An important underlying factor impacting this question is someone’s personal circumstances: are they in a position to choose what they eat, or do they have no choice about what they eat?
People who have no choice about what they eat
There are many people on our planet, who, for one reason or another, aren’t able to choose what they eat. A few examples:
People in developing nations where animal products are relied upon for sustenance, or people in areas that are facing food shortages
People who rely upon food from shelters, food pantries, subsidized school lunch, or soup kitchens
People who are incarcerated or institutionalized (even though their food choices are supposed to be respected)
Kids whose parents won’t or aren’t able to provide vegan food
People who are barely getting by, and have no bandwidth to deal with evaluating their food choices
When somebody has no choice about what they eat, that’s typically a sign that they are in a difficult or dire situation. Everybody should be able to live with some sense of security and dignity, but often that’s not the case for people who find themselves in a position where they have no choice about what they eat. Whether people are meat-eaters, veggies, or vegans, they deserve to live lives that aren’t so desperate that they lack basic agency.
This is a huge problem, but luckily there are many ways to help. In addition to international aid programs, even in my mid-sized city there are multiple organizations on the ground every day who are helping eliminate food deserts and give immediate aid to people in need. There are definitely similar organizations in your town, too. Please help these folks out in whatever way you’re able.
People who do have a choice about what they eat
For those of us who are fortunate enough not to be in such dire circumstances, everything we decide to eat is a choice. (Even when it doesn’t feel like it, Mr. Pringles Guy.)
While there are many reasons why we might choose to eat one thing over another, price is a biggie. So concern about the cost of eating vegan is certainly warranted.
Of course, when we calculate the cost of something, dollars aren’t the only factor. Just as important (if not more important) is the time and energy we spend on something. In that sense, you could definitely argue that veganism is more expensive. Choosing to change your diet and lifestyle involves effort: you’re basically figuring out what to buy/cook/order all over again, and you may have to change many of your habits. Even though you’ll eventually form new habits, that transition period can be rough.
This is absolutely true. New vegans do have to figure stuff out. Upon going vegan, I spent the first two weeks freaking out that there was nothing “creamy” I could eat… until I discovered vegan sour cream, cream cheese, ranch, mayo, and the almighty power of guac, and I could breathe a sigh of relief.
However, many of us also underestimate how much effort and energy it takes not to be vegan. While this sounds hard to believe, being vegan actually takes less effort for me than it took to be a vegetarian or a meat eater (as I discuss here, in the ‘something helpful’ section).
But dollars matter, too. If you’ve ever wandered into one of those fancy-pants raw restaurants, where the prices are terrifying and the food is tiny, you probably assume that only bazillionaires can be vegan. While I totally get where that misconception comes from, it’s actually quite the opposite!
There’s a reason that many cost-conscious diets center around staples like rice, beans, and local veggies: these things are very affordable compared to meat and dairy. In extreme cases, you can get by on as little as $1.50/day. Back when I was a vegetarian, I was on a (not quite so intense) $50/week food budget, and guess what? I just naturally ended up eating vegan, because those foods were more affordable. For people who aren’t on as strict of a budget, you’re still likely to see your grocery bill go down if you switch from animal-based to plant-based foods. This isn’t why I decided to make the shift, but it’s still a great bonus prize.
Even when you’re eating out, there are plenty of affordable options. The veggie/vegan dish is almost always the cheapest thing on the menu (woohoo!). Burritos, burritos, burritos are a vegan go-to, and Subway is a reliable option on the fast-food side of things (where, of course, the veggie delight is the cheapest thing on the menu).
So, despite what you may have heard, veganism is far more likely to help your bank account than hurt it. If you’re still curious, there are many online resources that discuss how to eat vegan on a budget. Searching will yield tons of results, but here’s one example that has some good tips.