Diary of a freegan: How to eat vegan without spending money

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Reduction raider Laura Gaga takes the no-spend food challenge as she goes freegan for a week, not buying any food in her goal to eradicate food waste.

I’ve been food shopping in the reduced sections for years; as an omnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian, and now vegan. I advocate reducing food waste, eating well for less, and making use of what we already have.

I acquire so much free food — be it surplus from friends, family, food sharing apps — that you’ll often catch me bragging that I could eat off next to nothing.

Okay, put your money where your mouth is, or don’t, challenged The Vegan Review, and go a week without food shopping.

Erm, alright then, I will.

food waste
Photo: Laura Gaga

A whole week without stepping foot into a supermarket, not a penny spent on food, whilst eating three square meals a day, snacks, treats, fuelling long-distance runs, sharing and cooking food for others. Did I feel deprived? Did I heck!

I had food in abundance, I cared for myself, and others, had less financial stress, tried out new recipes, foods, and enjoyed the week. There was no question of what I could eat on a vegan diet. And this wasn’t made more difficult by not spending any money.

It made me appreciate just how much surplus food there is and how little thought can go into buying more, and it reminded me of the importance of going through my cupboards, prioritising ambient foods in the fridge, and that the starting point with reducing food waste, and eating well for less, needs to be at our homes.

So, here goes:

Monday, July 13

Ah well, it’s not Friday the 13th, so I’m feeling confident. I start the morning off with hot water and lime. The limes were free using food sharing app Olio. This is followed by a couple of black coffees; the instant coffee was in a birthday hamper I received some weeks ago. My family, friends, and colleagues know the way to my heart!

Breakfast is a bit of a staple, and one of my faves: overnight oats. The oats I’d also collected using Olio; why they were unwanted is beyond me! I add vegan chocolate protein powder. This was given to me by my local yoga studio, explaining that they receive so much for promotional purposes they struggle to make use of it all. I notice many individuals also end up with unused protein powder as diets, eating/workout plans can be short-lived, a fad for some.

overnight oats
Photo: Laura Gaga

It’s not just coffee where I am prepared to go without alt-milk, but even overnight oats and porridge. On this occasion, I use dairy-free double cream given to me by a local chocolatier who has decided to use a different brand. Some water, and a chopped frozen banana; I routinely freeze any soft bananas I’ve collected for free, or reduced, to use in this way, add to smoothies, and for baking. Coffee and walnut butter, which was in the birthday hamper from my workmates; I told you, people know me well! Cherries, also from Olio; in fact, the only ingredient I’d paid for was the yellow sticker (foods reduced on their best before date) date syrup.

Lunch was a toasted sub topped with slicing avocado, cherry tomatoes and alfalfa sprouts: all were free. The alfalfa seeds I picking up, pre-lockdown, after a shop left them outside for the taking as they weren’t selling; everything else was from Olio. I’d never heard of alfalfa seeds before then, and hadn’t considered sprouting them until lockdown; I needed to do something after baking the obligatory lockdown banana bread!

sprouting at home
Photo: Laura Gaga

It’s been fantastic sprouting them as I get far more for my buck (does that saying still work when they were free?). From what I’ve read, they become a powerhouse of nutrition once sprouted and I can use them in a variety of ways and dishes. I was a little intimidated by the idea of sprouting, as it was completely new to me; it’s something that can result in many of us avoiding experimenting with new foods.

My Monday-night dinner was leftover penne pasta with vegetables in a tomato sauce. I cooked with what I already had, and all foods I’d picked up for free; red onions, a tin of chopped tomatoes, a can of sweetcorn, mushrooms, mixed peppers, fresh bay leaves, red chillies – even the vegetable oil was free. Everything but the chilli was via Olio. The chilli and herb pot was given to me by a friend for, you guessed it, my birthday. The theme is not just that I like presents, but also that I probably would have avoided fresh herb pots as planting anything feels out of my comfort zone. Yet I’m realising it can be such a cost-effective, and sustainable, way of getting in your five-a-day.

reduce food waste
Photo: Laura Gaga

My snacks throughout the day were fruits — orange and watermelon — and yes, all free. Toast with margarine and Pimms-flavoured jam. The bread was free; I also tend to store bakery items in the freezer for longevity and ease. The jam another present, the Flora was yellow sticker — all its spreads are now plant-based, which makes shopping for a vegan diet so much easier. I’m training for my first ultra-marathon, so I’m mindful of ensuring I take in enough calories throughout the day, and pay attention to my nutrients.

I end the day with hot cacao, another present from a friend, for my… wait, I’m not sure what that was in aid of. I’ve stopped asking questions when people give me food!

Tuesday, July 14

Today’s breakfast is the same as yesterday’s. The cream is serving me well past its best before date of June 1. A best before date is not a legal requirement and relates to food quality, rather than safety. Confusion between the two can also contribute to food waste. With items being binning as if they are going to turn into pumpkins as the clock strikes midnight! If in doubt, websites like the Food Standards Agency are helpful for storing foods appropriately and using your judgement.

plant-based carbs
Photo: Laura Gaga

Lunch is a couple of baked potatoes. Told you I’m carb-loading — with Flora, baked beans, a side salad, and all free. Followed by a dairy-free yoghurt I bought in a multi-pack of four, reduced, the previous week. Snacks are pretty much the same as yesterday, the only difference being that instead of jam on toast, I make a sub with tahini and jam. Again free, and I love being able to make use of tahini when I have to increase my iron intake; not everything vegan needs to be hummus.

Dinner is the same as last night; I love eating leftovers, and when I cook, I make enough for a few days, so as to waste less and have some nights off cooking.

Wednesday, July 15

Honestly, I’d felt a little panicking yesterday when it dawned on me. That the only fruits I had left were frozen bananas; I snack on a lot of fruit and wondered how I’d fare without being able to buy any. I needn’t have worried about the fruits of my labour — I can’t help myself, I like a pun — when I saw fresh pineapples and bananas listed on Olio.  So I drove a few miles to collect some for myself, my mum, and my sister’s household; sharing is caring, and it meant I was sorted with snacks for the rest of the week.

The only difference between breakfast from yesterday was that I didn’t use cherries and used vanilla protein powder instead of chocolate. A friend found it too sweet, so gave it to me; how privileged so many of us are that we can turn down food because it’s too sweet!

Lunch was the same; I had jacket potatoes, I’d opened a tin of baked beans yesterday so it made sense to eat them again. Plus, it’s a cheap, simple meal. I also had the last of my yoghurts, and the same tahini sub as yesterday.

vegan curry
Photo: Laura Gaga

A friend came over for dinner — the first person at my kitchen table in months. It was a last-minute arrangement, but I’d planned to cook so it was no extra bother. And it felt like something practical I could do for her as she is going through a difficult time; food is my love language.

I made a chickpea and potato curry with sliced greens, served with rice and poppadums, all free ingredients and with enough left over for the next couple of days; I live for leftovers! She brought over strawberries, cherries and a tropical fruit pack. She is a fellow reduction raider, so other than the yellow sticker strawberries, the fruit she’d collected was for free using Olio; birds of a feather flock together.

freegan vegan
Photo: Laura Gaga

I put them all in a bowl, squeezed some free fresh lime juice on top, and added mint from the herb pot in my garden; another gift.

Thursday, July 16

I had my trusted oats for breakfast, but this time cooked with a defrosted banana, water, cinnamon, chocolate protein powder and topped with grated cacao.

vegan roast
Photo: Laura Gaga

Lunch was a sub filling with roasted vegetables. Courgettes, peppers, red onions, garlic, and chimichurri sauce; all freebies. Snacks were fruits, with an added apricot my friend gave me last night, and a vegan flapjack I’d collected using Olio.

I’ve been working from home since lockdown, so spending less time at the shops, and more collecting surplus food, has been far easier. I’ll admit: when I went to the petrol station, I headed straight to the reduced food section. I was on complete autopilot and had to remind myself. That I’m not food shopping this week; it made me wonder how often many of us mindlessly reach for food in stores. Dinner was last night’s leftovers.

Friday, July 17

It was porridge again this morning but using a flavourless protein powder; like I said, people give a lot of this stuff away! I stirred in a couple of tablespoons of sea moss jelly, having been sent a free jar to sample. Again, I added water, cinnamon, grated cacao, but used 2 bananas as I wanted it sweeter, and caramelised the peel.

reduced food
Photo: Laura Gaga

Yes, you read that right, banana peel. It’s edible, versatile, tasty, and saves it from being binning. I snacked on dates dipped in the walnut and coffee butter — it felt like I’d struck gold when I saw the dates listed on Olio — and pineapples.

Lunch was the last of the leftover curry with rice. Shredded lettuce, alfalfa sprouts and poppadums.

No truer words than what you give out, you get back! I had dinner at my sister’s house, with my niece’s partner making us vegan sub pizzas topped with pineapple; I’d given them the sub bread rolls and fresh pineapples, when I’d collected loads using Olio.

I also had a bowl of veggie soup whilst there that my sister had cooked, and a handful of salted cashew nuts; you’re family when you can rummage through cupboards!

Saturday, July 18

Overnight oats this morning. I’ve been eating food on my long runs. In preparation for the ultra-marathon race in a couple of weeks. So I had a banana and a handful of dates whilst running this morning; both free. I had fresh pineapple after I finished (yes, more from Olio). I’m sure that waste from supermarkets has been higher since the lockdown.

I ran with my sister and was going to her house afterward. I wasn’t sure whether she would be cooking or not, so I erred on the side of caution. And took a container of chickpea and stir fry vegetable curry with me. As well as a couple of poppadums. A local food blogger has been listing whatever is surplus from her recipe testing, so I’ve been collecting vegan dishes from her.

vegan chickpea curry
Photo: Laura Gaga

The curry was delicious, and as luck would have it, my sister had leftover rice, which I reheated, and a paratha in the freezer. I literally had to argue that I would eat the leftover rice, as she was insisting on cooking me fresh. She’s very taken with her new rice cooker, which is great but not at the expense of binning cooked food!

I chilled in her garden for much of the day; she provided me with sliced watermelon and a bottle of beer; perfect refuel! I left with an unfinished tub of almond butter, which has been sitting in my sister’s fridge for I don’t know how long! Put it this way, the best before date was in 2018.

eat for free
Photo: Laura Gaga

I had a mouthful on my way home, and will store at room temperature; it had no business staying in the fridge and could do with some loosening. Dinner was Linda McCartney’s vegetarian bao buns, with steamed sprouting broccoli. Both were reducing to clear in the supermarket; I picked them up for free, after a food waste hero collected and listed them on Olio.

Sunday, July 19

The almond butter was lovely in this morning’s overnight oats, as was the free Alpro plain yoghurt I’d scored using Olio a couple of days earlier. The oats were also filling with chocolate protein powder. Cacao, banana, sea moss and cinnamon.

vegan oatmeal
Photo: Laura Gaga

Food really is a cycle, I thought to myself, as I completed the online food safety quiz to be able to cover a food waste hero’s slot at Pret a Manger this afternoon. I’d been wondering what to have for lunch; problem solved. Food waste heroes can volunteer on a regular basis to collect surplus food from eateries and redistribute on the app. Today, I’d be volunteering as a one-off collection. Pret has a wide range of vegan foods, and honestly, I’ve stopped paying for it knowing that I can bag a baguette for free! My lunch was Pret’s chipotle and hummus wrap.

A friend was coming over for dinner, before we were heading out to the drive-in cinema. I was cooking for us, and even taking a Pret Very Berry croissant with me as a snack. I wasn’t about to get caught out. Spending money on food and drink at the drive-in. Last time I was there, I spent £1.50 on a bottle of water. As they had no taps to refill my reusable bottle; that’s more than what I’ve spent on food this week!

Dinner was a veganised curry goat using soya textured meat pieces. I’d collected from Olio, along with other ingredients. Such as coconut milk, curry powder, onions. Thyme and chillies were from my garden pots. Sometimes, I find it easier to just look for a meat recipe and veganise that based on what I have. I served it with rice, corn on the cob, a side salad and chapattis my friend’s mum made for us; she made sure not to use butter on mine.

There were leftovers for tomorrow! Looks like Monday will be another no-spend day, but this is where you and I say goodbye. Have a good week, and use all of what you have!

Laura Gaga
Laura Gaga
Laura (@reduction_raider1 on Instagram) is a fully fledged, frugal foodie, passionate about avoiding food waste. When not loitering in supermarket reduction aisles, she writes about eating well for less, and had been featured in publications including Be Kind, PlantBased and Vegan Life magazine.