Photos by Bryce Hanamoto
With the growing popularity of veganism, it can be a cost-effective eating style, while at the same time offering health benefits, but these benefits are attained only if one does it right, Associate Professor of Nutrition Loan Kim said.
The main difference between veganism and a typical omnivore diet is the choice of protein, and that choice of protein is what can determine the affordability of a meal. Although it may be more affordable, the vegan diet may not be practiced correctly and can come with unforeseen challenges, Kim said.
“The animal protein is what makes the food prices more expensive,” Kim said.
Graphic by Hansol Hwang
What is veganism?
The nutritional definition of veganism is that one does not consume protein from an animal source, Kim said. All forms of veganism are an extreme type of vegetarianism.
“That includes cheeses, milks and yogurts because all of those are dairy products from the cow. Similarly, no eggs,” Kim said. “If you just strip all of those away, it is literally all of your plant-based foods. That’s what veganism is.”
But this nutritional definition may not be as lucid as one thinks.
“People are very loose with their definition of what it means to be vegan,” Kim said.
Nutritionally, Veganism does not have to be associated with either organic or gluten-free choices, Kim said.
“When you add in organic and all the other fad things, that is where it may not be more cheaper,” Kim said. “Often times it gets all lumped together, but from a nutritional standpoint those are distinctly different things.”
That is why Kim said veganism can be more affordable depending on how well one plans for their meals, but building meals with balanced nutrition can be a challenge.
She said veganism is the strictest form of vegetarianism and within vegetarianism there is also ovo-lacto, ovo and pescetarian.
Ovo-lacto is when one cannot consume animal protein but can consume eggs and drink dairy. Ovotarians cannot eat animal protein but can eat eggs. Lastly, pescetarians can consume seafood for protein.
Is being vegan more affordable?
The main reason why a vegan diet is more affordable is that animal protein is generally more expensive, Kim said.
The statistics for the “Average Retail Food and Energy prices in the U.S. and Midwest Region” records that animal protein was more expensive per pound, according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics
In December, 100 percent ground beef was on average about $3.70 per pound. A USDA choice boneless steak was on average about $5.83 per pound. Boneless pork chops were on average about $3.66 per pound. The boneless chicken breast was on average about $3.19 per pound.
The vegan protein options listed in this statistic would be beans, rice and peanut butter.
Beans were categorized by dried, type and size. In December the average price per pound was about $1.36. Rice was categorized as white, long-grain, and uncooked, which came to be on average about $0.71 per pound. Peanut butter, which was categorized as creamy and all sizes was on average about $2.48 per pound.
At Ralph’s in Malibu as of Monday, Feb. 12, a beef choice boneless ribeye steak was $8.99 per pound. A boneless chicken breast was $6.49 per pound. Pork bone-in rib chops were $4.99 per pound. Ground beef was $3.99 per pound.
For the vegan selection of protein, a pound of Kroger lentils were $1.69, a 15.25 ounce can of Kroger black beans was $0.79 and a pound of firm tofu was $1.49.
The Waves Caf
Kim said students can eat vegan at school as long as the students eat the right foods, but it would be more a la carte.
“I wouldn’t say there is a lot of variety, but it can be done,” Kim said.
She said students can customize the salad bar and add beans, grains, tofu, bread, avocados and roasted vegetables to supplement it. But she said to go for the dark leafy greens instead of the iceberg lettuce because it will help one feel full longer.
But students such as freshman Colette Faulkner does not consider the salad a meal and wishes more research went into the preparation of vegan and vegetarian options.
“I really appreciate the fact that they do have vegan and vegetarian options, but I think it would be good if they did more research on what goes into it because to me a salad is not like a meal. It’s kind of like a side thing you eat with an entree,” Faulkner said. “So if that is the vegan option for your lunch or dinner, that’s not going to keep you filled or give you the energy you need to get through the day.”
Freshman Brighton Barnes resonates with this.
“Sometimes the vegan option[in the caf] is a salad and I am like, there is a salad bar. You can get salad from the salad bar, what is the point?,” Barnes said.
For vegan meals outside of campus, Barnes and Brighton said their go-to restaurants are:
The complete protein challenge
Even though the prices are cheaper, she said one would have to eat more of it and the beans and lentils would need to be mixed with another food item such as rice in order to create a complete protein.
A food item has a complete protein when it contains all the essential amino acids that create a protein, Kim said. That is why an incomplete protein source such as black beans need to be mixed with rice in order for each food item to compliment each other with the necessary amino acids which would then create a complete protein.
Despite the existence of incomplete proteins in a vegan diet, she said soy protein is like a complete protein and is a good substitute for those that do not eat meat.
On the other hand, animal protein sources contain complete proteins, Kim said.
For vegans, she said,”You just have to do a lot more homework to get all the essential amino acids that you need for the body to grow.”
Healthy eating is not determined by whether one is vegan or vegetarian, Kim said.
“Just because you slap the label of being vegan doesn’t necessarily mean your diet is truly healthy. And the only way to know whether your diet is healthy or not is to sit down and look at your plate and see where most of your food is coming from,” Kim said.
She said one can have a healthy diet as long as they follow the USDA myplate guidelines.
Follow Hansol Hwang on Twitter: @Hansol_HwangLA