The meat of the matter – Health News Today

It’s the second installment of my column and time to jump right into the controversial stuff. It’s time to broach a highly debated, heavily memed subject: veganism.

Full disclaimer — I am not and have never been vegan. Throughout college, I’ve gone through phases of experimental vegetarianism, but even when my lactose-intolerant brain screams “no,” I see no reason to turn down a good grilled cheese or a slice of pizza.

While my admittedly short, albeit dedicated vegetarian experience is over (for now), my eating habits have definitely changed. I find myself naturally gravitating toward more plant-based foods instead of meat-heavy meals. A few years ago, I would never have believed that a veggie California burrito just hits different than the classic carne asada (pro tip –– it absolutely does).

While vegetarianism and veganism are growing in popularity, being a conscientious grocery consumer is a privilege, not a right. While society is more accommodating of dietary restrictions than ever, it can still be costly to maintain a balanced and nutritious vegan diet. Many advocates of veganism claim that staples such as pasta, rice, tofu, beans and lentils are cheaper than their animal-product counterparts. You’ll undoubtedly save money not buying meat –– it’s estimated that one fillet of chicken breast is $5 per pound and has about 24 grams of protein per serving, but a can of black beans typically costs around a dollar for the same amount of protein.

The math is simple –– per year, plant-based consumers can save a significant amount of money. However, vegan diets do require dedication. Buying more fresh produce is great for your body, but comparatively, it goes bad much faster than frozen foods or pantry sundries, meaning more quick trips to the grocery store are needed to restock. Many vegans also develop nutritional deficiencies because they commonly lack vitamin B12 and vitamin D3, nutrients that are found almost exclusively in animal-sourced foods and are crucial for nerve and brain function. 

While being vegan can be affordable, this doesn’t offset the fact that some degree of budgetary flexibility is needed to successfully maintain a plant-based diet. It is achievable, but not for all. Kids who are part of school-free and reduced-lunch programs don’t have the luxury of rejecting what is put on their plate. In food deserts like South Central, it can be more difficult (although not impossible) to access a consistent assortment of fresh produce. 

Getting the most food for your dollar means that many aren’t necessarily focused on the nutritional quality of what they’re purchasing –– they’re just trying to make sure their family doesn’t go hungry. Processed foods often have a longer shelf life and are more readily available than fresh fruits, vegetables and pricey vegan-certified and meat-substitute products. 

For those that qualify for the United States Supplemental Nutrition…