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.
Meat 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
- 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.
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?