Friday, August 03, 2007

Is a Vegetarian Diet Cheaper?

Over at MSN, there’s an article with the interesting title, “Go vegetarian to save money.” I like the idea, but after reading the piece, I wasn’t convinced.

In the article, the author, Scott McCredie, points out that common sources of protein for meat eaters (like beef and chicken which cost around three dollars per pound) are more expensive than proteins that many vegetarians rely on (like beans and tofu which are between one and two dollars per pound).

I happen to know a bit about vegetarian diets, and know a few vegetarians, and tofu rarely, if ever, comes to the table.

Cheese does. So do nuts. And soy milk. Fake meats, too; like soy burgers. I don’t know for sure, but I’d bet gram-for-gram, these proteins cost as much as the animal variety.

McCredie actually acknowledges that fake meat can cost around five dollars per pound. He also acknowledges that vegetables themselves aren’t all that cheap. And if you go for organic veggies, you’re really paying a lot.

So how do you save money by being a vegetarian?

When I saw this article’s headline, I was hoping for results from an actual study of vegetarian, vegan and omnivore shopping carts over the course of a year. But all I got was a lot of speculation. Kind of a let down, especially considering how charged people get when debating the value of a vegetarian diet.

At the end of the piece, McCredie tries to explain that a vegetarian diet is likely to save money later in life because, we’re supposed to believe, vegetarians are healthier. Better health, of course, means you won’t spend so much on medical bills. But are vegetarians really healthier later in life? Is a diet that includes meat necessarily a bad one that leads to poor health? McCredie expects the reader to believe these things without any evidence.

This is pretty concerning. When I see articles like this, it tells me the subject of the article is trendy (in this case, being a vegetarian). Does this make sense? When something is trendy, and people will drop everything and read all about it, almost any half-baked article on the subject gets published. And when that happens, and bad articles like McCredie’s slip through the editorial net at publications like MSN, straw men (in this case, bad articles) are set up for the other side to swagger over and tear to pieces. I wouldn’t even consider myself on the other side of this issue, but I’m sitting here tearing this thing apart.

Look, Mr. McCredie, if you’re reading… or if your editors at MSN are reading… I know your heart is in the right place, but an article like this doesn’t help anyone’s cause. It actually makes vegetarians look like idiots, and gives people critical of them added leverage.

For some real numbers, facts on how vegetarian diets are better, check out past coverage at Pound360:

Vegetarian diet better for losing weight
Vegetarian diet is better for environment

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.