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Home » Food & Drink, Save Money, Summer of Saving

Want to Lower your Food Costs? Become a Vegetarian

Last updated by on 21 Comments

As part of the new Summer of Savings series on food costs/savings, I didn’t want to jump right in to particulars. I first wanted to hit the much more impactful lifestyle changes.

We’ve already shown the huge impact cooking can have on lowering food costs. But what other lifestyle changes can also have a huge impact on food costs?

Try reducing the meat in your diet!

When I made the switch to becoming vegetarian, one immediate benefit of doing so was that my grocery bill declined quite noticeably. The cost of a vegetarian diet is typically about $1,000 – $1,500 cheaper per person per year.

Why is that?

Producing meat is not cheap.

And it’s important to understand the economics of why that is.

At the core, unlike vegetables/grains/legumes, which can be grown cheaply and easily in one growing season with a little water and sunshine, it’s not that easy with meats.

cheap vegetarian foodMeat needs much more than a little water and sunshine. It needs significant amounts of water and food to grow. It’s estimated that it takes 16 pounds of grain/soy and 5,214 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of edible beef. And it takes 78 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of protein from beef, while only 2 calories of fuel to produce a calorie from soy. Those are significant costs to producers.

And then there’s all the time required, space required, antibiotics, hormones, handling, manpower, industrial processing equipment, regulations/oversight, processing, and refrigeration at multiple points in order to put that pound of meat on your table. Vegetarian foods require much less of all of these things – making them much cheaper for you to buy.

Now, there are cheap meats out there. And you may think you’re finding yourself a bargain when you find them. But in order for meat to be cheaper, corners have to be cut somewhere to keep those costs down:

  • cheap food to grow the meat: most meat products sold in the U.S. today are fed by corn, which is not natural to that animal’s diet and results in an inferior piece of meat
  • corn is also heavily subsidized (to the tune of $84 billion over the last 17 years) and ultimately, we all are paying for that as taxpayers
  • hormones to boost artificial growth/milk production in shorter amounts of time – who has time for an animal to grow naturally?
  • antibiotics to ward off infection from poor living conditions
  • limited space for animals to move around

All of this might reduce the cost you pay to put that pound of meat on your table and in your belly (it is still more expensive), but there are also unseen costs:

  • environmental destruction: space, methane, runoff, water, pesticides
  • sanitation
  • horrible animal conditions
  • stress hormones from the horrible conditions that end up in your body
  • antibiotics/hormones that end up in your body

To put it bluntly: that animal’s short/miserable existence was all for you to put a rather tasteless, inferior product that really only takes on the flavor of whatever sauce/seasoning you dump on it, in to your belly. Why do this to yourself when you could have a tastier, healthier, more humane, more sustainable, and cheaper vegetarian option?

When it comes to the food we eat, most of us simply follow the herd (pun intended). In the U.S., a well balanced meal = meat + potato + vegetable + glass of milk. Many marketing dollars were invested for this to become the good ole’ American diet and 99% of us were raised that way. But as with most things related to finance – if you follow the herd, you get butchered (pun, sort of intended).

For the 1 out of 10,000 of you who raises their own meat or only buys directly from local sustainable, free-range, organic farms because you simply cannot live without the taste of meat? You’re going to pay an arm and a leg (feeling punnier by the minute), but I respect that.

My take though? Instead of eating something that required a lot of food/water/land/processing to produce – why not just cut out the middle man (er, livestock) and go straight to the original food sources? If you want to lower the cost of your food, simply become a vegetarian.

Trust me – if you make the move and stick it out, you’re going to question how it was any other way before. And you’ll be happier, healthier, and wealthier with time.

Becoming a Vegetarian:

Becoming a vegetarian happened gradually for my wife and I. She started cutting meat out slowly, and I followed.

We got cookbooks, we tried new dishes, and eventually learned how to cook more vegetarian foods.

Like many beginner vegetarians, I had the fear of lack of protein. And to compensate, I thought I needed soy, soy, and more soy in my diet. And lets face it, tofu and soy products are tasteless.

10 years after starting down this path, I can’t remember the last time I ate a piece of tofu, but it has been many months. Beans, nuts, seeds, quinoa (also a seed), eggs (free range, organic), cheese (grass fed organic), veggies, and wild (not farmed) fish provide more than enough protein for us. And all taste better than meat, in our opinion.

It was a rather painless, easy move to make. Cost was not the deciding factor for me, but it is a nice side benefit. Now that we’ve made this move, there’s definitely no turning back! I don’t miss anything about meat.

Discussion:

More than any other personal decision, people quiz me on being vegetarian. So, now is your chance to ask away…

  • If you’re not yet a vegetarian, but have considered it, what is holding you back?
  • If you are a vegetarian, what got you started?
  • And what tips/advice do you have for first-time vegetarians?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


21 Comments »
  • Jake @ Common Cents Wealth says:

    I agree that becoming a vegetarian would save me money, but I could never do it. I enjoy all different types of meat too much. That being said, I could definitely cut back on some meat and save money that way.

  • David says:

    As you’ve noted, this is not going to happen for the majority of people. It is much easier to convince people to go meat-free for 3 or 4 days out of the week, which would still provide them with food budget savings while not forcing a complete 180 degree change in their diet.

    • David S says:

      I have found this to be the case personally. I had wanted to try vegetarianism for a while and tried several times but cracked after a week or two or three. For me the key, which has worked for a few years is to give in to the temptation. If I get a taste for meat I’ll eat it. If meat is the only option, I’ll eat it. I probably eat about two meat items per week and don’t really like the taste of red meat anymore.

  • J.R. Bob Dobbs says:

    You keep saying meat has no flavor. Have you ever eaten meat? It has more flavor than anything else, and you do not need any seasons dumped on it. What are you smoking that you think this? Don’t forget how many flavorless veggies that Monsanto has dumped upon the market. Nice large plump bright red tomatoes that taste like water. Gee, thanks for making something genetically modified to taste like nothing. They also have destroyed the seed market by nearly wiping out 80% of the varieties of seeds out there. This is they way you want people to eat? Eating HEALTHY is the way to go, and that costs more than you ever think it does. Try getting people to buy heirloom veggies and growing them when they can, drying and freezing for when you can’t even GROW anything. Meat is always in season!

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Yes. I was a heavy meat eater from the moment I de-teated until my early twenties. And occasionally since then, when left no other options and I’m hungry. I know very well what it tastes like and on taste alone, would always opt for vegetarian vs. meat.

      Lets agree that Monsanto is an awful company and that there are definitely tasteless GMO veggies out there. I try to eat organic, non-GMO foods as much as I can.

      Meat – if done the right way can taste great. However, if its done the right way, you’re going to really pay a lot for it. Most cheap, factory farmed meat these days is not done right – and the result is a grizzly, dry, tasteless commodity.

      I’d much rather have a bouquet of great flavors than a lump of marinated commodity (that still costs more than vegetarian alternatives) as the centerpiece of my meal.

  • Mike F says:

    You can go and vote based on your ethics for better policy but if the goal is to ruthlessly cut cost so that you can retire earlier, I’d recommend people take advantage of government subsidies on food rather than fight them.

    For example, it is pretty widely accepted that the government subsidizes transportation (e.g. the interstate highway system) which distorts the market to make non-local food cheaper than it would otherwise cost (e.g. if all roads were tolled or gas-taxed appropriately to cover their cost.) Because of this, non-local can more frequently out-compete the local food on a purely cost basis. Meaning the consumer looking to save money and retire early should buy their food regardless of region and accept the government subsidy just as willingly as they accept their IRA tax deduction.

  • Kim says:

    Our household is vegetarian also – myself for 3 years and my husband for 10. He started as soon as his dad had a heart attack (typical Southern diet), and I started as soon as he proposed to me (because I want to live a long healthy life with him). So both began for health reasons, and read plenty of books to be able to answer the ethical & environmental questions that we were asked along the way. The only meat dishes we miss are BBQ pulled pork and boneless buffalo wings, which is pretty easy to recreate the flavor of with BBQ/buffalo sauce on just about anything.

  • I always say I have “Vegetarian tendencies” and have never become a full vegetarian since it seems to have a stigma as it can inconvenience others. But I agree on all the above points. I mainly just do not particularly like many meats, esp. red meat. I can shop relatively inexpensively because of it.

  • LA says:

    We eat all natural grass fed FREE Deer meat! Also fresh caught fish. It saves a ton of money to hunt and prepare the food yourself!

    • G.E. Miller says:

      As long as you are adhering to permits, I don’t take issue with that. Those animals lived a much better life than store bought, and the product is much more natural/healthier. And as you say, it saves you money. Although, how much did you pay to buy the equipment to hunt those animals?

  • joanna @ I won't be a hoarder, too! says:

    I ended up becoming vegetarian not by choice. I was too poor in grad school to afford meat! After two years of that I’d just lost my taste for meat. The problem now is that I married a carnivore who has a taste for $15 steaks :o(

  • Tom says:

    Ever read the book “Possum Living”? In it the author recommends fishing and raising rabbits (on forage) as cheap meat ideas. I just got my first meat rabbits and haven’t bred or eaten any yet, but I’m excited about the cost implications.

    I personally agree that vegetarian food has great taste, and is generally healthier. However, I’m also a big fan of the primal diet and think that meat and animal fats are a better source of calories than a lot of grains.

    I’m excited about the synergy rabbits have with the home garden, and the potential to raise nutritious meat and veggies here at home! I’m still on the front-end of year one, so this is not yet tried and true by myself, but has been by a lot of folks.

  • Carla says:

    I would love for you to write more on this topic. I’m really struggling to keep my costs down because of the bulk of produce I buy (I literally doubled my grocery budget in my first week of vegan eating). I know it’s stupid, but something like “Five Dollar Friday” where you show us how to eat cheap for a day would be really great!

  • jc says:

    Clinical studies have found that casein, a protein in all dairy products, blocks the absorption of antioxidants and renders them useless to our body. http://nutritionfacts.org/video/nutrient-blocking-effects-of-dairy/

    Eggs vs. Cigarettes in Atherosclerosis – One egg a day equals smoking 25,000 cigarettes
    http://nutritionfacts.org/video/eggs-vs-cigarettes-in-atherosclerosis/

    Get healthier (and kinder) by going vegan!

  • Lungs_of_Steel says:

    I think a better title would be “Want to Lower your Food Costs? Cut Out Meat.”

    Sounds less preachy and sanctimonious. If you want to appeal to the widest demographic, I suggest thinking of a title that won’t possibly alienate those who aren’t interested in agendas, whether intended or not.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Has the word “vegetarian” become political? I thought it was basically a person who does not eat meat and that’s it.

      • Lungs_of_Steel says:

        Apparently you don’t live in NYC because being a vegetarian often has political baggage, never mind the fact that – in your very own words! – you talk about:

        – environmental destruction
        – horrible animal conditions

        …. among others. Those two are political, whether you intended it or not.

        I for one will try anything, and I enjoy both meat and vegan items. However, asking, “If you’re not yet a vegetarian, but have considered it, what is holding you back?” can be considered another version of “Do you have Jesus in your life?”

  • Garrett says:

    This is a pet peeve of mine but you call yourself a vegetarian but you indicate at the end of the article that you eat wild-caught fish.

    Fish is not a vegetable. You’re a pescatarian.

    You may not think that it matters but “vegetarians” that eat fish are a pain in the butt for real vegetarians because then they have to explain that, no, they cannot eat fish and yes, it is a problem if you try to sneak fish into their food.

    Please don’t do that.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      If I eat seafood maybe once a week and could entirely do without, why label myself a “pescatarian” – when many people are not familiar with the term (my WordPress spellcheck doesn’t even recognize it as a word) and I don’t want to wrongly imply that I eat fish at every opportunity? No need to be concerned about what people label themselves – it doesn’t add anything to the conversation.

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