Vegetarianism, a solution to the increase in the grocery bill?
With the increase in the grocery bill, Quebecers are rethinking their diet and many are reducing their meat purchases. It costs more to produce, and that reality is reflected in the price tags. Beef, among other things, is less and less part of Canadian plates. The benefits of vegetarianism for the environment are well known, but what about its benefits for the wallet?
It’s not just the price of meat that has gone up: all foods have seen price increases – sometimes very significant – in the past year. However, meat is a food that can easily be replaced with something more affordable and rich in nutrients. For example, textured vegetable protein or TVP, made from soy flour, can be purchased in bulk, has a long shelf life and is inexpensive. In addition, its protein content is comparable to that of ground beef. The same goes for most legumes: often offered dehydrated in an economical large format bag, they are rich in fiber and protein and will keep for several months in the pantry. Canned legumes, which are more practical since they are already cooked, are also accessible to all wallets.
Volatility: another factor to consider
According to Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, several factors must be considered. First, there is the overall price of food.
“Things got quite complicated for animal protein. […] Over the past year, there has been an increase of 12 to 15% for beef, 15% for pork and 20% for chicken. There are other products that have increased more than that, but in general, yes, it costs more to eat animal protein.
Also, we must not forget the volatility of the markets, to which meat is subject. Moreover, the cost difference between the two diets will shrink or increase depending on the cycle, since the cost of a vegetarian diet remains stable while that of an omnivorous diet varies a lot.
“Vegetarian food is less subject to market volatility. Is it cheaper? It all depends on what you buy, but a vegetarian diet will fluctuate less in price.”
Watch out for processed and ready-to-eat foods
Vegetable proteins, there are all kinds. Some of the most popular include tofu, lentils, chickpeas, beans, and TVP, all of which are inexpensive and accessible at the grocery store. However, with the rise in popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, many products have hit the shelves. These include Beyond Meat-style meat imitations, offered by all kinds of companies and reproducing different products such as sausages, chicken nuggets, lunch meats and minced meat. These prepared, ready-to-cook products cost between 30% and 40% more than regular meat. Those who turn to vegetarianism for financial reasons should therefore minimize their purchases of this type of product.
As for meals prepared by grocery stores or markets, the price varies depending on the product. In general, meals that don’t contain meat cost slightly less, but a home-cooked meal is still the most economical option. At the restaurant, the vegetarian dishes offered on the menu are sometimes less expensive, however, the restaurants where the offer of vegetarian dishes is less interesting do not grant a discount when the meat is asked to be removed from a dish. A conscientious customer would therefore benefit from consulting the menu of a restaurant before setting foot there.
What about meal prep time?
According to Sylvain Charlebois, another obstacle to access to affordable vegetarian food is the acquisition of knowledge. « You have to transform your lentils and chickpeas, have imagination, educate yourself, » he says.
Of course, many vegetarian recipe books are available in libraries, in addition to millions of videos and tutorials available on the Web, but you still have to have the time to delve into them. For those who have the motivation to do so, however, there is no shortage of easy-to-prepare vegetarian meals, and there are great culinary discoveries to be made, such as Indian cuisine, which abounds in delicious meatless dishes.