Vegan on a Budget - D.C. Edition

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 01, 2018

Are you planning on interning in Washington, D.C. while on a student budget? Furthermore, are you vegan and wondering how you might be able to maintain a vegan lifestyle in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.? This blog will provide tips and tricks to being vegan on a budget in Washington, D.C.
The very first vegan meal I had in D.C. was a salad from Sweetgreen the night I arrived at the Ronald Reagan National Airport. The salad was pretty affordable, and, after the long day of travel, I was pretty much willing to pay well above my usual allotment for a meal. I dropped my luggage off at my new apartment right after I had dinner. It was roughly 7 o’clock and still light outside. Therefore, before unpacking, I decided to take an Uber to one of the nearest grocery stores – which happened to be Whole Foods. I left Whole Foods with only one bag full of groceries and completely empty pockets. In fact, if I was not watching the grocery store cashier and the price display so closely (while cringing with every swipe), then I would have unknowingly walked away with a $14.00 bag of organic grapes. Let’s just say, I quickly ran those grapes back to where they belonged in the produce section. This one bag of Whole Foods lasted me about 3-4 days, but I was hoping it would have lasted the entire first week provided I spent my weekly grocery stipend on that one bag. Needless to say, I realized very quickly that being vegan on a budget in D.C. requires research and strategy. The following list encompasses 5 tips and tricks that I accumulated during my time here in D.C. to assist in maintaining a vegan lifestyle on a budget.
  1. Meal Prep, Meal Prep, Meal Prep. Vegan or not, meal prepping is a very viable option for those looking to eat healthy on a budget. Even if you just prepare lunch to bring with you to work every day, that will save you the hassle of spending the average $10 on a quick lunch here in D.C.
  1. Pick a Store, Not Just Any Store. Eating vegan, in theory, does not require an extravagant budget. We are talking beans, lentils, hummus, veggies, fruits, etc. However, these simple ingredients vary in price based on which grocery store you choose to shop at here in D.C. After trying out Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Giant Food, and Target, I found that Trader Joes not only has the most affordable prices but offers the most vegan options as well! I have completely transitioned to only grocery shopping at Trader Joes and I have been able to purchase an entire week’s worth of groceries here for $100 every trip!
  1. Sometimes it Pays to be Vegan. There are a lot of places to eat in D.C., such as Chipotle and District Taco, that have a base price for vegan options. Meaning that you pay no extra cost for guacamole and all the vegan toppings your heart desires if your order does not contain meat. I save roughly $2.50 every time by sticking with veggie options at grab and go eateries.
  1. The Vegan Takeover. As a vegan from Texas, I was shocked to see the amount of vegan options available at restaurants ranging from fast food, elegant eateries, to hole-in-the-wall cafes. I have found that a huge selection of burger joints in the D.C. area carry either the Impossible or Beyond Burger for vegans. Most sushi restaurants have a plethora of vegan options. I even found that unexpected eateries, such as diners and dives, provided a handful of tasty vegan options. This made it very easy for group dinners because most places here have something for everyone!
  1. Yelp it up. If you are a vegan in D.C., then Yelp is your friend. Washington, D.C. has developed a bit of a “foodie” culture and many restaurants offer a unique experience along with a meal. There are so many incomparable places in D.C. and it is important, I believe, to envelop yourself in the local culture during the duration of your stay. As with any nutritional regimen, repetition can feel bland and monotonous. I use Yelp when I’m yearning to try something new in the area. There are so many vegan options here that a simple Yelp search using your location and typing in the word “vegan” will provide a list with the many exciting restaurant options within your circumference. I have truly relied on Yelp to explore this aspect of the D.C. culture.
As an environmentalist, an outdoors enthusiast, and an animal rights activist– veganism was a clear choice for me. I do not consider being vegan a diet, but a lifestyle. To me, being vegan was just another way I could channel my respect, love, and compassion for the environment and the other species that occupy this amazing planet! What inspires your lifestyle? 

Mariah McBride
Environmental Protection Agency - Office of Water
Washington, D.C. | summer 2018