Why does veganism have an expensive reputation?

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» Why does veganism have an expensive reputation?

Veganism may be growing in popularity each year, but there are still claims from some quarters that it is an expensive lifestyle to follow. Is this diet as expensive as some people say?

Over the last few years in particular, interest in veganism has rocketed with more people following the diet in Veganuary and beyond. To meet this rising demand, supermarkets and retailers have been creating and selling more plant-based products which have given vegans a greater choice in what they eat than ever before.

As veganism has become more mainstream, there is more discussion about its merits and problems, including views on how expensive a vegan diet really is. While this dialogue in both the media and everyday discussion has helped people to become more knowledgeable about what veganism involves, it is evident that there is still a widespread perception that a vegan diet will end up costing you more money. Recent research from the University of Bath further supports this view, as expense was named alongside taste and convenience as the key reasons why meat-eaters do not switch to veganism.

But why, now products such as vegan milk, cheese, burgers, and ice-cream are common features on supermarket shelves, does this view persist?

money stacked with green plants

Although these processed vegan products can sometimes be more expensive than their meat or dairy equivalents, the increase in price is not necessarily drastic enough to warrant being branded an expensive way of eating or living. Admittedly, several years ago, many of these specialist vegan goods are likely to have cost more, but this was when they were not so readily available and could only be found in specialist stores and health shops. The situation has since changed significantly, with big-name retailers offering numerous vegan items, including cheaper, own-brand ranges. Despite this transformation, veganism’s history of being a more niche diet has likely led to the continuing belief that it will still cost a little bit extra to follow.

Influencers of opinion

Vegan celebrities and social media influencers could also reinforce the idea that veganism is an expensive and “exclusive” diet. By posting photos of their meals, which may contain some more costly, premium ingredients, these influencers could give the impression that veganism is not an everyday diet for the average person. For example, an image of a bowl filled with colourful foodstuffs looks attractive, but the cost of the fruit, vegetables, beans, seeds, dressing, and any other ingredients it may contain can all add up to a considerable sum.

The same problem can occur if vegans follow many different recipes word-for-word. Cookbooks and recipes often include a wide range of ingredients, some of them expensive, and if you purchase them all you can end up spending more than you intended on a single meal. This will particularly impact you if you buy an ingredient for a specific recipe and then don’t use it again, causing you to spend money on something that you will ultimately throw away.

However, although the impact of both influencers and recipes could lead a vegan to spend more on food, the same problems are present for any other diet. Whatever anyone eats, we all have the potential to choose more expensive food or more affordable options, but this can sometimes be forgotten in the case of veganism. Like non-vegans, vegans too can eat more cheaply, and some people try to highlight this by sharing some affordable meal ideas that are suitable for those on a budget.

New vegans

There is a chance that your shopping bills will be a little higher when you first become vegan, as you may stock up on products like vegetables, beans, and pulses that you are likely to be eating more often. Furthermore, with plenty of processed vegan products available like vegan cheese, pies, mince, steaks, and more, new vegans may end up spending more simply by trying all these different items. As vegans get more used to their new diet, this potentially expensive ‘experimental’ period is likely to be replaced with a level of spending that is comparable to their previous outgoings.

An initial rise in expenditure is a particular possibility for vegetarians becoming vegan as they would have already eliminated the expense of meat from their diet, but would still be affected by any increased prices for vegan cheese and other processed vegan products. 

Ultimately, even though a vegan diet can theoretically be expensive, the perception that veganism will automatically cost you more is not an accurate reflection of every vegan’s experience. Of course, if you shop at specialist food stores and farmer’s markets, only buy organic produce, and regularly purchase the pricier vegan substitutes, then you are likely to have a high expenditure. However, this is far from the only way to eat as a vegan.

In fact, vegan diets can work out relatively cheaply as vegetables, beans, pulses, and other staples are significantly cheaper than meat. And with the increased variety of more affordable specially-made vegan products, vegans don’t need to restrict themselves to the very cheapest, basic goods if they’re trying to keep to a budget.
Some ways that you can save money on a vegan diet are listed below:

  • Don’t just try to copy your previous meals like-for-like with vegan substitutes; try new meals and combinations
  • Buy dried goods in bulk (especially when on offer!)
  • Choose dried beans and legumes rather than tins of cooked ones
  • Replace some of your fresh fruit and vegetables with frozen
  • Think about whether you would use all of an item you purchase for a recipe; if not, see if you could leave it out or substitute it for something else
  • If possible, try growing some of your own herbs and vegetables
  • Cook from scratch and limit how many ready-made meals and food items you eat
  • Treat yourself. Sometimes, if you’re trying to save money, you often feel like you can’t justify buying any treats.

However, this can make it more difficult to keep to your budget, so setting aside a small indulgence allowance for a vegan takeaway, vegan ice-cream, or vegan pizza, can help you to save more money overall.

The Vegan Society offers further tips and information for vegans looking to shop on a budget.

By John Ellmore at NerdWallet

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