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The growing accessibility of plant-based alternatives: does going plant-based have to break the bank?

One of the most frequent arguments against making the change towards a vegan, or plant-based, diet besides “I like meat” is that the costs incurred to replace animal products are extortionate. Therefore, the accessibility of consuming only plant-based foods and drinks has been heavily criticised for being too restricted. 

In the West, veganism has been intertwined with the notion of wealth and freedom of choice. But to what extent can this belief still be taken at face value, in line with the modern consumer attitude towards nutrition and sustainability? 

Dr Marco Springmann, a researcher at the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, states: “We think the fact that vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian diets can save you a lot of money is going to surprise people.” Oxford research found that the most affordable diets were vegan, reducing costs by up to 1/3. However, even flexitarian diets with low amounts of meat and dairy products were found to have reduced costs by 14%. 

Certainly, as demand for these alternative products has grown, so has their availability

The perspective of plant-based diets being viewed as a luxury is put down to the “misrepresentation of vegan identity” by The Vegan Review. There are many matters which account for why making a change towards plant-based products will significantly reduce your food costs. Certainly, as demand for these alternative products has grown, so has their availability, and thus the associated charge has somewhat reduced.   

Legumes are a staple in most vegan or vegetarian diets because of their high protein content and nutritional value whilst maintaining a high degree of affordability and a long-lasting shelf life. The Independent recommends: “Focusing on keeping a well-stocked cupboard will ensure you never go hungry and don’t go above budget.”

Many have made a career out of the growing accessibility of plant-based diets, releasing over the last few years a plethora of cookbooks and how-tos on the matter. A range of books are geared towards reducing the costs of plant-based foods, such as BOSH! on a Budget by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby. Miguel Barclay, who authored the bestselling cookbook series One Pound Meals, says: “I’ve written seven budget cookbooks and have costed up hundreds of recipes, and without doubt vegan and vegetarian meals consistently come in at a much lower price than recipes with meat.”   

So, is the image of plant-based diets being expensive a myth? 

No. It is important to note that there are certainly still aspects of a plant-based diet that far out-weigh their meaty counterparts. At Tesco, two Beyond Burger Plant Based Patties come to £4.30. Meanwhile, 4 Tesco Finest Beef Burgers can be purchased for £4. Yet, if you are willing to forgo a named brand, you can still buy two of Tesco’s own brand Meat Free Burgers for £1.95. 

Another disadvantage is that coffee shops will often charge extra for dairy alternatives. But there are ways around this. For example, Caffè Nero will substitute soya milk for free. In addition, items with a higher nutritional value that you may find in the average vegan’s basket may be those which often have a higher cost per weight too, such as nuts or seeds. 

Those seeking to pursue a flexitarian diet can be certain that there will be significant benefits in doing so

But it is also equally possible to ensure that you are getting the nutrients needed to remain healthy without breaking your bank. A fundamental aspect of switching up aspects of your diet is the planning that you need to undergo regarding what you intend to eat. It is important to understand how to remove key building blocks of your diet without losing the nutrients that those food groups provide. This planning is also an essential step to managing the time it can take to scour supermarket shelves and recipes for plant-based diets, as well as helping with the preparation time to meet nutritional needs.  

Hence, those seeking to pursue a flexitarian diet can be certain that there will be significant benefits in doing so. Being aware of the minor setbacks you may face in pursuit of a plant-based diet will help you be more equipped to face them. Ultimately, it is certain that plant-based foods are more accessible than they once were, regarding both costs and availability. And it seems possible that this will continue to grow in the future. 


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