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Is a Plant-Based Diet More Expensive?

Updated on September 4, 2017

When I was 10, I learned what veganism was. I thought it was weird, who doesn't eat meat? Or any animal products at all? I was told it was gross, expensive, and worthless to eat a plant-based diet. I believed this up until I was 18 when I did my own research and started experimenting with different foods and recipes. I learned I do really like eating plant-based products, more so than I did normal cheeses and meats. But the question of "is this more expensive" still lingered over my head.

Last night I decided to put my thinking cap on and do some comparisons, and what I saw was pretty interesting.


The Numbers...

In 2013, out of 318 million Americans, 25.8 billion pounds of beef, 23.2 billion pounds of pork, 5.8 billion pounds of turkey, 38.4 billion pounds of chicken, and 286 million pounds of veal, lamb and mutton were sold. (x) This totals up to 8.6 billion chickens, 33.2 million cattle, 239.4 million turkeys, 2.3 million sheep and lambs, and 112 million hogs that were slaughtered for the consumption of their bodies and fluids. (x) I was shocked to learn how many animals were killed, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to know how much money was spent to consume these animals.

The Prices...

I decided to find the average prices of each of these categories. In 2013, the average price of beef was $5.28 a pound. (x) While these prices may vary state to state, city to city, this was the average price throughout all of the United States for this year. This totals up to $136.224 billion spent for beef.

For pork, the average price was $3.64 (x), making the average cost $117.218 billion. Turkey was on average $1.64 a pound (x) and chicken $1.49 (x), which is $9.512 billion for turkey and $57.216 billion for chicken.

Now, these numbers are averages and estimations, not completely accurate. However, this comes to around $320,170,000,000 spent on meat in the United States for the year 2013.

How Much Per Person?

A "2013 Public Policy Polling survey of 500 respondents found that 13% of Americans are either vegetarian or vegan—6% vegetarian and 7% vegan" (Public Policy Polling), so if we were to take those numbers and estimate how many meat eaters there were out of the 318 million, we would have 276,660,000 people, roughly 87%. Now, lets go back to the total annual cost of meat products in 2013- $320,170,000,000. If we were to divide that by 12 to find the average cost per month, it comes to $26,680,833,333.3. Divide that number by the "total amount of meat eaters" we found, it comes to roughly $96.44 per person per month.

Okay, I know that number is a little underwhelming, but if you take into consideration that most people buy more than just meat products, the grocery bill starts looking a little high. And yes, these numbers are subjective. Not every person who eats meat is going to spend almost a hundred dollars a month on it, and some might even spend more. This, again, is an estimated average. It is not completely true for everyone, as I'm sure people aren't saying "okay, we have exactly $96.44 to spend this month on meat, not a penny more" while they're writing up their shopping lists. I understand this number is not completely accurate.

Okay, now that we know that number, I still have not answered my initial question- is eating a plant-based diet more expensive?

Beans, Beans, The... Cheap Food?

I tried really hard to find how many pounds of soy beans and tofu were bought in 2013, but as you might imagine not that many people care. I did, however, find the total amount that was spent on soyfood products that year and that is the number I'm going with.

In 2013, there was $4.5 billion in soyfoods sales (x). If we go back to that Public Policy Polling study, roughly 13% of Americans identify as vegan or vegetarian, or 41,340,000 people. Divide the total amount of sales by the total amount of "non-meat-eaters", and we get roughly $108.85 per person anually, or roughly $9.07 monthly. Again, estimated averages. But this is for all soyfood products, which includes meat substitutes, cheese substitutes, milk substitutes, etc. This is insanely different than the average meat-eater spends on just meat per month!


Listen, food is expensive regardless of your diet. It completely depends on where and what you buy. If you go out and buy organic, non-GMO, locally sourced food of course it's going to be pricey. But from this and my own personal experience, being vegan is less expensive. If you buy in bulk, meal plan, and eliminate the useless junk that gets thrown into your shopping cart, I've found you can make an entire weeks worth of meals for less than $20 on a plant-based diet. Veganism is not more or less expensive objectively, neither is eating meat and other animal products. It solely depends on the person.

I encourage you to experiment, find what you like and don't. Fail at a couple recipes while at the same time finding your new favorite thing. A plant-based diet is not for everyone, and I'm not going to try to rip the metaphorical steak from your hands. Some people have restrictions due to conditions and allergies, which is completely understandable. But please, stop using the excuse that it's so much more expensive as a reason to not switch to a plant-based diet or vegan lifestyle.

Are You Willing To Go Vegan?

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© 2017 Audrey Shropshire


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