For some people, hearing the word "vegan" induces an involuntary eye-roll. We know Australians love their meat, but it's a proven fact excessive consumption is neither good for our health, nor the environment.
However, many find vegan and vegetarian diets just too restrictive to sustain. Humans are omnivores after all, so why should we limit ourselves? Well, according to one expert, cutting out meat — even just once a week — will make a "massive difference" to your hip pocket.
Why pay $10 for the cheapest packet of beef mince available when you could score an alternative that's just as nutritious and much cheaper? Angus Kidman, money expert at Finder, said the answer is simple: You shouldn't.
Shopping can be 'much, much cheaper'
"If you think of meat as the protein component of meal, which is essentially what it is, you can definitely do that much, much cheaper with the right mix of vegetables," Mr Kidman told Yahoo News Australia.
"You're talking a savings of 10 times or more in the price of some of those things. So having that flexible attitude does help a lot to save money."
Mr Kidman said meat prices have "absolutely" increased by a "huge amount" in Australia.
"And it doesn't seem likely that we're going to see any major drops there for a while, because there's still no clear indication in supply chain terms that there's going to be much of a decline," he explained.
"We may not see the same rises as we've seen in the last year, but it's unlikely that we're going to see huge bargains happening within the meat industry either."
Globally, meat consumption accounts for 57 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions of the entire food production industry, according to a recent report. It also causes mass deforestation and the loss of biodiversity. In the Amazon rainforest for instance, 80 percent of deforestation is attributed to the clearing of land for cattle.
With veggie prices down, now is the time to experiment
While some Australians consider full-time vegan or vegetarian diets incompatible with their lifestyle, currently across the country, fruit and vegetables are cheap, making now an ideal time to experiment.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently reported that in fact fruit and veggie prices recorded a downward movement of 5.4 per cent in the 12 months to July, with many Aussie shoppers sharing success stories on how they've saved on the products.
"Clearly people are looking towards some of those cheaper alternatives," Mr Kidman said.
"Especially because, it's very hard to imagine a scenario in which meat ends up being cheaper than the alternatives, because there's fundamentally a difference in the cost of production. And that's never really going to change.
"I mean, I'm myself a vegetarian. But occasionally, you know, if I've got mates for a barbie, I'll buy them meat and I always think: 'How on earth can people be paying this much for meat when it's only $1.10 for a can of lentils?'"
According to Aussie dietary guidelines, it's recommend a healthy adult eats no more than 455 grams of cooked red meat per week, or less than 65g a day — which is equivalent to one modest lamb chop. The Cancer Council also advises people stick to these guidelines.
So, if you're tempted to cut down on your meat consumption, where should you start? Mr Kidman says it's important to note that meat-free products, such as soy or tofu-based protein substitutes are fine, and often very tasty alternatives, but they're not necessarily cheaper nor any healthier.
"If you go for the vegan meat alternatives, Beyond Burgers, things like that, those are just as expensive as meat, if not more so. So for going vegetarian or vegan to work as a budget, you have to be smart," he said, encouraging people to research vegetarian meal options before shopping, to see what could be swapped out on the grocery list.
Proof is in the plant-based pudding
Online, Aussies from all over the country have shared how they've managed to save big bucks by reducing meat intake, claiming shopping local for bargains often helps.
"I mean a pack of lentils cost $1, quinoa $3-4, chickpeas $1, veggies and fruits are usually on the cheaper side," a woman wrote on Facebook. "Vegan staples are usually in general cheap. Beans, veggies, seeds, grains, fruits, etc. Depending on where you live, being vegan can be cheaper for you especially if you buy in bulk! Eating processed vegan products are what really run your grocery bill up. Whole food plant based eating will save your pockets."
"93 grams of protein for $2.30 and they say being vegan is expensive. Lots of goodness and no cholesterol," another person said about a bag of Woolworths peanuts.
A Queensland shopper recent revealed that they obtained an entire box of fresh produce for just $6 by visiting a local grocer. "Bought a box for $6 containing everything you see in the picture. Couldn’t pick and choose what I bought and wasn’t able to even see everything I was buying but I think it was worth it," the shopper said on Reddit.
And it's not just Aussies who have claimed eating less meat can reduce food bills, with a recent study conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) in the US finding that cutting out dairy and meat can lead to significant savings.
According to the data, food costs dropped by 16 per cent for participants who switched to a vegan diet, while those who stuck to their regular diet did not see any saving.
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