I often hear people criticizing vegan diets as “elitist” or “expensive.” Those of us who are vegan know that nothing could be farther from the truth. Legumes, rice, potatoes, corn, and other vegetables have sustained humans for millennia. They are very inexpensive compared to animal flesh and secretions. But people have to see for themselves just how inexpensive eating this way can be.
I joined a local organization called PORCH that provides food to hungry families in my area. I normally shop at my local farmers’ market, supplemented with items from the bulk bin at my local co-op and some packaged goods from Trader Joe’s. But PORCH wanted specific packaged goods that are not what I typically buy. So I went to Food Lion, a low-price grocery store chain that is ubiquitous in North Carolina. I piled what I considered the healthiest packaged items I could find into my cart. Here’s what I ended up with:
6 cans of diced tomatoes
6 cans of corn
6 cans of spinach
1 16.3-ounce jar of creamy peanut butter
1 18-ounce canister of quick oats
3 1-pound bags of brown rice
3 1-pound bags of pinto beans
I paid $22.78 for the entire purchase.
I then entered the food into my recipe software to see how nutritious it was. It turns out that the food I purchased had a total of 13,374 calories. Because Nutrition Facts are generally derived for a 2,000 calorie per day diet, I divided by 2,000 and discovered that I had enough food to feed one person 2229 calories per day for six days, or a family of six for one day. All for $3.80 per person, per day.
But what about protein? Each day, a person eating 1/6th of the food on this list would get 159% of their Daily Value for protein. They would also get 217% of their Daily Value for fiber, and 145% of their Daily Value for iron. This food provides excellent amounts, and in some cases, many times the daily value for most vitamins and minerals. In addition, it is low in saturated fat and has zero cholesterol. All that for a bunch of inexpensive, easily obtainable packaged items that I quickly assembled in my cart. Just think if I could donate fresh fruits and vegetables as well. (I can and do, but it’s through another organization, Farmer Foodshare at my local Farmers’ Market.)
Now, suppose instead of eating the food listed above, a person decided that the quickest, cheapest way to eat was to follow the herd and eat fast food. I looked at the nutrition in eating an Egg McMuffin with a large coffee with two creams and two sugars for breakfast, a Whopper, large fries, and large Coke for lunch, and KFC Chicken Tenders, coleslaw, and a large Sprite for dinner. That day of meals costs $15.86 per person. It also weighs in at 2,550 calories, with 157% of the Daily Value for saturated fat and 121% of the Daily Value for cholesterol. Oh, and it has less protein than the vegan food listed above: 70.24 grams, versus 79.67 grams. It also has less calcium. Who knew? It has less than half the fiber a person needs each day, and only about 2/3 the iron they need. It is woefully lacking in vitamin A and vitamin C, important antioxidants that are abundant in the vegan food. In fact, it is deficient in most vitamins and minerals. And that last bastion of contempt against vegan diets, vitamin B12? It has only 3% of the Daily Value. So when you hear the argument that vegan diets aren’t complete because vegans need supplemental B12, realize that eating animal flesh and secretions rarely leads to a more nutritionally complete diet, but instead leads to more saturated fat and more cholesterol. It almost always leads to more calories, less fiber, and deficiencies in many vitamins and minerals.
So, do everyone a favor the next time you have hungry humans to feed, whether it is yourself, your loved ones, or strangers: buy nutritious, delicious, inexpensive, whole plant foods.