No, vegan food is not more expensive
I’ve heard just about every excuse in the book for why not to go vegan. Perhaps the most subjective and misrepresented of them all is that eating vegan is more expensive. Often lumped in with shopping at Whole Foods, eating organic, and dining at popular vegan restaurants, the assumption that it takes more income to avoid animal products is simply incorrect. However, with no real consensus on an “average diet,” the variables that can drive a shopping list or dinner bill higher are boundless. With most animal rights organizations pointing to faux meat, cheese, and dairy products as a way to show the simplicity of substituting, very little is being done to educate people on the necessity of choosing healthy, whole, and in this case, cheaper foods. While a store bought vegan deli meat might make a faster or easier sandwich, it’s not going to make the cheapest. As such, vegans who have made the switch and hope to keep it should be well versed in methods for eating more frugally.
If someone were to rhyme off a weekly meal plan that included lobster, filet mignon, and caviar, no would say that choosing to go vegan would be more expensive. You see, when it comes measuring the cost of beans, grains, and vegetables against meat, cheese, and dairy, there’s no comparison. Dry beans are only about a dollar a pound, and lentils, closer to two dollars. Compared to the three to twelve dollars per pound various meats will run you, you could be eating more beans and lentils for the same price, or the same amount for a smaller price.
It’s only when people feel the need to substitute their standard non-vegan favourites with the processed vegan alternatives that an argument can be formed. That’s not to say that a diet consisting completely of substitute foods couldn’t be affordable, but that it wouldn’t make going vegan a money saving measure. $5.34 will get you close to a pound of Yves Veggie Ground, and the real deal will run closer to $5.99. The difference is negligible in the majority of scenarios that compare similar quality products. It’s often when processed cheese slices are compared to Wood and Water Cheeze that the information can be skewed in favour of non-vegan products for their price points.
It’s not unlike the scenarios where people compare organic produce and processed foods to non-organic counterparts; labels can be confusing. While many vegans might choose to eat organic for the benefits it can attribute to themselves and the environment, it is not a necessary proponent of being vegan, and is something that is commonly misunderstood and misrepresented. In the case of the majority of grocery store items, organic items can sold at a higher cost because of people’s association to the word organic. A bag of organic, vegan, and gluten free cookies might be calling your name, but their sheer existence doesn’t by any means make them a diet necessity, or something that took less violence to produce. In truth, it’s the whole, unprocessed foods that are naturally vegan that we should be more concerned about, especially if they don’t have a label. Growing our own food and buying locally are two ways we can meet our desire for better quality foods without compromising our budgets.
So when someone considers what it will take to change dinners for a family of four on a single income over to plant-based, the focus should never be an emphasis on those special foods. There’s a fine line between supporting vegan brands and making it seem as though a vegan life without them is not worth living. To be told, or to believe, that without them you’ll be hungry, unsatisfied, or malnourished is also untrue. Consider a chili, stew, or noodle soup. A meat eater might make a giant pot with animal protein scraps and homemade animal based broth. Does that mean it’s instantly more expensive than the vegan alternative? Well, that depends. Were someone to make a pot of vegan chili with canned beans and broth, and replicate the meat with seitan or tempeh, it could cost just as much. But were a vegan to take the same cost cutting measures, soaking dried beans and making homemade stock from food waste, then we’d find the vegan recipe (pun intended) to penny-pinching. Books like “Eat Vegan on $4 a Day” can be helpful tools for mastering cheap, homemade staples.
Okay, so we understand that regardless of what diet we follow, there’s ways to eat cheaply and there’s ways to splurge. Why does that understanding disappear in restaurants? Much of the cost of a plate we’re served when dining out isn’t just the food, but labour, equipment, and rent. So while some might see paying twelve dollars for a vegetable sandwich as being so expensive compared to paying only four for a big mac, consider again the circumstance in which the raw material came to be, and who is serving it to you. A burger at a sit-down restaurant would also cost $12. Corporations that run fast food spots and chains can charge less than a mom and pop vegan or non-vegan cafe making everything from scratch. I think the reason the restaurant misconception is so prevalent is because vegan fast food isn’t something that’s been a profitable yet – something places like Evolution are looking to change with $6-7 options. Just as we sub faux meats for dishes we remember enjoying, dining out is popular for replicating an experience. I prefer to dine somewhere where speciality foods are being made or served, that I’m not about to attempt or shell out for at home. I can’t afford large bags of Maca, but I can afford to add it to a take-out smoothie for a dollar on occasion.
Another important thing to consider when shopping for vegan staples is serving sizes. For example, a bag of quinoa might seem expensive at $15.99 for 1.8kg (thank you Costco). But with one dry cup of quinoa yielding three cooked cups, that bag will have eleven half cup servings. When you can objectively look at costs like that, and consider that a bowl of quinoa can cost you only $1.45, it no longer feels unreasonable, as our gut reaction sometimes makes it seem. The same can be applied to that $12 wheel of cashew cheese, granted you don’t devour it all in one sitting (good luck). I spend approximately $75 a week to feed three square meals and a snack to two hungry vegans weekly. That ends up being $150 a month each, less than some people spend on a single night out.
There is a wealth of information already available to those looking to cut costs in the kitchen. Bulk shopping, coupon clipping, cooking more, and getting comfortable with eating lots of leftovers are all ways that vegans can feel a financial gain alongside their ethical one. Eating well without breaking the bank takes time, effort, and at least a little bit of mental math. But when animals are our reason for choosing not to participate in exploitation and violence, cutting out animal products is easy. When cutting out animal products is easy, finding sustainable financial practices for eating in and dining out are going to follow. And when anyone tries to argue that you’re spending so much more on food for choosing the vegan option, you can always fall back on the incredible seventy-nine cent price tag on a pound of bananas, better known as vegan gold.