If you follow A-list celebrities and their adventures, then you may have noticed that several have adopted a vegan diet. This is wonderful! People who have more influence over the public than I do have decided to take up this cause. However, the problem with celebrities is, they are generally far wealthier than us, and it further propagates the myth that eating vegan, let alone healthy, is prohibitively expensive for the average person. However, I’m not the average person either. I was a single parent, working a retail job, and now I’m a full-time adult college student. How can I afford such an expensive celebrity diet? Surely someone with a schedule as busy as mine with limited finances would subsist on the cheapest and most convenient junk.
Celebrities recognize that they are influential people, so they use their position of influence at times to hop on a soapbox to talk about politics and other issues. It is wonderful to have voices with a wider reach than mine, or even The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, broadcasting a message I believe in. But celebrities inhabit a different world than you or I do. If you can pay someone to cook for you and have enough money to buy all organic food, then eating healthier is no chore.
You and I do not have that luxury. My wife and I do all the shopping, gardening, and cooking. I have a busy schedule between parenting, a full-time load of college classes, a part-time job and 3 cats. The Nutrition program is one of the most rigorous and demanding. The sciences are heavily emphasized (translation – I have even less free time than other college students). One might examine my schedule and think I subsist on ramen noodles and Red Bull. That is obviously not the case. I am eating a carefully planned 100% plant-based diet. I was eating a carefully planned and nutritionally sound plant-based diet before I met my wife, when I was a retail employee and single parent.
Eating Healthier Can Cost Less
Meat and dairy are the most expensive items you will find in a grocery store. I have eliminated them from my shopping list. I will have to dig into the deepest recesses of my brain, and struggle to recall what I learned in 3rd grade about math. Then I can perform the mental gymnastics to figure out how my food budget is impacted by eliminating the most expensive items in the grocery store from my shopping list and replacing them with alternatives that cost significantly less.
When you attempt to do a one-for-one substitution of foods from a Standard American Diet, what you might perceive to be healthy eating skyrockets in cost. A friend of mine recently commented on Facebook that she could never go vegan because a dozen vegan cupcakes cost $31. Whether you’re vegan or not, cupcakes should not have such an important place in your intake of food such that single cupcakes costing $2.60 apiece will obliterate your food budget. If you feel you must switch to organic ramen noodles from regular ramen noodles, you see that it costs $3 for a package of the organic version versus $0.25 for regular ramen. The mock meat products sold by companies like Morningstar, Boca, Gardein, Quorn, and Beyond Meat are all more expensive than the products they imitate. Such products are often lower in protein content, further fueling the voices of the critics of plant-based diets. Such products do not have a regular place in a plant-based diet. They can be used for transition, variety, convenience, or fun. These are not the everyday protein sources for vegetarians and vegans. If you consider the costs of frozen dinners, Amy’s and Sweet Earth frozen dinners cost 2-4 times as much, and the portion sizes are noticeably smaller. Anything packaged for convenience will cost more, regardless of its nutritional value. If this is how you perceive healthy eating, eating healthy becomes expensive.
The “Affordability Axiom” is often used as the cop-out for neglecting to make healthy choices. Frugality is noble, right? However, in an extensive study done by Andrea Carlson and Elizabeth Frazão for the USDA, it was determined that healthy food actually costs less. I did my own comparison shopping one day and found that fresh fruit actually costs less than junk food and candy. This comparison was done in the store, on the same day. When you consider how junk food is typically purchased, the cost of avoiding healthy food increases even more. There is a significant markup for the same products in vending machines and the college campus convenience store.
Regular People Can be Vegan Too
I think it’s wonderful that people who have influence and reach greater than mine are advocating for plant-based diets. However, it hurts my cause too. When there is a widespread perception that eating healthier is more expensive and vegan is the most expensive way to eat, A-list celebrities promoting their vegan diets are not helping.
Instead of talking about your favorite celebrities and professional athletes, it would be better for me to talk about regular people like you and me who are eating healthier. In a recent survey by the Vegetarian Resource Group, it was found that among those surveyed, 54% of vegetarians in the United States earn less than $50,000 a year. This is not the diet of the rich. If you consider how income is distributed in the United States, that 54% represents a much larger number of people than the 46% of vegetarians making more than $50,000 a year. Eating a whole food plant-based diet is more affordable than you think.