5 Ways Your Diet Can Help Both the Planet and Your Pocket
If you would have asked me in college if I would be interested in going vegan, I would have given you a skeptical look and scoff, at best. Growing up, I was lucky in that my mother is a nurse and a very conscious parent. We never really bought or cooked red meat. Whenever we went to restaurants, we never ordered anything with beef, pork, bacon, steak, or anything like that on the menu. Chicken and Turkey were the winners in our household. I also found the smell of bacon to be completely repulsive, much to the annoyance of my very patient roommates.
Once I started going out to eat with my friends, I became hooked on adolescent staples like In-N-Out (I’m from CA and don’t understand the hype) and Taco Bell. I don’t know why, but the crumbled beef in Taco Bell tacos was just so good. I still never cooked with red meat, and had to stay away from the kitchen or BBQ if gathering with friends. I also tasted the steak cooked by a relative and found it rubbery and unappetizing.
Looking back, I’m grateful for these experiences that created an aversion to red meat, as I later became aware of the inhumane animal treatment, pollution, health effects, and environmental impacts on a much more discerning scale. At UCLA, I first started becoming leery about eating meat when I was handed flyers by some club, showing very vivid and disturbing pictures of slaughterhouses and commercial chicken farms.
I’m sure some of you have also seen the many documentaries on meat, it’s environmental impacts, and the health benefits of going plant-based, such as What the Health and Food, Inc. If you haven’t, search for some of them on your streaming service or your local library, it will change your mindset!
So, let’s get into some ways that going plant-based, if not full vegan, can boost your journey to FI.
1) Plant Proteins Cost Less Than Meat: This one is surely obvious to some, controversial to others. With some saying even if meat is more expensive per ounce, you feel more full afterward and thus need less other food, or extra sides/snacks. However, Some studies have shown that vegan meals can be up to 40% cheaper than meat and fish. 40%! Many sources of plant protein, such as beans, legumes, and tofu, are some of the cheapest items in the grocery store. For those of you that have read Financial Fives, you know I have a soft spot for shopping at Whole Foods. Even there, I can buy a can of beans for less than $1, a 16 oz bag of lentils for $2.99, and a box of tofu for less than $2. Surely, it’s cheaper at stores like Walmart and Kroger. Bonus points if you shop in bulk at Costco! When I walk by the freezer or deli section? $10 for a pack of burger patties, $12 for a pound of steak, and $20 per pound for lamb chops. I find it hilarious that they list tofu for $1.79 and next to it is a steak for $12 per pound. Don’t want to drive to that earth-hugging grocery store to prove me wrong? You can compare prices on their website here to see for yourself.
2) HealthCare Costs: If you watch some of those meat-based documentaries I mentioned this will become more clear. However, anyone who has taken health class in high school or read science-based books on nutrition, you’ll know there is a direct link between red meat consumption and many health conditions, such as stroke and kidney disease. What do all these ailments have in common? Well, aside from making you feel crummy, or worse, debilitated, it is going to cost you big bucks. According to a recent GO Banking Rates article, they estimated that the annual economic burden of healthcare costs associated with a meat-heavy diet costs close to $300 per person, or $50 billion as a nation. That doesn’t even include the cost of treating food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, which has a higher likelihood of occurring with meat-based diets. Furthermore, we haven’t even discussed the fallout from loss of income due to illnesses or disability that results from some of those cardiometabolic conditions. If you knew that eating a meat-heavy diet would increase your health/disability premiums, or increase the likelihood that you would be unable to work and provide for yourself, would you change your diet?
3) Self-Sufficiency: Ever wonder how people live in rural parts of the US, or other countries? How do they sustain such vitality and live long lives? You may think “Well, duh GG, they go and hunt and kill what they can find and live off that!” Well, maybe. But the vast majority of people are self-sufficient and prevent themselves and their families from suffering from hunger by gardening and harvesting crops. My family originated from India, and my relatives there have some impressive longevity, even dealing with egregious pollution, spotty healthcare, and questionable safety standards. Heck, no one I know went to the gym or worked out over there, but they sure beat me in arm-wrestling! By focusing on a plant-based diet, you can plan your seasonal crops and your harvest. Depending on your climate, you can enjoy apricots, apples, tomatoes, squash, persimmons, potatoes, pecans, and I can go on (now I’m hungry). During the pandemic, many people discovered their passion for gardening and trying new plant-based recipes. Being locked indoors, gardening provided an excuse to be outdoors, take their minds off the news, and relax. Not only did they save money by growing many of their ingredients needed for meal prep, but they saved gas by making fewer trips to the grocery store, less plastic bags to wrap their produce, and less temptation to buy expensive/wasteful packaged goods. That’s not even mentioning the greenhouse gas emissions saved by saying no to meat!
4) Energy Costs: Meat almost always needs to be refrigerated or frozen. Beans, lentils, and seeds do not (you’ll find them in the dry goods section of the store). The only time you need to keep them in the fridge or freezer is after cooking them. So, if you make a run to Costco and keep the chicken breasts in the fridge for 2 weeks until it’s your turn to host Taco Tuesday, that’s energy that could have gone for other uses. I also know quite a few people, all passionate meat-eaters, who have an extra freezer in their basement or garage to store their meat. Many times, plant-based protein sources don't need to be cooked, they’re plants! You can soak chia seeds in oat milk, throw some sunflower seeds on your salad, or mix walnuts into your smoothie (if you haven’t tried that, you’re missing out). We are blessed with abundance in this country, and there is no shortage of variety of fruits and vegetables that can go into creating meals. Tomato and avocado sandwich? Sure! Pineapples and cherries in your salad? Hey, who’s to say what makes a salad?
5) Productivity: This one is a bit personal, and maybe you choose to dissent. When I was a meat-eater, I often felt lethargic and gassy (sorry if that’s TMI, but y'all have been to Thanksgiving dinner and know that post-turkey feeling). Not only was the meat itself heavy, but often the side choices are heavy as well. When I lived in Tennessee, I was beside myself at how people ate a plate of ribs or pork chops, and as a side, they had biscuits, collard greens, and peach cobbler! Surprisingly, many were not in terrible shape (or maybe they were just good at hiding it). Heck, even if you simply do a Google search for “foods that boost productivity”, not a single item is meat, it’s all plant-based. I will say when I went onto the popular “Eat This Not That” website, it did list a few meat items, but a vast majority of them were plant-based items. So, plant based = more productivity, and more productivity = more energy to do a better job so you get a raise, get a promotion, or have the energy to spend on a side hustle.