Recently, I watched a Netflix documentary called What the Health, a film that discusses the ways in which consuming dairy and other animal products regularly damages both our health and the environment. Immediately afterward, I decided to go vegan, out of a desire to help both the Earth and my body.
This led me to wonder: Is going vegan worth it from a financial perspective? What are the benefits of going vegan? Here’s what I’ve learned.
What Is Veganism?
Veganism is a fairly strict diet and philosophy that entails abstaining from meat in addition to other animal products like milk, eggs, and cheese. Instead, a vegan diet relies on plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts, and seeds.
The rationale behind this diet varies from vegan to vegan. Some do it out of an ethical concern for the treatment of animals, while others adopt veganism out of a concern for the environmental effects of factory farming. A few do so for religious or health reasons; regardless of the rationale, veganism rejects both the flesh and by-products of animals — which includes leather and fur as well.
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Is Going Vegan Cheaper (or Healthier)?
As you might imagine, going vegan can be a huge adjustment. But switching excited me because I wanted to protect animals, lead a healthier lifestyle, save money, and hopefully lose a little weight.
I’m not sure how many animals’ lives I saved, but I didn’t save any money. And I didn’t lose any weight, either.
So is going vegan worth it, after all? Some people can make it work. Here are a few factors you should consider if you’re trying to save money and improve your health with a vegan diet.
1. Varying Food Prices
Keep in mind that regardless of what kind of foods you buy, costs vary depending on which store you shop at and where you live.
You won’t automatically see grocery savings just because you stop buying chicken and beef. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but as a vegan, you often need to buy more food to fill up and ensure you get your fair share of protein.
During my first vegan grocery shopping experience, I was surprised to discover that for just one week of food for myself, I spent about the same amount that I would otherwise spend on two weeks of food for my whole household.
Granted, I bought a ton of extra starter items that would have a longer shelf life, like canned vegetables, nutritional yeast, frozen fruit for smoothies, tofu, and seasonings. While it’s likely that over time I could have figured out a monthly budget similar to that of an omnivore, making it more worth my while to go vegan, the adjustment in my grocery list certainly cost me at first.
2. Shopping Sales
Taking advantage of sales on plant-based foods can be just as beneficial as if you were shopping for sales on meat and dairy products.
Local stores usually advertise sales on produce and provide coupons for discounts. Instead of fixating on a particular meal idea, I was able to keep my grocery costs low by having an open mind and planning around sales. If sweet potatoes were on sale one week, I’d incorporate them into many of my meals to keep my food costs low.
Similarly, I recommend those adopting a vegan lifestyle while trying to save some coin plan their meals around cost-effectiveness first and foremost, in order to maximize their savings.
3. Meat and Dairy Substitutes
One of the biggest and costliest mistakes I made when I switched to a vegan diet was falling for all the “fun” substitution foods, such as vegan sausage, pizza, cheese, and even hot dogs.
Substitutes like these can be just as expensive as actual meat, if not more so. They’re also often made with soy and contain tons of sodium. If possible, it’s best to keep these items — as well as vegan junk food like chips, coconut-milk ice cream, and pastries — to a minimum, and to consume them alongside meals made solely from veggies, beans, and healthy grains.
4. Natural and Simple Recipes
The best way to save money on a vegan diet is to do the same thing you would do to save money on any other diet: stick with natural foods and simple recipes.
Now I avoid processed foods and ready-made meals when grocery shopping.
Instead, I head straight to the produce section and even buy a few canned goods, as well as frozen fruit and veggie items, since they’re cost-effective.
5. New Dishes
Perhaps you find that you’re short on ideas when cooking vegan meals — thankfully, the Internet has no shortage of recipes designed with the meat- and cheese-averse in mind. Additionally, check out meal prep companies like PlateJoy and HelloFresh, which offer a fantastic variety of recipes that help on a restricted meal plan. They factor your goals, allergies, and other dietary requirements you have into a personalized plan.
My Vegan Meal-Prep Strategy
I use lots of rice and beans, potatoes, spinach, and mixed greens in my meals, and I switch things up constantly. I make homemade meatless chili, baked fries with fresh-cut potatoes, and vegan tacos with refried pinto beans as the filling. Plus, I make a really good veggie stir-fry flavored with ginger, pineapple juice, and soy sauce.
I try to prepare some meals in bulk so that I’m not cooking every night, and I do an hour of meal prep every Sunday. This makes it more convenient for me to eat at home more often and save money.
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The Counter-Argument: Who Gets to Eat Meat?
Of course, veganism and its associated dietary restrictions aren’t worth it for everyone — though individuals with certain vitamin deficiencies can still partake in a vegan diet, albeit with some additional steps.
“Because iron primarily comes from animal sources, and B12 is only available through animal sources, these two forms of anemia can be quite common among vegans,” says nutritionist Lisa Richards. “It is certainly okay for someone to eat a vegan diet when they have these forms of anemia so long as they are taking steps to treat them. This can be done through iron and B12-fortified foods or supplements.”
Richards’s testimony is echoed by others within her field. For those with deficiencies in B12 and iron, going vegan is doable, but it requires an additional level of preparation.
“Vitamin B12 is difficult to supplement in the body, with the best way being to take injections from a medical professional or consume it through nutritional yeast,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Cristen Lindsay. “A vegan diet is a healthy option for most people. However, it must be planned out carefully.”
“Additionally, people with an eating disorder diagnosis and those with multiple food allergies and intolerances are both populations which should avoid a vegan diet,” recommends registered dietitian Amy Chow. If any of these descriptors apply to you, it may be better to meet with a nutritionist before adopting a solely plant-based diet.
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Is Going Vegan Worth It? The Bottom Line
No longer relying on meat for protein and nutrition has affected my life in many ways. I feel healthier and more energetic. Not much has changed when it comes to my grocery budget, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Additional reporting by Connor Beckett McInerney.