In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, nobody really spoke about veganism, and one certainly didn’t need to cater to vegan family members when you gathered for Christmas lunch.
In those days, people ate magenta pink Vienna sausages and products loaded with MSG, and somehow, they stayed alive.
Today, life looks very different. Issues like factory farming and global warming have motivated many people to make more sustainable food choices, which is one of the reasons veganism is on the rise.
Vegan food, however, is expensive. In this article, we show you why.
Why Are Vegan Products So Expensive?
1. Meat Substitutes
Vegan “meat” products are currently more expensive than real meat for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the mass farming of animals is driving meat prices down.
Production costs are kept low by cramming many animals together in large halls and feeding them a carefully designed diet that makes them grow faster.
Farmed animals have also been bred to produce more milk and eggs, which ensures a regular and affordable supply for the animal-product-loving masses.
In addition, the production costs of meat products are kept low through generous government subsidies that ensure that the animal agriculture industry remains viable and can provide affordable products to consumers.
The U.S. government, for instance, annually grants $38 billion of taxpayer’s money to the meat, dairy, and egg industries.
Smaller companies that produce plant-based meat products simply can’t compete with the price tags that the animal agriculture industry is able to put on their products.
2. Small And Niche Market
While veganism is certainly a growing trend, it is still a relatively small market.
Simply stated, there is not nearly as big a demand for plant-based products, such as meat substitutes, as there is for conventional items, such as meat and dairy.
Since suppliers and retailers typically move far more animal-based products than plant-based substitutes, they logically only keep a small percentage of the latter in stock.
Niche markets, such as the plant-based industry, lack the infrastructure of well-established markets and typically face severe limitations when it comes to manufacturing facility design and equipment.
Unlike their established meat-industry counterparts, vegan brands also don’t have access to the latest technologies.
Only when vegan brands can lay claim to a bigger share of the market will they be able to improve their production methods, which will, in turn, increase efficiency and drive down the prices of their products.
3. The Cost Of Research And Development
How to produce a meat sausage or a cheese griller is common knowledge.
However, methods concerning the production of meat substitutes are still very much being developed and tested.
It’s far more complex to make a plant-based burger patty that tastes like the real deal than it is to make a normal burger patty.
For this reason, there’s currently a lot of money going towards research and development in the plant-based industry.
In its quest to produce a “bleeding” vegan burger patty, for instance, a vegan company in the United Kingdom called Quorn has recently put aside $7 million towards research.
Once vegan brands have secured their place in the market and have a loyal consumer following, they’ll be able to cut down on research and development costs, which will mean more affordable prices for the end user.
4. Plant-Based Milk
As is the case with substitute meat products, plant-based milk substitutes are more expensive than cow’s milk.
The reasons for this include some facts already mentioned, such as that the milk industry is able to offer low consumer prices due to animal farming and huge government subsidies.
In addition, the milk market is firmly established.
Decades of effective marketing campaigns that sell milk as a top calcium provider have ensured that it’s become a staple in just about every home.
Plant-based milk manufacturers, on the other hand, have to spend lots of money on marketing their products and convincing consumers to forsake milk and opt for their substitutes—at a higher price.
Also, producing plant-based milk involves a more complex production process than that of normal milk, which means increased production costs.
A milk substitute such as almond milk, for instance, is also costly because almonds are expensive to start with.
5. Organic Fruit And Vegetables
Although people go vegan for different reasons, many vegans focus on eating healthy in general.
Doing so involves more than cutting out meat products.
Commercially grown vegetables and fruit are treated with chemical pesticides to protect them against insects, diseases, mice, fungi, mold, bacteria, and viruses.
Ingesting these pesticides can cause numerous health problems in humans.
Since pesticides penetrate the skin of fruits and vegetables and seep through to the flesh, washing or peeling isn’t effective if you wish to avoid ingesting these chemicals.
Vegans often opt to go organic for this reason and also because organically grown veggies and fruit contain more nutrients.
Unfortunately, organic products are super expensive, and understandably so.
Even though organic farmers don’t use any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, the risk of contamination from water or neighboring farms is high.
Also, since they don’t use any chemical pesticides, their plants are vulnerable to attacks from insects, fungi, diseases, and so on.
What’s more, consumer demand for organic products is low, which means a smaller market share and more expensive prices.
Those who are on a tighter budget can minimize the damage to their pockets and health by only going organic when it comes to the so-called “Dirty Dozen“ of fruits and vegetables, and otherwise opting for commercially grown produce.
The Dirty Dozen represents fresh produce that contains the most pesticide residue, such as tomatoes, spinach, kale, strawberries, and bell peppers.
6. Plant Oils
Although some vegans completely forgo oils, others opt for healthy plant oils that they use for cooking and salad dressings.
These oils, however, are notoriously expensive.
For health reasons, vegans typically aim to eliminate any products that have gone through chemical processing and go for options such as extra virgin olive oil.
Such oils are cold pressed from fruit, have not been exposed to heat or chemical treatment, and are the most expensive form of oil you can buy.
Another popular oil with vegans is avocado oil, which is made from the natural oils pressed from the pulp of an avocado.
It is rich in fatty acids and provides a range of health benefits.
Since avocado oil has a high smoke point, one can use it for cooking and the oil’s nutty taste is also delicious in salad dressings.
However, it is very costly.
Coconut oil is another oil that remains stable at high temperatures, which means it’s suitable for cooking purposes.
It is also more economically viable than avocado oil, albeit still pricey.
However, since it becomes solid at room temperature, you can’t use it for dressings.
Solid coconut oil makes a great substitute for butter, though, as vegans can’t eat the real thing.
Obviously, it doesn’t taste anything like butter, though!
7. Vegan Cheese
Since cheese, like butter, is produced from dairy, vegans also need to substitute this product.
Foregoing cheese is often one of the most challenging aspects of going vegan, so vegans tend to want substitutes that have the same taste and texture as real cheese.
This has proven to be a difficult and expensive process.
The first commercial plant-based cheeses, which became available in the 70s and 80s, were made from soy flour, margarine, and yeast extract.
These products were low in quality, though, and had a plastic, chalky, or waxy texture.
Over the next decades, as veganism started to become more popular among consumers, many new companies tried to produce better-tasting plant-based cheeses.
Some even went so far as to manufacture genetically engineered yeasts that synthesize milk proteins without the use of cows.
Today, the main ingredients of vegan cheeses include nuts, soy yogurt, and soy milk.
To provide the “mouth-feel” of dairy cheese, manufacturers use a combination of protein, gums, and fats.
Apart from the fact that the main ingredients of vegan cheeses are expensive as is, the manufacturing processes of these products are complex and costly.
Producing vegan cheeses that taste and melt like real cheese involves considerable investments in research and development.
In addition, the vegan cheese market is small when compared to the real cheese market.
This means expensive production costs and higher prices.
8. Soy Products
Vegans tend to eat a lot of products made from soybeans since they are a rich source of protein.
Products such as tofu and tempeh are also great meat substitutes because of their firm textures.
In addition, these products are super versatile and can be cooked in a variety of ways.
Whereas tofu has a neutral taste and tends to take on the flavor of the foods that it’s cooked with, tempeh has a nutty and richer flavor.
Both products can be pricey, though, especially in the U.S.
This is because the U.S. government only provides subsidies for farmers who grow soybeans for the production of soybean oil and animal feed.
Products such as tofu and tempeh are not subsidized, which means that farmers and manufacturers of such products have to carry all the costs themselves.
In addition, soybean farms take up a large amount of space, which could be used to grow more profitable crops, such as wheat and corn.
9. Vegan Chocolate
If you’re a vegan and a chocolate lover, you will need to adjust your monthly budget accordingly or cut down drastically on your chocolate intake.
This is because vegan chocolate is very expensive.
Many forms of chocolate contain milk, and even dark chocolate, which is typically milk-free, often contains refined white sugar.
White sugar goes through a refinement process that involves the use of bone char, which means that, although it’s not a direct animal product, it’s not vegan.
Don’t be fooled by the color of brown sugar.
It contains refined white sugar as well.
To satisfy their sweet tooth, vegans have to search for dark chocolate bars that have been made from cocoa and organic sugar, or an alternative sweetener, such as agave syrup—but not honey.
Products containing honey are often not consumed by vegans, since it’s an animal product.
In addition, many vegans are opposed to the practices employed in the commercial extraction of honey, since it negatively affects bees.
Vegans who love their milk chocolate can opt for products that are made with milk substitutes, such as coconut or oat milk and defatted nut powders.
These kinds of chocolates may prove even more difficult to find than vegan dark chocolates.
In short, if you’re a vegan, finding a chocolate bar that you can actually eat can become a tricky and expensive process.
10. Bread And Baked Goods
When you start thinking about it, there are loads of products that form part of people’s daily diets that contain dairy and/or eggs.
Think, for instance, about some breads and other baked goods, such as cookies, crackers, and cakes.
Vegans who don’t want to forfeit these products, need to find vegan-friendly alternatives, and this typically means paying higher prices.
As you can imagine, producing baked goods that contain alternatives to dairy and eggs involves more research and development and increased production costs.
If you’re out shopping, and you select products such as “vegan chocolate chip cookies” or “vegan scones,” you can expect to end up paying much more for your monthly groceries.
Why Are People Going Vegan?
When you consider the price and effort that accompanies the decision to go vegan, you may wonder why on earth people are increasingly opting for this lifestyle.
Here are a few compelling reasons:
1. Health Reasons
Studies are increasingly showing that a plant-based diet is the healthiest option.
Fruits, vegetables, and healthy grains and pulses contain loads of nutrients that provide your body with energy and boost your immune system.
Fruits and vegetables also contain phytochemicals and antioxidants that reduce inflammation in the body.
In addition, a plant-based diet is packed with fiber, which means a healthier gut and reduced cholesterol.
Going vegan doesn’t mean a shortage of protein either.
Fruit, vegetables, and legumes contain more than enough protein for people to remain healthy and strong.
2. Environmental Activism
Global warming and environmental concerns are increasingly becoming important considerations.
In order to protect the planet, people are forced to make more sustainable lifestyle choices, including the cars they drive and the foods they eat.
Animal farming creates a huge carbon footprint and contributes greatly to land and water degradation and climate change.
According to studies, animal farming is responsible for more than 18% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
The emissions from planes, ships, cars, and trucks put together amount to less than this.
3. Animal Welfare
People also choose to eliminate animal products from their diet based on the treatment that many animals receive in the animal agriculture industry.
To save space, animals are packed tightly together in dark, damp halls or small cages, pens, and crates.
Apart from the fact that their ability to move around freely is curtailed, such conditions also cause them to inflict injury upon each other out of boredom and frustration.
To minimize injury, their beaks are often clipped or their teeth clipped without pain relief.
For large yields and to ensure that animals grow quickly, farmers employ selective breeding and also feed the animals concentrated food, which can cause physiological problems.
These can include lameness, weakened or broken bones, and failure of organs.
Vegans oppose these practices and believe that animals are sentient beings who deserve the right to life and freedom.
4. Concerns About Eating Meat
Apart from choosing to eat a plant-based diet because fresh produce is good for one, vegans also often choose to eliminate food products because of concerns regarding the health risks associated with eating animal protein.
Countless studies are proving that a diet that includes meat and dairy increases one’s risk of developing health issues such as heart problems, cancer, cholesterol, and diabetes.
In addition, to prevent animals from contracting diseases, many farmers are adding antibiotics to their animal feed.
Apart from the fact that ingesting meat that contains antibiotics is unhealthy for humans, this practice is hugely contributing to the public health crises of antibiotic resistance.
Animal farming and the eating of meat, in general, are also increasingly being cited as a reason for the emergence of epidemics such as the SARS virus and swine flu.