As most of my regular readers know, I am a vegan, and have maintained a plant-based diet for years. As a vegan chef and foodie, the question I get asked the most, aside from “Do you miss eating meat?” (Sometimes, but not enough to abandon my vegan lifestyle), is “Is a plant-based diet expensive?” I wanted to take a minute to delve into that question, since I think it deserves consideration. In examining the “true cost” of a plant-based diet, it is helpful to look at both the immediate, out-of-pocket costs that you would pay at a restaurant or grocery store, as well as more long-term costs to your health and the environment.
Shopping While Vegan
Will going vegan save you money at the grocery store? It depends on what you buy, and when. Many plant-based proteins tend to be more expensive, unfortunately, than their meaty counterparts. For example, according to a 2019 Barron’s article, Whole Foods’ brand veggie burgers were selling for $6.40 per pound, while ground beef at Whole Foods was selling for $5.00 per pound. Part of the issue is that veggie burgers are produced on a much smaller scale than mass-market beef.
Fortunately, this dynamic is changing. As plant-based proteins have gained traction, production has ramped up, leading to lower per unit pricing. Meanwhile, beef costs (as we all know) have skyrocketed due to pandemic related supply chain issues within the beef industry. This is one of the advantages of eating plant-based foods: prices are less likely to fluctuate due to volatile market conditions.
Of course, this assumes that you are buying frozen and/or preprocessed veggie burgers, which leads me to my next point: you can save big money by making plant-based dishes yourself (of course, this is true for most dishes, vegan or otherwise). When you buy raw materials and make your own delicious protein substitutes, the cost of eating vegan is significantly lower than the cost of eating meat and other animal products. According to a recent study found in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition, switching to a plant-based diet can help American consumers save $750 a year in groceries.
Vegan shoppers can maximize their savings by purchasing essentials – such as grains and beans – in bulk (one of the advantages of a plant-based diet is that plants tend to have a longer shelf life than meat). And here is another pro-tip: buy your fruits and vegetables seasonally. Not only will fruits and veggies be cheaper in season; they will taste better too.
Dining While Vegan
Of course, if you are a foodie like me, you eat a lot of your meals at restaurants. When it comes to dining out at restaurants things get a little trickier. According to a Forbes article entitled “Less Meat Doesn’t Mean Cheaper” vegan diners pay roughly as much, if not a little more, than omnivores at restaurants. There are a few reasons for this. For one, plant-based dishes tend to require more prep time (chopping, peeling, dicing, etc.). This added labor is factored into the cost of the dish.
Additionally, there has been a movement among restauranteurs to source the finest – and sometimes rarest – ingredients possible for plant-based dishes. While this shift has elevated the average price of a vegan meal at a restaurant, I see it as a positive change. Plant-based dishes are no longer seen as afterthoughts, or lesser substitutes for their meaty counterparts. Chefs around the country are applying their full creativity to their vegan dishes.
This is perhaps most evident at New York’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park. This famed fine dining institution– winner of 3 Michelin Stars – recently switched to an entirely plant-based menu. Coming in at over $300, the vegan tasting menu is out of reach for most vegan diners, but it is encouraging to see plant-based dishes elevated to such lofty heights. And of course, classic vegan comfort food like beans and rice will always be affordable and accessible.
Going Vegan For Your Health
When considering the true costs of going vegan, I would be remiss not to talk about the health costs of a plant-based diet versus those of an omnivorous one. After all, the average American spends over $300,000 dollars in health-related costs over their lifetime, according to a Health Services Research study. According to a recent article from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a meatless diet greatly reduces those lifetime health expenses. According to the article, a case study of 12,000 vegetarians in Taiwan found that medical expenditures were 15 percent lower for vegetarians than meat-eaters. The study found that expenses related to heart disease, renal (kidney) disease, hypertension, and even depression were lower for vegetarians than meat-eaters. This is certainly something to consider when comparing those slightly more expensive veggie burgers to all-beef patties.
Of course, to get the most health benefits out of a vegetarian or vegan diet, you need to ensure that you are getting your proper proteins and nutrients. The decision to switch to a plant-based diet my change your life – and your finances – for the better, but you should not enter into it lightly. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to ensure that your plant-based diet is a balanced one.
The decision to eat meat or embrace a plant-based diet also has long term costs for our environment. When we think of pollution, and the climate change that it causes, we often think of cars and factories. We should also be thinking about meat. The livestock industry is one of the world’s worst polluters, accounting for 14 percent of man-made greenhouse gases – such as methane – according to a UN study. It is important to point out that methane is 34 times more damaging to the environment than carbon dioxide, also according to the UN.
Climate change costs the global economy trillions of dollars. According to a 2021 New York Times article, climate change is expected to cost the global economy $23 trillion by the year 2050. it is truly an astronomical expense. And this expense will certainly take a bite out of your wallet, in terms of increased insurance costs, increased utilities costs, and food shortages.
Eat Plants For Savings
As we have seen, a plant-based diet can help you save money on your grocery bill, especially when you put in the effort to buy seasonal produce and make plant-based dishes from scratch. Long-term, the savings is much greater and more vital. A plant-based diet can save you thousands of dollars in medical bills and – by reducing conditions like hypertension – could even save your life. By cutting down on pollution, a plant-based diet may even save the planet as well.
If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.