Today’s article is written in response to the irresponsible claim by UK-based VoucherCodesPro, which apparently published a study claiming that those consuming vegan diets face an inevitable financial disadvantage compared to omnivores.
The “study”, which funnily enough I was unable to locate, was not able to locate, appeared to group data from apparent interviews of individuals consuming different dietary types ( including veganism, vegetarianism and the completely unrelated gluten-free diet) and somehow concluded that vegan diets were much more expensive than non-vegan diets.
Can any given vegan diet be carried out in a manner that would be more costly than any given omnivorous diet?
Yes, but this would mostly occur in exceptional circumstances and in the context of a particularly expensive vegan diet which might include unnecessary specialty items.
These products, in my opinion, are not hallmarks of vegan diets and today’s article will explain why, when all else is equal, a vegan diet is almost always more economical than an omnivorous one.
It comes down to the protein
From a financial and fundamental perspective, what separates a balanced omnivorous diet and a balanced vegan diet is the source of protein ( yes, there are other considerations in veganism).
Omnivores consume protein from both animal and plant based sources, whereas vegans consume protein from strictly plant-based sources.
In conditions where a comparable omnivore and vegan consumed a similar diet rich in conventional fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains, the factor that would differentiate the cost of their diet would inevitably be the protein.
Let’s take a closer look at the cost of some common plant vs animal based protein options to see why this is.
Protein Cost Comparison
For the sake of argument for today’ article, I compared some the costs of commonly consumed vegan vs plant-based protein using American online grocery retailers.
Here is what I found:
1. Comparing organic tofu to conventional ground beef; the ground beef cost, depending on variety, averaged about 2x the price per pound. In Canada, both a 1lb of tofu and a 1lb of beef are considered to contain a similar amount of servings of meat & alternatives, so it is not as if we are comparing apples and oranges here.
2. Comparing dry lentils to chicken breast, the disparity is similar in the example above as the price per pound of chicken comes in at about double ( ~ $2.50 vs $5 per pound). Again, each quantity contains a comparable amount of servings as per the Canadian Food Guide.
3. The cost of cow’s milk was comparable to common vegan milk alternatives such as soy or almond milk, although yogurt of soy origin was slightly more expensive.
I appreciate that this is not necessarily the most robust or scientific approach to food cost comparison, but I believe it is sufficient to convey the main message of today’s article.
When all else is equal and commonly consumed animal protein products are swapped with commonly consumed plant products, it is highly improbable that a vegan diet will be more costly than an omnivorous one.
To better understand how this difference in protein costs leads to vegan diets being less expensive, have a look at this infographic ( prepared by Ethical Ocean).
For anyone out there who has been led to believe or even dissuaded away from a plant-based diet due to cost concerns, you should know there is little merit in such assertions. Yes, there are some particularly pricey vegan specialty items on the market. These products are not hallmarks or requirements of a healthy vegan diet, and even so, their prices will continue to decrease with time.
Long story short, cost savings are yet another compelling reason to go plant-based.
Andy De Santis RD MPH
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Photo Credit: Artur Rutkowski & Tyler Shaw