One of the most common reasons why people don’t make the change to veganism is the belief that a plant-based diet is expensive. I know there are plenty of vegans and vegetarians reading this and laughing, since they know grocery bills can be cut in half after starting a plant-based diet. They are probably saying, “Yes, plant-based diets are so cheap and cost less in the long run!”
But, is this true for everyone?
I created this site to not only provide tips and inspiration for those interested in a plant-based lifestyle, but to shed light and break down this vegan elitism that stops people from believing that veganism is not for them. Cost is a very important factor to this issue, and I believe it’s a factor that supports vegan elitism at its best.
So, if you are looking for great tips on how to cut your grocery bill in half with plant-based foods, don’t worry! I will cover that in another post!
But, humor me for a bit, and read on to find out just why living a healthy, plant-based life in our country has such great costs and is completely out of reach for many Americans. Even better, find out just what you can do to change this reality.
Now, for some hard truth – go ahead and ask me. Whitney, are plant-based diets expensive? The answer is:
In 2013, Harvard researchers conducted a systematic review, in which they concluded healthy diet patterns, consisting mostly of fruits and vegetables, costs $1.50 more a day to maintain.
Now, for many of you reading this, this $1.50 difference may seem insignificant, or even non-existent, especially, if you are able to complete your grocery shopping at a grocery store with a large variety of fruits, vegetables, and healthy foods.
But, for those millions of people living in designated food deserts, $1.50 can be the one, true barrier to a healthy plant-based lifestyle. Let’s do the math. $1.50 per day equals an additional $550 per year, per person, just to eat a healthier diet.
Let’s explore a couple of reasons why, but first, we have to tackle two things.
What is a food desert?
The Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) Working Group defines a food desert as:
“[A] low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. To qualify as low income, census tracts must meet the Treasury Department’s New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program eligibility criteria. Furthermore, to qualify as a food desert tract, at least 33 percent of the tract’s population or a minimum of 500 people in the tract must have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.
Low access to a healthy food retail outlet is defined as more than 1 mile from a supermarket or large grocery store in urban areas and as more than 10 miles from a supermarket or large grocery store in rural areas….”
What the heck is the U.S. Farm Bill?
The U.S. Farm Bill, officially known as the U.S. Agricultural Act of 2014, is legislation that covers the spending for categories such as nutrition, crops, conservation, and trade. (For a complete list of what the Farm Bill covers, click here.)
The Farm Bill expires every five years and is updated by Congress and signed into law by the President. Though the Farm Bill was originally created during President Franklin Roosevelt’s term, as a solution to the countries food deficiency in the Great Depression, the Farm Bill has shaped American agriculture and the current nutritional system of our country.
(Read more about the U.S. Farm Bill here.)
(Read the actual legislation here.)
So, what’s the problem?
Under the US Farm Bill, the U.S. government provides financial subsidies (money) to farmers who farm commodity products, which include corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice – as well as dairy and sugar. These commodities are generally used to create processed foods, and to feed the animals who are killed for meat and raped for dairy. This, in turn, entices farmers to grow more and more of these commodities.
As the supply grows, the processed food created becomes cheaper to make, and therefore, cheaper to the consumer (you.) As well, the increase supply of these commodity items lowers the cost for meat farmers to feed the animals.
Now, fruits and vegetables are categorized separately from these commodity crops as specialty crops. Though the recent US Farm Bill, has increased the amount of money put towards special commodities and organic farming, it in no way, can match the financial support given to the commodities.
If there are fewer farmers to grow these specialty crops and less financial assistance to help them do so, the supply is lower, and, in turn, the price of fruits and vegetables are higher for the consumer.
Cost of Food Production
When you talk about the cost of food, you have to factor in the costs to get the food to the consumer in the grocery store or at a restaurant.
Not only are fruits and vegetables more labor intensive to grow and harvest, they tend to have a higher production cost due to their fragility and their short shelf life.
Compare this to unhealthy, processed foods which are manufactured without intense labor and have a shelf life of months, or even years.
Another component to food production includes the marketing and branding of the food item. Money must be spent to successfully market food items to consumers. Fruits and vegetables are much more difficult for companies to market and brand, which can make the sale of fruits and vegetables less profitable for companies.
When’s the last time you saw a commercial for an apple or for kale?
And yes, you guessed it! If the cost to produce the fruits and vegetables from the farm to the table is higher, the cost of fruits and vegetables to the consumer will be higher.
So, how can we change this?
Simple. Buy more fruits and vegetables.
Okay, not that simple, but if I were to simplify it, here’s how this would work:
Our agricultural system has an economic basis, driven on a supply and demand model. By buying more fruits and vegetables, we create a higher demand for these crops, while at the same time, lowering our demand for meat, dairy, and processed foods that are in abundance now.
To meet the demand, supply must be increased, pushing more farmers to harvest fruits and vegetables. As traditional economic models go, a supply increase creates a price decrease.
Therefore, the more people buying fruits and vegetables, the lower the price of those fruits and vegetables
But Whitney, how will the price decrease if the cost of production is still high?
Well, this factor can be attacked from two angles – Vegan activism and legislation reformation.
With an increase in demand for fruits and vegetables, companies can realize the marketability and profitability from fruits and vegetables.
Here is where promoting veganism can be very important. The vegan lifestyle can create a branding strategy for large companies to step behind and entice them to put more money towards the fruit and vegetable industry. This is evident from the number of major companies starting to create plant-based food products as a result of the growing demand (ex. Ben & Jerry’s Vegan ice-cream.) More and more people who move towards a plant-based lifestyle will push companies to produce more plant-based products.
Companies follow the money people!
A push for legislation reform is also absolutely necessary. In the recent U.S. Farm Bill, the government allocated $44.4 billion for commodity crops (over 10 years), in comparison to the $75 million per year (over 5 years) for specialty crops and horticulture. As I previously stated, the recent Farm Bill has allocated a larger amount to this category, but with the designation to organic farming and research.
The problem is this. Our government fails to (financially) support the very fruits and vegetables that have been proven to make us stronger and healthier. Instead, it continues to over-fund not only the meat and dairy industry, but the processed, junk food industry that is killing our bodies slowly. This failure to fund has resulted in the ability to maintain a healthy, plant-based lifestyle out of the reach on many.
What should you take away from this post?
- Promote veganism! An increase in demand for plant-based foods can have tremendous positive effects on the state of our agriculture system.
- Keep buying fruits and vegetables!
- Most importantly, vegan activism can’t be solely about protesting for the animals. Let’s push for legislation reform in areas that are providing indirect support of the animal-slaughtering industries. MORE SUPPORT for the specialty crops!