Wait... Does It Really Cost More To Go Partial Vegetarian?

Jayson Lusk wrote recently about a recent study he published examining whether or not vegetarians spend less on food:

"This issue is of interest because food costs are often a reason touted for reduced meat consumption. The argument is that meat is expensive and thus eschewing meat (or participating in meatless Monday, for example) will save you money."

Except…. the results Jason Lusk found weren't at all what I expected, at least with regard to part-time vegetarianism:

"...at every income level, partial vegetarians spend more than meat eaters while true vegetarians spend less (assuming same gender, household size, etc.)."

I had to wipe a big mouthful of coffee off my laptop screen after reading that. How can your food costs go up if you reduce your most expensive source of calories? This is the exact opposite of my personal experience over many years of cooking and eating (and writing) at Casual Kitchen. I'm sure many readers feel the same.

Well, fortunately, the study doesn't literally say it costs more to change to partial vegetarian. The study didn't examine households that changed from meat-every-day diets to partial vegetarian diets. Instead, the study analyzes households in a steady state. In other words, it could be the case that people who are highly mindful of the health benefits of eating less meat tend to spend more on food. Or, perhaps those partial vegetarian households who spend a lot on food now spent even more back when they were heavier meat eaters. We don't know.

Furthermore, no dietary change happens in a vacuum. When making food substitutions in your diet, if you take something out, the other things you eat will fill up the space left over. And if you replace the most expensive element of your diet with something else, your costs will go up if and only if that something is even more expensive.

Therein lies the secret. If you replace one or two steak-centered meals each week with equivalent calories from, say, bean-centered or lentil-centered meals, I personally guarantee that you will save money.

On the other hand, if you replace those steak-centered meals with meals of organic, out-of-season heirloom tomatoes, resting on a bed of cruelty-free, gently wilted, out-of-season baby spinach, all carefully dusted with stevia-sweetened, fair-trade certified Madagascar cinnamon... you're going to spend more money. A lot more money.

Am I exaggerating? Okay, okay... maybe just a little. But it makes the point clear: you have to be smart. You can't just cut out one category of foods and pay zero attention to the relative cost of what you replace it with. This is basic, first-order thinking for any budget-conscious Casual Kitchen reader.

READ NEXT: A Superior, Yet Less Expensive, Solution

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at Amazon.com via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.

No comments: