Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Monetary Cost of Being Vegan

At a party I attended recently, the subject of veganism was being discussed among a group of guests sitting outside on the patio. One of them mentioned that after becoming a vegan, she found that it was significantly more expensive. Specifically, she was referring to being a healthy vegan, eating mostly organically grown food and using various liquid and powdered nutritional supplement formulas. What I found most remarkable was that she was smoking a cigarette while expressing serious concern about being able to afford a healthy diet.

I don’t agree that a vegan diet is necessarily more expensive than a diet that includes animal products. My personal experience is that vegan diets are somewhat less costly than diets that include animal products. For instance, dry beans, lentils, and split peas, are significantly cheaper than cheese, or cuts of flesh from land or sea animals. Soymilk varies in price by brand and retail store, but is often comparable to the price of cow milk. However, reliance on highly processed and prepared foods, including meat analogs and ice cream alternatives—things I eat only occasionally—can quickly drive up the cost of a vegan diet. If you don’t know how to cook, learning to do so can save considerable money while improving the healthfulness of your meals.

Vegan nutritional supplements are generally more expensive than their non-vegan equivalents. But a vegan-formulated multivitamin with B-12 and perhaps a separate calcium and vitamin D-2 supplement would probably suffice for most people. In my opinion, most of the nutritional supplements on store shelves are a waste of money. Some claim to supply antioxidants, but a properly designed vegan diet with its abundance of plant foods, already provides significantly more of these beneficial compounds than a non-vegan diet. Some other supplements may feature ingredients for which there is no proven benefit. For example, even though humans didn’t evolve to eat grass, many consumers have been persuaded by clever marketing to drink wheat grass juice or take it as a supplement. It’s rich chlorophyll content is often touted, though marketers fail to inform consumers that the chemical crucial to photosynthesis in plants, plays no known role in human nutrition. Even if it did, we obtain ample amounts (at considerably less expense) from green leafy vegetables.

It’s true that eating healthfully is more costly than merely obtaining calories in their cheapest available forms. But this is true for both vegan and non-vegan diets. In the 2008 documentary film Food Inc., the topic of government food subsidies is examined. In the US, commodity crops such as corn and soybeans that are largely used for animal feed or to produce high-fructose-corn-syrup (HFCS), are heavily subsidized by the federal government. As a result, the price of meat, dairy, and eggs is kept lower than it would otherwise be. This is even the case now with some fish, since an increasing number are raised in aquaculture farms where they’re fed a diet of grain and seeds. Cheap HFCS goes into countless foods from prepared pasta sauce to soft drinks and cookies. A diet of corn chips and soda pop is an inexpensive way to meet one’s daily caloric requirements, but is terribly unhealthy. Steadily increasing health care costs are largely driven by an increase in obesity related diseases, fueled by the junk we’re eating. As part of a comprehensive approach to health care reform, food subsidies should be redirected towards fruits and vegetables grown for human consumption.

I’ve found that vegan personal care and household cleaning products are usually more expensive than non-vegan versions. But what I save on food mostly offsets the extra cost. My clothing expenses are roughly the same as before I was a vegan.

Individuals who are considering becoming vegans, need not worry that it’s less affordable. If anything, the specific health benefits from vegan diets, coupled with less damage to the environment, yield reduced long-term personal and societal costs. But the government needs to do its part by no longer subsidizing unhealthy food, and by requiring that the price of all goods and services reflect their true cost of damage to the environment and human health.

So go vegan today! Not only is it not difficult and won’t break your budget, it’s better for your health and better for the environment. Most importantly, it’s a personal commitment to building a better world based on peace, nondiscrimination, and nonviolence.

Finally, if you’re still smoking like that perplexing woman at the party, please quit. Smoking is a waste of money and harmful to your health and the health of those around you. Considering that it’s an addictive substance that kills and injures people as a result of its intended use, one could easily make the case that it’s not consistent with veganism.


Dan Cudahy said...

Good article, Ken.

Vinegar is an excellent and inexpensive replacement for toxic or expensive cleaners. For cleaning tables, counters, and floors, and bathroom surfaces, use half vinegar and half water. It kills bacteria, but is harmless to humans and companion animals.

Corey Wrenn said...

Unfortunately, being vegan is outrageously expensive if you intend on replacing processed, instant, frozen foods with vegan versions. I.e. You can't get 10 frozen pizzas for $10 or 10 packs of ramen for $1 I recognize this a serious hindrance for the college-age potential vegans. I really think that if there were a generic, cheap version of Amy's line, a LOT more people would stop to seriously consider the moral necessity of veganism. Maybe PETA should stop wasting millions on sexist anti-fur campaigns and put it towards affordable "easy" vegan foods. Anyway, vegan CAN be done affordably, and even if it is more time-consuming, it's no reason to turn away from veganism (in other words, I am not cutting anybody who rejects veganism b/c of lack of convenience any slack) but I think making cheap fast vegan food readily available would really help our movement. I know unless I ever have the luxury of not having to work for a living, I will never go raw for that exact same reason! Good thing vegans don't have to go raw, b/c "cooking" raw takes DAYS in prep!

Jeff @ Coolwater4animals said...

Nice package of information on a topic one doesn't come across often enough. Thank you, Ken.

Anonymous said...

What a great article. I don't find being vegan more expensive at fact it's cheaper.

I have gained a new perspective on looking after myself, and making better choices.


Luella said...

Some Ramen noodles are vegan, Corey. And they're not healthy.

After searching with exasperation for vegan vitamin supplements, other than the gummy ones the store apparently ran out of, I discovered that Total cereal has all the vitamins and minerals I need. It's very cheap, too. Why I just learned about this a few weeks ago and why there are so many nutritionally inferior brands of cereal, I don't know. I never see anyone else eating Total.

I have one vegan-aspiring friend who always complains about fortified foods and supplements because supposedly the body doesn't absorb these as well, but my understanding is that there are simply certain individuals who have trouble absorbing certain vitamins/minerals if not coming from a natural source, while the majority of people have no problem.