Frugality through Vegetarianism: How to Save $2-$3K Per Year & the Planet by Moving Away from a Meat-Based Diet

While we were in college, my wife and I made a gradual shift to becoming mostly vegetarian. It all sort of happened in an unconventional, non-life-philosophy-shattering sort of way…

I was on this high-protein, low-fat, low-carb kick, and she was still eating a meat and potatoes type diet. My low-fat meals got her thinking about what she was eating and she decided to take things a step further and start looking into a vegetarian diet.

We tried out some new dinners and decided that this veggie thing wasn’t half bad. I educated myself and overcame my fears about not getting enough protein in my diet (just about everything has protein, except for fruit).

Today, I very occasionally eat poultry, seafood, and if in an ‘eat it or miss a meal’ situation, I’ll still eat just about anything. For the most part though, I’d classify myself as a non-strict vegetarian. Here’s some food for thought (pun-intended) on becoming vegetarian…

The Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet

cost of vegetarian diet

There are a lot of positive benefits to eating a mostly vegetarian diet:

  • It’s much more sustainable and low-impact on the planet: According to Thom Hartmann in The Prophet’s Way, it takes 16 pounds of grain/soy and 5,214 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of edible beef (the same amount of water one American uses on showers in a year, on average). Tomatoes, for comparison, only need 23 gallons of water per edible pound. Another fun fact: You can produce 30,000 pounds of carrot on an acre of farmland, but only 250 pounds of beef. How about this? 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 soybeans. Another? The amount of pesticide use per acre of corn (the main feed for livestock), has increased 100,000% since 1945. Meat also strongly contributes to global warming. You get the idea.
  • It’s humane: Every meat eater should watch video of a slaughter house or caged chickens with their beaks cut off so they don’t peck out each other’s eyes, to at least appreciate the hell that animal went through before it ended up on your dinner plate (if not the physical condition the animals are in). I’m not going to sit on a soapbox and label meat eaters as bad people or make them feel guilty about eating meat, but I do think that this world would be a better place if everyone was at least somewhat conscious of the conditions their food came from, demanded better conditions through their purchasing decisions, and appreciated the sacrifice from the animals.
  • It’s more sanitary: There’s just something unappealing about the thought of eating dead flesh that has been passed around and is rotting and growing bacteria with each passing day. Check out the videos on the previous point, if you’re not convinced of the unsanitary conditions that most of our animal products come from. Out of sight isn’t out of mind for me.
  • Time & Effort: Vegetarian dishes, on average, are a lot easier and quicker to cook. With meat you have to thaw, prepare, slow cook, and there’s usually more of a mess to clean up.

The Two Reasons I have Stayed Vegetarian

The previous four positive benefits have definitely helped keep me on course, but two other benefits really stand out as being the keystones behind my continued vegetarianism:

  • Taste: It just tastes better to me. Meat and potatoes is extremely boring to me now. Getting rid of both has opened up a world of new flavors and a variety of foods to me. Just as many meat eaters can’t imagine what a life without meat is like, I cannot imagine what a life of going back to eating a lot of meat is like. People always ask me, “Don’t you ever just miss a big juicy steak?”. No! I’ve been on both sides, and I have absolutely no desire to go back, if for no other reason than veggie dishes just taste better to me.
  • Health: I don’t have to worry about consuming growth hormones and antibiotics and eating all of the saturated fats and cholesterol. As a result, I feel healthier than ever. And “we all die someday” is not a legit argument to eat a bunch of crap, in my opinion. It’s a cliche phrase usually given by people who don’t want to come to grips with their unhealthy eating habits. A 50% reduction in meat consumption reduces your risk of heart attack by 45% (source: The Prophet’s Way).

The Cost of a Vegetarian Diet

You knew I’d be getting around to this at some point!

In my latest stroll through the supermarket, an average pound of  ground beef costs around $5 and a pound of chicken breasts $4. Prices vary widely by cut, but these were just the standard, non-organic, hormonal varieties.

A pound of canned black beans, on the other hand, costs just under $1.

What follows is a VERY SIMPLE illustration, but assuming a couple consumes a pound of meat combined per meal and eat meat in 14 meals per week – and then made the switch to the same amount of beans or some other low cost vegetable, grain, or legume as a substitute – they could potentially save $2,200-$3,000 per year. Just making the switch away from meat for four meals a week would save them roughly $600-$800 per year.

Yes, you can be a cheap vegetarian.

If you’re married or living with your significant other, I strongly recommend that you consider this a joint decision. It’s hard as hell for one person to be a vegetarian or vegan and the other to be a meat lover. Food is such a huge component of a healthy relationship. That being said, if your significant other is not on board, win them over by working in a few meals per week, and gradually increase from there. =)

The money itself would not be reason enough for me to switch from a meat-based diet to a vegetarian diet, but it surely re-affirms that choice. For someone in a financial pinch, perhaps it is strong enough reason in itself. When you add in all of the other benefits, it seems like a great choice for someone trying to save money.

Vegetarian Discussion:

  • Are you a vegetarian? Why or why not?
  • If you made the switch to being vegetarian, how much did it save you on your groceries?
  • Have you considered making the switch to vegetarian simply to save money?

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