond Milk: $1.99
Apple Cider Vinegar: $2.99
Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour: $2.19
Nutritional Yeast: $4.75
Garlic Powder: $2.69
Cayenne Powder: $2.19
Oil of Your Choice (Olive Oil): $6.29
The most challenging dish I've attempted to make is a vegan pizza from scratch. I thought this recipe would take me just a few hours, but nope. Not only did I have to make two different types of cashew cheese from scratch, but I also had to make pesto, marinara, dough made from einkorn flour, and more from scratch. The cashew mozzarella and ricotta were a process alone. I had to soak sea moss, which took a whole day, and then I had to soak cashews in a jar—as someone who works two jobs, I just didn't have the time for it. After making it myself, I thought I would save money, but in fact, it cost me way more to make it at home. The ingredients alone cost me around $70. Not to mention I prepped one ingredient a day over the course of four days.
Cost of the Margherita pizza at a restaurant: $18
Cost of ingredients at home: $53
Einkorn Flour: $6.49
Dry Yeast: $1.99
Kamut Flour: $5.56
Olive Oil: $4.99
Sea Salt: $1
Tomatoes: $1.99/lb (2 pounds)
Basil Hempseed Pesto:
Fresh Basil: $1
Hemp Seeds: $6.99
Vegan Cashew Ricotta:
Raw Cashews: $6.99
Lemon Juice: $0.80
Vegan Cashew Mozzarella:
Irish Sea Moss (3/4 ounce): $5.75
Coconut Oil: $5.39
My Thoughts After Cooking
After making all of this food, I made the shocking discovery that a lot of these restaurants have these prices for a reason (a shocker, truly), and preparing vegan food is indeed a little more time-consuming. Do I think food at the store should be a little cheaper and accessible to all people? Absolutely, but I also don't feel like prepping a 10-inch pizza over a few days just for 15 minutes of satisfaction.
All of this is to say that while this vegan journey has been quite interesting, it is also a lot of work and prep. Going out to socialize with people or even going to a party or an event is extremely challenging unless you pack a container with food that you can actually eat.
But there is one benefit from this lifestyle that I love. I now have better skin, more energy, and way less inflammation. I definitely feel healthier than ever, and shockingly, cheese isn't the thing I miss the most. I actually find that making sauces, dressings, and other staples from scratch has been more fulfilling and even tastier. I also really enjoy knowing that I'm now mindful of what I'm putting in my body, and I know exactly what's in my food because I'm making it.
The downsides are realizing how much food I can't eat once I read the back of nutrition labels and, like I said earlier, keeping up with veganism and how it affects my bank account. I've never spent this much money on food in my life, and by my recent research, it's not really much of a difference if you make it yourself.
Even so, I am still committed to eating healthy and being vegan as much as I can while finding ways to make it more affordable. If you have any tips, send me a DM at @kiatoppss.