Monday, May 23, 2011

What's the Cheapest Way to Eat?

One of the more disturbing arguments I hear regarding America's exploding obesity problem is that eating a mostly plant-based diet is simply too expensive for lower-income people.   Veganism and vegetarianism is limited to the bourgeoisie, we're told, because they can afford it.

So I found this chart intriguing:

According to the website were I found this chart the bottom line numbers are based on grocery store prices, and hypothetically, the vegan saved $1,280 on food over the course of a year.

Here's what the authors had to say:

We recognize that it’s possible to lead a non-vegetarian life on a budget–and to eat expensively as a vegan–but we noticed one general, interesting trend. The most inexpensive foods are often plant-derived products, like carrots, oatmeal, and vegetable products. Plant proteins such as tofu or garbanzo beans, meanwhile, tend to be much cheaper than their equivalents in animal protein. The cheapest cuts of beef average about $3 to $4 per pound, while lentils and dried beans are generally less than $1 per pound and tofu is less than $2 per pound.

They also noted that:

Processed foods are the foes of a well-balanced budget not only because they tend to be the most expensive, but also because they’re also often the least healthy. This rings true for vegetarian processed foods as well, like soy hot dogs or pre-packaged veggie burgers, which can be even more expensive than regular turkey dogs or burgers.

Here are my thoughts.   I pretty much knew this all along.   Filling up a family on meat is expensive.  It's just an age-old truth.  My Italian grandmother always told us how meat was reserved for special occasions because they simply couldn't afford to eat it every day. 

I've also noted that, relatively, I spend less on the weekly food budget by sticking to a mostly vegetarian menu.   Once I start making meat for dinner, the price per person per meal goes up rather steeply. 

Try it yourself.   Track the cost of ingredients for meals and you will see that making a pasta Primavera or Rice and beans for dinner costs a whole lot less then pork chops.

Second, of all, the savings come from buying and preparing your own foods.  Once you start letting others prepare you food for you, the reverse is true--meat eating becomes cheaper.  Vegetarian and vegan options tend to be more expensive when you're buying prepared food at restaurants and take-out places.  

In fact, it always pisses me off that if they put a bunch of vegetables in a bowl and label it a salad, it's usually more expensive then a bunch of meat slapped inside of a roll.   I know that the ingredient costs of the vegetables in the bowl is less at the grocery store then the ingredient cost of the meat on the roll, but the restaurant still charges me more.  

There seems to be some unwritten restaurant rule that those seeking vegetarian options should be "taxed" for the privilege of eating a bunch of raw vegetables, and I don't understand why.   Does it piss off the chef that I choose to eat a bunch of raw vegetables that day and the pricing is a way to make me pay for the insult?

Now, I don't advocate becoming a complete vegan or even vegetarian.   I'm an omnivore myself, but I've recognized the hard truth that if I want to maintain my weight (and I'd even like to shed a few pounds at this point), then I have to eat a mostly raw, vegan diet. 

I guess the one piece of good new is that, as long as I prepare my food myself, I can actually save money doing so. 


  1. I think that I save money eating vegan or vegetarian as long as I make my own food. When I buy prepared items then the costs rise dramatically.

  2. That's pretty much what both the article and I said.

  3. I am not a vegetarian but as soon as I become one my grocery bills have gone considerably down especially since I buy builk grains and cereals and of course fresh veggies are cheaper than all that canned stuff.