Monday, December 5, 2011

Should You Go Vegetarian to Save Money?

I recently came across this article on the online edition of Good, a highly entertaining and thought-provoking publication.  In it, the author looks at a comparison by LearnVest of four different diets:  meat-eating, pescetarian, vegetarian, and vegan.  The idea is to find out if one diet is appreciably cheaper than another.

On the face of it, there is a marked difference.  Meat-eating comes in at $14.65 per day, while veganism comes in at $11.15, a difference of $3.50 per day.  If you are not new to frugality (and you probably aren't if you've been reading this blog for a while), you can see that this seems an obvious latte-sized change in your diet that could save $105 a month.

But wait.  Let's look at the diets a little closer.  One fault of the actually-pretty-helpful chart is that it assumes that an individual will eat according to their philosophy at every meal.  That is, the meat eater wants an egg and three strips of bacon at breakfast, while the vegan is having oatmeal and blueberries.  That alone accounts for $0.95 difference between the meal plans, and it points out the value of making your decisions meal by meal.

Let's take me as an example.  Philosophically, I'm a meat eater.  I don't have a moral problem with eating meat, particularly if I know that the animal was treated as well as possible during its life (which means allowing cows to eat grass and chickens to eat bugs, but that is another blog post).  (If you have a philosophical issue with eating animals, then I respect that, and clearly this is not the meal-planning category for you.)

However, if I am philosophically a meat-eater, I certainly am not one in practice.  Although I will eat any cured, spiced meat from any culture, the opportunity doesn't really arise that much. The last time I had three strips of bacon for breakfast was in July, when we were on vacation and planning to walk all day and negate the calories.  In reality, my eating practice is much more vegetarian, with some days of pescetarian behavior. 

On the other end of the spectrum, I find many things attractive about veganism, but I just like cheese too much.  Sorry, that's shallow, but that's reality.  Cheese, honey, and chicken stock are all important parts of my diet, and I can't give them up.  (Full disclosure:  for health and philosophical reasons, I buy hormone-free cheeses and raw honey, and I make my own chicken stock.)

So where does that put me, if I am a diet-budget guinea pig?  Well, our chart would indicate that I'm hovering somewhere in the $12.50 per day range most of the time, balanced out with some days of meat eating and some days of accidental veganism.

But let me tell you this:  If I spend $12.50 a day on my own, individual meals other than on vacation, I would be horrified.  I've been tracking the expenditures here on the microfarm, and Mr. FC&G and I regularly spend between $11 and $14 (conveniently, the approximate boundaries of this study) per day on groceries for the two of us, and that counts paper products and health/beauty supplies.  Mr. FC&G is a regular meat-eater, too, and we generally buy grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, and free-range, organic eggs.

To me, that indicates a big take-away from this study that is not obvious on first blush.  First, yes, you can positively impact your budget by staying away from the high-dollar proteins, which are generally meats.  Heck, if you are a meat-eater who has to have animal protein at every meal, you can just omit the bacon at breakfast five days out of seven and save $32 a month.  Use that savings to lay in some grass-fed ground beef at $5 per pound (the price around here), and you will have six pounds of much healthier meat to put on your table. 

More important, however, is the role that gardening and bulk purchasing plays in the diet.  Even with a pretty pathetic garden harvest this year, we have been able to eat many of our meals with the addition of garden produce that is worth, on a retail basis, much more than the inputs it took to grow it.  Add to that the economy of making larger batches of anything you cook (I'll bet I can make a fajita of any kind for less than the $5.80 they budget for the tofu version), and you have some real grocery savings.

So should you go vegetarian to save money?  Maybe.  Maybe you should have one day a week that is vegetarian; that's what the Meatless Monday movement is all about.  Maybe it should be one meal a day; no one needs that much bacon!  But whatever your philosophy, it appears that the best way to save money is to cook at home (and from scratch as much as possible), buy responsibly-produced products in bulk (whatever that means for your family), and grow what you can.  From a financial standpoint, these are the real money-savers.  Whether you want lox on your bagel then becomes a matter of taste and philosophy.

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  1. Thank you for your wise post which really resonated with me. I have used a link to this post in my blog post tonight.

    Even though we are in a different hemisphere and very different climate in enjoy reading about your microfarm and other thoughtful posts.

  2. Aww, thank you so much for the kind words and the link, Fairy! I appreciate your regular visits and insightful comments.