More and more people are interested in adopting a vegan diet. It’s healthy, it’s good for the planet, and it’s kind to animals. Maybe you want to give it a try, but are wondering if you can afford it.
Overall, being a vegan does not have to be more expensive than being a meat-eater. I conducted a cost comparison analysis and concluded that it costs $44.29 less to eat vegan, based on my shopping list below, if you choose whole, non-mock-meat foods like lentils, rice, beans, tofu, etc.
A vegan diet can cost more if you lean on mock-meat, processed products. My analysis of 19 such fake meat products (see further below) showed that they cost $31.19 more than their meat counterparts. Assuming you are willing to eat food other than mock meats, you will save money. And over your lifetime, you may save money on healthcare costs due to the health advantages of eating vegan.
Cost Comparison of High-Protein, Whole Vegan Foods with Meat, Poultry, Pork and Fish
Here is a chart comparing a number of high-protein vegan foods and popular meat options, plus eggs.
The comparisons in this chart aren’t 1:1; meaning you can compare any food in the Non-Vegan column with any food in the Vegan column. I paired them randomly. The most expensive option is a seasoned and prepared seitan, as it was the only seitan available on Target.com; but less processed versions are available at other stores at a lower cost.
|Non-Vegan Food||Non-Vegan Food Cost||Vegan Option||Vegan Option Food Cost||Cost Difference||$ Difference|
|Ground Beef (1 lb. cooked = 20 ounces raw) (Laura’s Lean price adjusted for 20 ounces)||$9.36||Lentils (1 lb. cooked = 1/2 pound dry) (Good and Gather price adjusted for 1/2 pound)||$0.50||($8.86)||(947%)|
|Chicken Breast (1 lb. cooked = 20 ounces raw) (Good and Gather boneless skinless price adjusted for 20 ounces)||$3.74||Chick Peas (Garbonzo Beans) (1 lb. cooked = 1/3 lb. dry) (Good and Gather price adjusted for 1/3 lb. dry)||$0.33||($3.41)||(912%)|
|Sirloin Steak (1 lb. cooked = 20 ounces raw) (Good and Gather USDA Choice Top price adjusted for 20 ounces)||$14.99||Quinoa (1 lb. cooked = 1/3 lb. dry) (Good and Gather Organic Rainbow price adjusted for 1/3 dry)||$1.65||($13.34)||(890%)|
|Salmon (1 lb. cooked = 20 ounces raw) (Encore Foods Wild Alaskan price adjusted for 20 ounces)||$18.74||Tofu (Good and Gather organic extra firm price adjusted for 1 lb.)||$2.27||($16.47)||(879%)|
|Eggs (1 lb. cooked = 8 eggs) (Good and Gather price adjusted for 8 eggs)||$0.86||Brown Rice (Good and Gather Long Grain Brown Rice price adjusted for dry)||$0.25||($0.61)||(709%)|
|Frozen Burger Patties (Good and Gather price adjusted for 4 count)||$7.33||Black Bean Burger (versus mock meat) (Morning Star Farms 4 count)||$4.39||($2.94)||(401%)|
|Pork (1 lb. cooked = 20 ounces raw) (Boneless Pork Chops price adjusted for 20 ounces)||$6.65||Seitan (Upton’s Naturals Chorizo Crumbles price adjusted for 1 lb.)||$7.99||$1.34||20%|
In this comparison, the vegan diet is almost 4x less expensive than the meat diet. Whole plant foods are typically much cheaper than meat, poultry, pork or fish. A 1-lb. bag of rice could feed you dinner 11 nights in a row (1 lb. of dry rice yields 11 cups cooked), for just 8 cents a serving!
Of course, you can’t live on rice alone; but your main protein is significantly less expensive with rice and most vegan options than meat. If the above list were your weekly grocery bill, you’d save $2,303.08 a year.
With the vegan foods on the above list, you are getting whole fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the plants. With mock meat you are getting…a lot of weird stuff. Those products are highly processed, and the main ingredients are often oil, vital wheat gluten, soy protein isolate or other chemical entities that you cannot buy off the shelf at your local grocery store.
The exceptions are meat-like products that are made with whole foods, such as veggie burgers made with beans, quinoa, mushrooms or other whole plants. These are healthy, delicious, and quite affordable ways to eat conveniently as a vegan. As always, read the labels and take food quality and nutrition into account when you are evaluating the cost of vegan versus meat foods.
Cost Comparison of Vegan Meat and Dairy Substitutes With the Real Thing
Many fake meat foods are more expensive than their counterparts. Here is a shopping list for 19 items you can purchase online at Target as of this writing, with a cost comparison of the animal product and its vegan substitute. The vegan “chicken nuggets,” “ground beef” and “fish sticks” are actually less expensive than the non-vegan options.
In this hypothetical shopping list, I tried to choose similar types of foods for the comparisons. For example, I compared the vegan “butter” spread to Country Crock spread versus real butter. And I compared a veggie pizza to a veggie pizza versus a pepperoni pizza. I chose popular brand names where I could, or compared store brands to each other to make the “competition” as fair as possible.
|Non-Vegan Food||Non-Vegan Food Cost||Vegan Version||Vegan Version Cost||Vegan Version Cost Adjusted to Match Quantity||% Difference|
(For Quantity-Adjusted Vegan Version versus Non-Vegan Version)
|Milk (1/2 gallon of 2% Good and Gather)||$1.39||Almond Milk (1/2 gallon Almond Breeze)||$3.19||$3.19||129%|
|Coffee Creamer (Coffee Mate 1 quart)||$3.59||Soy Coffee Creamer (Silk Vanilla 1 quart)||$3.99||$3.99||11%|
|Butter spread (Country Crock Original 15 ounces)||$2.49||Buttery Spread (Earth Balance Original 15 ounces)||$4.79||$4.79||92%|
|Cheese Slices (Good and Gather Mild Cheddar 8 ounces)||$2.49||Cheese Slices (Daiya Cheddar Style 7.8 ounces)||$4.99||$5.12||106%|
|Shredded Parmesan (Good and Gather 5 ounces)||$3.99||Shredded Parmesan (Follow Your Heart 4 ounces)||$4.99||$6.24||56%|
|Vanilla Yogurt (Yoplait 6 ounces)||$0.59||Vanilla Yogurt (So Delicious Coconut Milk 5.3 ounces)||$1.69||$1.91||224%|
|Ice Cream (Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough 16 ounces)||$4.49||Ice Cream (Ben and Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough 16 ounces)||$4.79||$4.79||7%|
|Whipped Topping (Reddi Whip Original 6.5 ounces)||$2.69||Whipped Topping (Reddi Wip Non-Dairy 6 ounces)||$3.59||$3.89||47%|
|Mayonnaise (Kraft 12 ounces)||$2.99||Mayonnaise (Primal Kitchen 12 ounces)||$8.89||$8.89||197%|
|Eggs (Good and Gather dozen)||$1.29||Just Eggs (Vegan liquid eggs 12 ounces; the equivalent of 8 eggs)||$3.99||$5.99||364%|
|Frozen Burger Patties (Good and Gather 6 count)||$10.99||Frozen Burger Patties (Impossible 6 count)||$13.49||$13.49||23%|
|Chicken Nuggets (Kid Fresh 14 ounces)||$6.49||Nuggets (Incogmeato (13.5 ounces)||$5.69||$5.90||(9%)|
|Ground Beef (Laura’s Lean 1 lb.)||$7.49||Plant-based Ground (Good and Gather 1 lb.)||$5.99||$5.99||(20%)|
|Fish Sticks (Kidfresh 7.4 ounces)||$3.99||F’sh Filets(Gardein Fishless 10.1 ounces)||$4.19||$3.07||(23%)|
|Turkey Slices (Oscar Mayer Oven Roasted Turkey Breast 9 ounces)||$3.99||Deli Slices (Tofurky Hickory Smoked 5.5 ounces)||$2.99||$4.89||23%|
|Bacon (Oscar Mayer fully cooked 2.52 ounces)||$4.29||Bacon Strips (Morning Star Farm frozen 5.25 ounces)||$4.39||$2.11||(51%)|
|Sausage (Jimmy Dean Regular Pork Roll 16 ounces)||$3.99||Beyond Sausage (Beyond Meat Links 14 ounces)||$8.99||$10.27||157%|
|Frozen Dinner: |
Mac and Cheese (Stouffer’s 12 ounces)
|$2.59||Frozen Dinner: Cauliflower Mac and Cheese Bowl (Contains no pasta: Tatooed Chef 10 ounces)||$4.99||$5.99||131%|
|Frozen Pizza (Good and Gather Tomato and Arugula 15.3 ounces)||$5.99||Frozen Pizza (Sweet Earth Veggie Lovers Vegan 15.3 ounces)||$6.49||$6.49||8%|
For further confirmation of the general findings of this analysis, consider a more comprehensive study that a website called Joybird did in 2020. They found that on average, across all states except Hawaii, the items on a vegan grocery list similar to the one above cost, on average, $12.02 more than non-vegan items.
Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona and Michigan were the most expensive states for buying vegan food alternatives. Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada and New Hampshire were the most expensive states. But in these states, we are talking only a couple of dollars more or less than the $12.02 national average.
Is it Expensive to Eat Vegan at Restaurants?
Eating vegan at restaurants can be the same or less expensive than eating meat when you are out at restaurants. While an Impossible Burger or Beyond Burger may be similar in price to other burgers on the menu, most vegan options will be cheaper than most meat options.
If you go to an all-vegan restaurant, you may find your check will be comparable to that at eating at other restaurants that provide a similar level of food quality and service.
Are Vegan Meal Delivery Services More Expensive?
Vegan Meal Delivery Services are not more expensive than their non-vegan counterparts. The website The Spruce Eats has an up-to-date review of 6 Vegan and 8 non-Vegan meal delivery services on their website. The prices range as follows:
- Vegan: $2.50-$11.99/meal (I’m excluding one option that was $27.25 because it includes supplements and teas and is therefore not comparable). Check it out here: https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-vegan-meal-delivery-services-4707124.
- Non-vegan: $4.69-$11.99/meal. https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-meal-delivery-services-4691339.
As you can see, you can choose a vegan meal delivery service that is within the range of the non-vegan services.
Are There Other Costs of Being a Vegan Aside from the Food?
Vitamin supplements are an additional cost to be a vegan. Vegans can’t get vitamin B12 from their diets, so they must take a B12 supplement daily. Expect to pay $8-$20 for a monthly supply. My favorite two brands are:
- Realine, available on amazon here: https://amzn.to/3BaHj2E. I like Realine becuase it doesn’t have such crazy high amounts of the vitamins as most B-complexes do. It also includes Taurine, which can be difficult for vegans to get with food.
- Thorne Basic B Complex, available on amazon here: https://amzn.to/3zln69I. Thorne is one of my favorite vitamin brands. They are the only supplement manfacturer to collaborate with the Mayo Clinic on research and content, they say, and are used by 100 professional sports teams and 11 Olympic teams.
Health and Environmental Costs of Eating Meat
This article has focused on the immediate, personal costs of eating meat. But there are bigger and very real costs to consider. A recent analysis by the University of Oxford found that if Americans switched to a plant-based diet, our economy could benefit to the tune of 1-31 trillion U.S. dollars. That’s trillion with a “T.” And yes, it’s a big range; but still! $31 trillion is 14% of the global GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
That’s because a plant-based diet has been shown again and again, in multitudes of peer-reviewed scholarly journals, to be healthier. It can reduce the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and many more chronic diseases. Given the cost of healthcare in the U.S., imagine the cost savings if you can avoid getting diabetes or cancer through a healthier diet.
Meat production is also more expensive, and leaves a bigger carbon footprint on the planet.
How to Save Money on a Vegan Diet
The health and financial benefits of eating a whole-food, plant-based or vegan diet are well-substantiated. If you want to read just one book on why, I recommend “How Not To Die” by Dr. Michael Greger, who is a physician and owner of the excellent Nutrition.org website. Check it out here on amazon. It provides all the benefits of a plant-based diet across a wide range of health parameters.
Here are some tips on saving money on a vegan diet:
- Buy whole foods versus processed mock or fake meats
- Cook at home versus buying prepared meals like frozen dinners
- You don’t need exotic ingredients or spices; choose recipes that use ingredients you can easly find at WalMart or Target
- Buy in bulk. Healthy vegan foods like lentils, quinoa, rice and beans store very well
- Buy produce in season. It’s cheaper.
- Use coupons. Find them through your store’s loyalty program, online, or in the fliers when you first walk into the store
- If you are an amazon Prime member, you get discounts at Whole Foods
- Consider joining an online store program like Thrive Market, that charges a membership fee but offers reduced prices on a large variety of healthy food option
I hope this article convinces you that cost should not prevent you from adopting a vegan or plant-based diet; if anything, it’s another reason to go for it!
Wishing you good health!
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- Cobenefits of global dietary changeMarco Springmann, H. Charles J. Godfray, Mike Rayner, Peter ScarboroughProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2016, 113 (15) 4146-4151; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1523119113.