I have been asked this question a few times and it’s definitely a critical one to explore. There is definitely a not so uncommon perspective that vegan diets are really expensive to sustain. This can be both true and totally false. It depends on how you live and choose to shop. Eating meat and dairy can also be very expensive depending on what you are buying and where. The notion of vegan eating being prohibitively expensive is usually rooted in unfamiliarity about that way of eating.
Shopping at specialty stores (whether you are vegan or not) will definitely up your bill, right? I remember when we were living in the States, I really enjoyed shopping at Whole Foods sometimes, but I knew I would need to be prepared for some sticker shock and as anyone familiar with this store knows, it’s not exclusively vegan by any means. Higher prices were a well known hallmark of the store.
When I first became vegan, I was very excited about every product I could find at mainstream grocery stores labelled “vegan”. Meat analogs (a.k.a. fake meat), cookies, vegan butter, chips etc etc. I always enjoyed some basic staples in my diet- grains, legumes, veggies- but in becoming vegan, I was thrilled to find I could still “indulge” in so many products. A lot of times these products can indeed be pricey, especially if you also enjoy shopping with organic, non-GMO labels in mind. I often felt that paying a bit more for a better quality product was absolutely worth it.
Which, for me, begs the question to meat eaters- why is meat sometimes so cheap? What goes on in this industry that leads to the price of animal meat sometimes being worth so little (e.g. notoriously in fast food industry but as well as packaged meat)? Knowing a bit about the meat and dairy industry, I know some of the (economically driven) answers to this question but I think it is reflexively a very important one to also explore for those questioning the expense of a vegan diet.
On my own journey I have now experienced first hand that making dishes with a Whole Foods Plant-Based approach can actually be more affordable than meat and dairy based diets as well as more affordable than a vegan way of eating that includes many “specialty” products that are heavily processed. Earlier this year my family and I moved to Sweden. We left the USA with no jobs lined up and savings just to get us through a couple seasons as we looked for a home and work.
We had been used to living a fairly comfortable life and not grocery shopping on a budget, but now we had to be really careful. We couldn’t just walk into a grocery store and put whatever we wanted in the cart. It was during this time that I began eating meals focused more on legumes, vegetables, fruits and grains- it was simply more affordable!!
Now that the cold seasons have arrived here in Scandinavia, produce is of course still diverse (as products are shipped from all over the world) but definitely more limited in terms of what’s affordable which I like to pay attention to. I have always enjoyed learning about what produce is in season in the region where I live and incorporating those ingredients into my diet. And eating like this can be very affordable and, when you get into it, very creative.
*I used this photo I shot on the Big Island a few years ago of various fruits for this post because I think the relationship between affordability and availability of fresh and local fruits and vegetables is very important in a whole food plant based diet – which I am leaning more into learning about and incorporating into my life (as opposed to only focusing on what’s “vegan” which can include a whole range of heavily processed and unhealthy foods too). Living in a place like the Big Island is a dream and so extraordinarily practical for this way of eating. Farmer’s markets are frequent, with a diverse range of locally grown produce at often very affordable prices. I remember living in Hilo as a university student in my early 20’s and each week going to the downtown Hilo’s farmer market and coming home with easily 2-3 bags loaded up with lush, beautiful local produce for around 20-25 dollars. I typically like to eat what’s local and in season and having lived all over the world, including many cold weather places (I am now back living in Sweden), I know what a challenge this can be and so I do turn to frozen vegetables and also enjoy getting familiar and creative with root vegetables and the range of other veggies that can be grown and harvested in the cold months.