Going Vegan?

Photo via Madprime, Wikipedia

Earlier this week I read a blog post by author, health and wellness expert Kathy Freston in The Huffington Post called “Eating Vegan on the Cheap.” I thought it was good info to share with my vegan friends and anyone considering the switch to a vegan lifestyle. Then in today’s Grand Rapids Press I read an article called “Vegan in Vogue,” which cites veganism as “part of a health movement promoted increasingly by hip celebrities such as Alicia Silverstone, the authors of the Skinny Bitch book series Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, and ultra-fit sports figures such as Ironman tri-athlete Brendan Brazier.”

You can read the Press article for more the details but I thought it was important to highlight a few points made by Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine (PCRM): “If you follow a casually planned vegan diet, you will be healthier than a person who follows a meat-eating diet.” And, he insists, contrary to popular belief, that eating healthy on a vegan diet is not difficult. “You simply need to do two things,” says Barnard: “Build your diet from the four healthy food groups–vegetables, grains, legumes, and fruits. And add a multiple vitamin to ensure a source of vitamin B-12.”

That said, let’s get back to Kathy Freston’s post, which focuses on the costs of going vegan.

She says many people think a healthy diet is an expensive diet, and it doesn’t seem right that meat should be so cheap and fresh vegetables, especially organic ones, relatively expensive. (I assume she’s referring to feedlot meat as being cheap because grassfed or pastured meat is certainly not inexpensive.) Going vegan, she claims, “is not only healthier by every measure, but it can actually be considerably cheaper as well.”

For example, many staples of a vegan diet are available in grocery stores at reasonable prices.

  • Try whole grains such as quinoa, barley, or brown rice; legumes such as chickpeas, soybeans, black beans, and black-eyed peas are fairly inexpensive.
  • Buying whole grains and beans in bulk is another way to save money. Because they are full of fiber they make you feel full and satisfied, without the dangerous saturated fat of animal protein.
  • Shop for fresh vegetables and fruits at supermarkets and farmers’ markets.

Freston claims that “the general populations who eat these simple diets may get waterborne illnesses and lung infections from bad environmental conditions, but they don’t have anywhere near the rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes that we have — until they are exposed to our Western diet, that is.” So switching to a vegan diet can also save you in healthcare costs.

[My personal caveat to the previous paragraph is that I believe the food causing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes is primarily processed and that the meat, eggs, and dairy products come from factory farms. While I’m not a vegan, I have certainly cut back on my meat consumption. And, I only eat grassfed and/or pastured meat–that is, meat from animals raised without hormones, antibiotics or stress in a natural environment with room to roam and plenty of grass to eat.]

Finally, here are some tips suggested by Freston to help vegans save money when shopping:

  • Shop seasonally: Produce in season is almost always less expensive than out-of-season produce because it’s more abundant.
  • Avoid pre-packaged foods: They’re always more expensive than the whole foods (and a waste of packaging).
  • Watch produce prices: Locally grown fruits and vegetables sometimes cost less than imported produce, while at other times imported produce saves you a lot. (But be mindful of the food’s carbon footprint–how far it had to travel to you.)
  • Shop at farmers’ markets: They’re great places to find fresh, in-season, and locally grown produce for cheap. Shop at the end of the market day, when growers may be willing to sell their produce at a discount, rather than having to pack it up and take it home.
  • Try frozen veggies: They are often cheaper than fresh ones, and they can actually be more nutritious, because the veggies are frozen right after they’re picked, preserving vitamins that are lost in transporting fresh veggies from the farm to the store.
  • Value your time: People tend to think that eating fast food is less time consuming–an illusion reinforced by fast-food company advertising. In reality, the time that you spend driving to a fast-food restaurant and then idling in a drive-through could just as easily be spent at home with your family, cooking a simple meal.
  • Build a menu: Rotate the same menu of dishes every week, for ease of preparation and to simplify grocery shopping. Once you’ve got that set menu of favorite vegan meals, prep time is quick.

If you’re thinking about going vegan, both Freston and the Grand Rapids Press offer some resources that might be of interest to you:

Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World by Kathy Freston

Vegan Diner: Classic Comfort Food for the Body and Soul by Julie Hasson



“Kickstart Your Health with Dr. Neal Barnard” on PBS


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