Vegan students – the quintessential food cupboard
Evie Marshall discusses the vital vegan foods you need to add to your shopping list
We all know the classic stereotype of students eating instant noodles out of a saucepan and spending way too much on takeaways. However, more and more students are discovering the satisfaction and ease of home cooking. Why do we associate eating delicious wholefoods with expensive shopping trips and complicated meal prep? Why do many believe that vegans eat only hummus, raw carrots, and soya milk? Students have limited time and money when it comes to dinner, so these are valid reservations.
Limitations of the plant-based diet are a thing of the past and, based on responses from the University of Exeter vegetarian and vegan society, we can prove it. So, what is the quintessential shopping list or food cupboard of a vegan student? Almost anyone would give you a different answer as plant-based foods become more varied and accessible every year. Here are some particularly versatile and surprisingly common items that people reach for regularly. Paired with your favourite veg, flavouring and fruit, these staples can optimize our cupboards and cooking.
Oats– Porridge is a power breakfast with so many potential add-ons. Apple, cinnamon, dried fruit, berries, peanut butter, banana, and nuts/seeds, for example. It would be hard to get bored of this one. It’s an item that can be bought in bulk, making it cost-effective. Blended, oats can also be used as a flour in things like pancakes and lentil ‘meat’ loaves.
Meat alternatives– Who said you had to completely reinvent your meal plans? With the textures and flavours of meat alternatives improving all the time, it’s never been easier to replicate your favourite dishes. For your next stir-fry, burger, roast, or fry up, put aside the veg prejudice and explore some of these! Linda McCartney sausages and pies, soya mince/chunks, tofu, and seitan. They may sound like alien foods that you’d rather avoid, but there’s a reason tofu has been a staple in Asia for 2,000 years. These products are healthier and tend to be easier to cook with than most meats! Plus, as they’re “cheap from Tesco and so tasty and versatile”, what have you got to lose?
Peanut butter- Your protein worries will disappear as quickly as a jar of this in my flat. Let’s face it, not the healthiest, but healthier than say, chocolate spread (of which there are now delicious plant-based versions, might I add). Described as “essential”, nut butter pairs heavenly with apples and bananas, toast, porridge, and also in savoury Asian cooking.
Legumes and beans– We’re talking red lentils, kidney beans, green peas/beans, chickpeas, and yes, baked beans count too. They’re saviours that fit key criteria for student food: cheap and versatile. Packed with protein, fibre, iron, and minerals, they’re perfect for dahls, stews, and curries, chillies, tagines, and salads, falafels and hummus. Green lentils are also revolutionary for replicating some other dishes like burgers and ‘meat’ loaf. Exeter’s Sidwell street has plenty of Asian grocery stores, where you can buy lentils and pulses in bulk.
Nutritional yeast- If you haven’t heard of this one, it sounds weird. It’s dried yeast flakes, popular because of its cheesy, nutty taste and insane nutritional value (hence the name). Like marmite, nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins and minerals and, unlike marmite, I don’t know anyone that hates it. As plant foods become more popular, this is no longer exclusive to health food shops, but can be found in any supermarket for a few quid. It makes a brilliant vegan cheese sauce, veg stock, and, sprinkled on certain dishes like pasta, just gives it that extra something.
Bread and Pasta– Too obvious? It’s easily forgotten that some of our favourite staple food items are vegan: jam, rice, and potatoes, to name a few. As the vegetarian and vegan society have suggested, bread “does everything: toast, sandwiches, burgers, toasties, wraps, dunked in soups or dips, or with something spread on top. It’s very versatile”. Sandwiches can be filled with any combination of countless ingredients. Why limit yourself to cheese and ham? Most pasta is also vegan, and who doesn’t love a classic tomato/pesto pasta with peas, roasted veg, or baked with a crispy, garlicky topping.
Plant-based milk and butter– Because every student needs tea and toast in their life. According to a Guardian article, oat milk sales in the UK surged over 70% in 2018 due to raising concerns around health, ethics, and the environment. However, there is also a reluctance to experiment with such products. People worry that they will spoil the taste of our drinks and in cooking. It’s interesting to consider that “the popularity of cow’s milk is skewed towards older consumers”. Maybe this indicates generational differences in environmental awareness and the influence of tradition. As the dairy-alternative market grows, it’s constantly improving. Reflective of this shift is the fact that vegan cheeses are meltier and more delicious than ever, and available in any supermarket.
Hummus– The list wouldn’t be complete without it. One student, when naming this staple item, said: “no explanation needed”. It can be spread or dolloped on toast, falafel, pitta bread, roasted veg and much more. Whether shop-bought or (easily) homemade, this is a classic, and for good reason too. Chickpeas and tahini, the main ingredients in hummus, are packed with protein, fibre, and healthy fats.
It’s definitely a gradual journey of discovery when it comes to vegan food. Over time, your staple shopping list evolves as plant ingredients become integrated into your favourite meals, perhaps even replacing others. The colours, textures, shapes, and flavour combinations that make up a vegan diet are many. After five years of veganism, I am still discovering new recipes and ingredients! It’s all about the growth mindset and being open to experimentation. So, with a fresh perspective on the versatility, simplicity and cost-effectiveness of vegan food, will you reach for any of these next time you’re in the supermarket?