One common statement I hear from people who choose not to try a vegan diet is that it’s too expensive.
It is easy to hear this statement and believe it is true. I mean, going to a fancy vegan restaurant, or buying specialty plant-based alternatives, will take more money out of your pocket than you might think. However, this statement does not hold true once you look at the costs in an objective and holistic manner. In particular, the expenses which the planet, the people and the animals pay for animal products to be available for human consumption.
Despite the rise in popularity for veganism, the concern that it is too expensive still precludes certain people from giving it a try. So it’s time to put this myth to bed and make it clear that the vegan diet is the most inexpensive way to live in today’s society, by any metric, for you, the human race, the planet and the animals.
Let’s get into the 6 reasons why the vegan diet isn’t expensive.
1. The staples of a vegan diet are dirt cheap
There is no doubt that the staples of a healthy whole food vegan diet are cheap. Like, really cheap. And no, this isn’t just to have bland salads each and every day.
Produce such as pasta, grains, rice, potatoes, beans, legumes, bread and seasonal fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables are plentiful, accessible all year round and inexpensive – especially for the quantity you receive.
Reading these types of produce may sound boring and plain at first glance. However, there are a variety of healthy, delicious and budget-friendly vegan meals that you can make with these types of produce. You only need to glance over a vegan cookbook, make a quick web search or check out our vegan recipes page to find a plethora of amazing dishes to try and incorporate into your diet.
Additionally, these types of food will provide you with the majority of essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants you need to thrive and live a healthy lifestyle (including protein!). It is also important to note that these types of food have a longer shelf life than animal based products, which can save you money in reducing food wastage (which is a large societal problem in and of itself [1, 2]).
So what happens when you opt to purchase these staples rather than animal products? Well, you save money, a considerable amount of money.
A recent study commissioned by the Linda McCartney Foods found that cutting down on meat saved Britain’s more than £6.7bn last year and estimated that more than 12 million carnivores saved around £550 each by eating less pork, beef, lamb and chicken in 2019 compared to previous years . These numbers are staggering at the present day and will be even greater moving forward as the supply and demand for animal products decreases and the supply and demand for plant-based foods increases!
Now I get it. You may have already known that the staples are cheap – but you may still have been put off veganism because of the perceived costs of the diet by focusing on the price of the organic produce and superfoods that vegans need to consume…
2. Not all vegans shop at Whole Foods
It may come as a surprise, but not every vegan goes to Whole Foods or Farmer’s Markets for their weekly grocery shopping (although there is nothing wrong with that!). This may seem like the case when following certain celebrities and online influencers and seeing the amazing dishes and ingredients they showcase. However, like with most aspects of celebrity life or online marketing, this is not reflective of everyday life.
Such presentation does not give a proper reflection of how everyday vegans are living their lives and their typical shopping habits. Unfortunately, this is another factor which supports people’s narratives that veganism is an expensive lifestyle and may not be suitable for certain people as a result.
However, as shown above, the staples of a vegan diet are tremendously cheap, versatile and adequate to meet all nutritional requirements. You do not need to have spirulina sprinkled in every drink, or eat Yamashita Spinach once a day, to thrive on a vegan diet.
Ok, so the staples of the vegan diet may be cheap at your everyday supermarket or local grocer. But what about someone who wants to maintain their current diet and choose plant-based alternatives instead – that will be more expensive, right?
3. Plant-based alternatives are not as expensive anymore
The plant-based alternatives that you may have seen as expensive when they first hit the market are not as expensive nowadays. As more and more people are embracing plant-based alternatives, the market for these products has invariably skyrocketed over the past few years.
This is for two reasons. One is the fact that more people are embracing a vegan lifestyle as our compassion for the animals, as well as the information regarding the animal agriculture industry, our own health and the sustainability of our environment, is increasing. Here in the UK, the number of vegans has quadrupled from 2014-2019  and the sale for animal products, such as red meat, has been decreasing over the past few years [5, 6, 7, 8].
However, it is not only more people going vegan which has led to this rise. The second reason is that people who adhere to the “mainstream” diet are starting to opt for more plant-based products when given the opportunity. For example, meat substitute sales grew by 451% in the European market in the four years to February 2018 , nearly a quarter of people from Britain consumed plant milk in 2019  and nearly 90% of Americans purchasing plant based burgers, such as Impossible and Beyond Burgers, are not even vegetarian or vegan .
As the demand for these plant-based alternatives has increased, so has the supply, which means larger and more efficient means for food production has lead to cost savings for the food producers which are then are passed onto the consumer – not to mention the lowering of prices due to more competition in the market for these types of food. To give a quick example, here are just a few of the cheapest plant-based alternative products you can find at the supermarket and the cheapest animal based equivalents:
Plant Pioneers Meat Free Burgers x8 454g = £3.85 / kg
J James & Family Beef Burgers x8 397g = £3.40 / kg
Plant Pioneers Meat Free Mince 500g = £3.50 / kg
Sainsbury’s Beef Mince 20% Fat 500g = £3.60 / kg
Sainsbury’s Unsweetened Soya Drink 1L = 85p / ltr
Sainsbury’s Whole British Milk 1L = 80p / ltr
- All prices are from Sainsburys.co.uk and correct as of 11 November 2020
This is not to say that plant based alternatives are always cheaper. They may not be in certain instances, especially for specialty foods. The reason for this is, unfortunately, is the scale of factory farming in the world which is needed to maintain the current demand for animal products and make the animal agriculture industry as profitable as possible (see my Final Thoughts below for more on this issue).
However, the message to take home from this point is that, even if you desire these plant-based alternatives in order to try a vegan diet, it will not break the bank as the pricing of these products is already very competitive and will become even cheaper moving forward – and this isn’t even taking into account the true costs with animal products…
4. Animal products are more expensive when factoring government subsidies
On the surface, you can look at animal products and view them as inexpensive based on the dollar value which vendors sell them for. But is this a true reflection of the price that is paid by the consumer for such product? The answer is no. These prices are based on a false and manipulated economy which makes farmers in the animal agriculture industry profitable and force people to pay for animal products – even vegans who don’t purchase any at the stores!
The truth of the matter is, everyday taxpayers are funding businesses in the animal agriculture via government subsidies, whether they like it or not. These subsidies are important for protecting a nation’s supply of food, however, the current use and application of such subsidies by governments goes far beyond this purpose.
It is shocking to see reports indicating that, globally, the public provides more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies with only 1% of such figure being used to benefit the environment . These funds are used to keep prices low on products which have devastating consequences for the health of the human race and the planet, not to mention the incessant suffering of the animals.
Even more staggering is that the average head of cattle in Europe gets a subsidy worth $2.20 a day . To give this some context, the income of each head of cattle exceeds half of the world’s human population. Additionally, a recent report in the UK shows that around 90% of the annual profit of farmers involved in the animal agriculture industry comes from subsidies. If that doesn’t show that the animal agriculture industry is not economically viable, I’m not sure what does .
Furthermore, it’s not just the vast amounts that the animal agriculture industry receives, it’s also the lack of support that the fruits and vegetables industry receives in comparison. The study which showed farmers 90% of profits coming from subsidies also showed the subsidies for fruit farmers only makes up 10% of profits. Furthermore, the U.S. government spends up to $38 billion each year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries, with less than one percent of that sum allocated to aiding the production of fruits and vegetables . You can only imagine how much cheaper plant-based foods would be if all food producers were on level playing field.
I could go on with more statistics, but you get the point. The price on the shelf is not indicative of the actual price of these animal products. Without these subsidies, the price of animal products would rise considerably and thereby lose their veneer of being inexpensive.
Remarkable how the vegan diet is, notwithstanding the advantages the animal agriculture industry receives, still an inexpensive diet at present – and this isn’t even considering how inexpensive a vegan diet is for the environment…
5. It saves expenses relating to the environment
When switching to a vegan diet, the amount of savings aren’t just in the reduced shopping bill for that day. They are also present when examining the cost savings related to climate change and the sustainability of our environment.
Research for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that livestock farming costs the environment $1.81 trillion per year, equivalent to 134% of its production value. Additionally, beef production in Brazil accounted for the most costly environmental impacts at $596m, largely as a result of deforestation to clear land for pasture. The impacts of pork production in China cost $327m primarily due to land-use conversion in direct operations and in the supply chain for feed production .
As the high environmental costs of industrialized farming practices are not reflected in food prices, this leaves society quite vulnerable to supply disruption and fluctuations in pricing as climate change worsens over time.
There is also the issue of the amount of money that taxpayers spend in the way of environmental conservation that is necessary to counteract the damage the animal agriculture industry inflicts.
And for the costs on the healthcare system?
6. It saves expenses relating to the healthcare system
A recent report showed that for high income countries, red meat would need to be 20% more expensive and processed meat, like bacon, sausages and jerky, would need to be more than double their current price to account for the health costs associated with their consumption . Shopping bill wouldn’t be so cheap if this was factored in, right?
It is no surprise why people are proposing a “meat” tax.
Certain governments already put a tax on harmful products such as alcohol, tobacco and sugar. So why should animal products be any different? Eating animal products is harmful to your own health and will cost you more in health care bills during your life. But it may not be your own health you are paying for. It will also be expensive for people who live in countries which have taxpayer funded healthcare systems.
The same report above showed that the optimal level taxation revenue to account for the health costs of red and processed meat consumption would amount to US$172 billion globally and cover 70% of the health costs that red and processed meat consumption puts on the global society. To fully cover the costs, health taxes would have to be doubled! These health taxes would reduce the number of deaths attributable to red and processed meat consumption by 9 percent and meat-related health costs would decline by 14 percent around the world .
Taxes could be one solution to this problem. Regulatory changes to more sustainable agricultural practices would also be beneficial. But what is the one thing that each individual can do to bring down the costs to their shopping bill, the environment and the healthcare system? Switch to a vegan diet. It can be done immediately by any person and have tremendous impact for yourself, the human race, the planet and the animals.
- In this discussion, it’s vitally important to remember why animal products have, at times, a cheap price tag. Concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO, or more commonly known as factory farming) provide an efficient economical system to feed and house animals through specialization, increased facility size and close confinement of animals. This brings the price down of animal products, but at what price? This is the fundamental question people need to answer within themselves when making their food choices. I hope this blog helps in providing the requisite information that certain people need to answer this question correctly, and act accordingly.
- It is important for each person to decide how they value food and whether they consider certain types of food expensive or not. Personally, I believe food should not be viewed as expensive solely on the price tag. The expenses which the planet, the people and the animals pay for animal products to be available for human consumption is devastating. In totality, there is no comparison. Embracing a vegan diet is the most inexpensive way to live in today’s society by any metric for you, the human race, the planet and the animals.
- I hope this blog illuminates the point that the vegan diet is not an expensive diet choice. However, it should be noted that even if the vegan diet was expensive, it would still be the morally right thing to do. As mentioned above, the price that the planet, the people and the animals have to pay for our selfish choices for taste pleasure are the true cost in this calculation, not how much is charged to your card at the end of your shopping trip.
So there you have it. If you are looking to bring down the costs of your shopping bill, make the choice to go vegan. Or if you are looking to reduce the expenditure that human society, the planet and the animals pay in order to have animal products available, also make the choice to go vegan!
Have any other reasons why the vegan diet isn’t expensive? I’d love to find out about them – so leave a comment in the section below and we can discuss further 🙂