Is Veganism a Luxury? Talking About Veganism in the Context of Access and Resources, and Being Grateful for Our Choices

by Gena on July 5, 2012

On Monday, when I shared my new obsession (blueberry ginger ice cream: raw vegan and no ice cream machine necessary) I also shared some thoughts on how grateful I am that I have the ability to prioritize my ethics, my health, and my tastes through my food choices. I mentioned that, as a blogger, I spend so much time thinking about food as a form of nutrition or artistry that I forget to think about food as a basic human need.

I’ve spent much of my life in a state of hunger, but not out of necessity; I went hungry because I was suffering from my eating disorder. While I don’t think it’s right to talk about that as a “choice” I made–eating disorders are illnesses, not willed conditions–I do know that there’s a big difference between hunger as I experienced it, and hunger that is forced upon people who lack access to food. Today, I want to chat a little about veganism in the context of material and financial resources.

The comment that got me thinking about all of this on Monday came from Hannah, who said:

I take food for granted, too, when I spend an unnecessary amount of time stressing about its health or sugar grams. I feel like the food blog world doesn’t address this enough – the amount of privilege in regards to food and healthy food access – so it makes it seem easy for everyone to eat healthy plant food all the time, where in some places, it might not be.

Wise words, Hannah. I’m glad that we’ve all created a community here on CR where we can openly talk about our interest in nutrition and our histories with food. That said, I think it’s important for us all to remain mindful of the abundance in our lives. I personally have so much to be grateful for. In spite of the fact that I’m a full time student with very limited income outside of my academic life, I still manage to buy as much food as I want, and I often am able to shop organic (even if it means cutting costs in other areas of my life, like entertainment or dining out). I’ve always lived in a major metropolis, and not only that: I became vegan in a city that is persistently and outwardly vegan-friendly. This isn’t true of many other places: depending on where you live, it can be hard to find a supportive and active vegan community, and it can be hard to access specialty markets and grocery stores where vegan goods are available.

I recently heard veganism described as a “luxury,” and that didn’t really sit well with me, only because the word seemed to imply excessive financial privilege, or even superfluousness. Veganism doesn’t have to be any more expensive than other ways of eating: in fact, it can be much less expensive. At its most basic, the vegan diet consists of vegetables, nuts and seeds, soy foods, grains, and legumes. Grains and legumes can provide much of the nutrient density in any plant based diet and they, at least, can be had quite cheaply: this is part of the reason that they are the staple foods for so many global diets. When I was an editorial assistant making about 25K a year in New York City, I felt so grateful that I could create filling and nutritious meals from lentils and dried beans and rice that I had gotten from my neighborhood health food store’s bulk bin–often at about a dollar per pound.

If you get into superfoods–exotic dried fruits and roots–or if you get really into raw foods, and the pricey nuts and seeds that can come with them, it’s true that grocery costs can really go up. To me, the point of spending money on things like goji berries and/or hemp seeds has always been that these foods are so remarkably nourishing that a little goes a long way, and that the value they offer justifies the cost. But if my resources were slashed, and I had to make due on frozen vegetables, dried beans, and quinoa and rice, I could. And I know that I could obtain flavor and satisfaction, along with sustenance, from basic staples.

That said, if you take “luxury” to mean good fortune, then yes, veganism might be seen as a luxury. I can’t speak for all vegans, but I’m personally grateful that it’s a choice I can make, because it’s not a choice that everyone, all the world over, can make. There’s a big difference between pointing out that veganism is possible on even a very limited budget, and addressing the issue of whether or not veganism is possible well below the poverty line, or in circumstances where access to produce is literally nonexistent. I’m talking now about scenarios like food deserts, where it is virtually impossible to obtain the vegetables that are the cornerstone of plant based diet. It seems naive and unfair to suggest that a vegan diet is optimal in these conditions, or under any circumstances where food in general is scarce.

Of course, I’m not suggesting it, nor are most proponents of plant-based diet. What I’m suggesting goes back to the Vegan Society’s definition of veganism: “ways of living that seek to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.” When veganism is literally impossible (as opposed to “sometimes challenging”), few activists would insist that it’s the right choice. What they would probably say is that the fact that not all people in the world can adopt a vegan philosophy is all the more reason that those of us who are fortunate enough to make that choice, do.

To add some humor to this serious topic, the issue of “what’s possible?” reminds me of the famous eskimo retort that so many new vegans hear at cocktail parties. “What if you were an eskimo?! You couldn’t eat a vegan diet as an eskimo.” Well, probably not. But few vegan activists set out to argue that eskimos should be vegan. What they’re saying os that those of us who have the means to be vegan should consider it. The fact that eskimos would probably not be able to thrive on a plant based diet does not mean that I, a person who lives two miles from a Whole Foods and even closer to a farmer’s market in Washington, D.C., shouldn’t. By opting into a vegan lifestyle, I do my best to ensure that animals will not suffer or be exploited at my expense, and I help to set an example for others who want to make the same choice. I make this choice because I can make it, and I’m grateful that I can.

I guess that’s the real point of this post: not to say that veganism is a luxury the way having a personal chef is a luxury, or ordering the vegetable tasting menu at Per Se is a luxury, but to simply say that those of us who can be vegan should take a moment to acknowledge our good fortune. We have the freedom to eat food that is consistent with our ideals, and we have the humbling opportunity to do some good for other living beings every time we sit down to a meal. I’m personally very grateful that I can make the food choices I do; I’ve spent a lot of time thinking how my eating disorder made me take food for granted, but lately, I think more and more about how I’ve always taken my socioeconomic status and basic access for granted.

Speaking of all this, I wanted to mention a really inspiring article in the Washington Post the other day, which mentions a local clinic that writes vegetable “prescriptions”–vouchers, in other words–for low income families, in addition to providing healthy cooking classes and yoga. It’s easy to get cynical about health care, I know–or so I’m always being warned–but these kinds of organizations give me hope that access to healthy food will become less of a privilege, and more of a basic human right–soon.

Image © The Washington Post

I welcome all of my readers to take a moment this evening to be grateful for their food–I’ll be doing it, too. And I’d love to know your thoughts on all of this. I’m not as educated about food politics as I wish I were, so I’d love to hear from those of you who study or read up about these issues. How do we begin to share access to healthy foods with those in need? Any cool programs you’ve read about? Do you ever take your food choices for granted?

xo

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{ 67 comments… read them below or add one }

Janae @ Bring-Joy July 5, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I’ve always felt strongly that a health-promoting diet can be affordable. As you point out, lentils, rice, beans, potatoes, these are all plant-based foods that are nutritious & in-expensive. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of education on how to prepare these foods because it’s not a part of our culture. Many people don’t know how to cook a plain potato, rice, or what to do with dried beans, unfortunately. I think education of how to use these foods is just as important as access to them.

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Gena July 5, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Thanks, Janae. I agree: much of the problem is that, aside from access/cost, folks don’t know what to do with produce, so it seems like an unusual, unattainable choice.

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VeganJesus July 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm

Considering meat wastes the most resources and causes a large rise in global warming I would hardly call veganism a luxury – quite the opposite really. Now the faux meats, we could probably call those luxuries – but every day fruits and veggies? No. Even eating non organic veggies/fruits is a step above meat/dairy and much cheaper/healthier. Luxury to me = excess and needless.

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Gena July 5, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Good point, and one that I forgot to mention. Thanks for the comment!

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Kathryn July 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm

I do like that somehow, vegan choices prompt discussion around morality, excess, and health.

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Angela July 5, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Thank you so much for addressing this issue! I had the misconception for many years that it would be more expensive to incorporate raw foods/raw lifestyle into our diet but we gave it a shot anyway. Comparing our budget before and now, we are saving so much because of the food we’ve eliminated from out diet. And we consistently feel more satiated, which means we are buying less food! Like VeganJesus said, luxury = excess and we don’t feel to need excess anymore.

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Alex @ fightcancerwithfood July 5, 2012 at 3:35 pm

This really resonates with me today, as I’ve just managed to go through a week’s worth of fresh produce in 3 days… damn those massive salads…

I know I’m privileged in being able to afford all the food that I buy, but as I think you’ve said in one of your previous posts, it’s an area of my life that I’m committed to prioritising. I’m also aware that I may not always be able to afford to eat how I do at the moment, so I’ll try to balance things out a bit for the rest of the week.

I do believe that the “superfood” items are definitely more of a luxury than a necessity, as they’re not really required for health or taste.There should definitely be more of an emphasis on how to achieve all the same beneits from healthy foods, without the price tag. I LOVE the idea of farmer’s market coupons!

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Megan O July 5, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Going back to what Janae brought up about the limited knowledge many people have in the kitchen limit their choices on eating. A friend of mine and I both stopped eating meat on Thanksgiving of last year. She basically lives off of sandwiches and chili. When she stopped eating meat she went to pb&j’s and omitted the meat from her chili recipe. About a month ago she told me she started eating meat again because “it was just easier”. I was sad because I had been trying to omit meat from my diet for years and she helped me with that final push and it has made me happy with myself. I think one of the main factors have been that I know my way around the kitchen.
I don’t find vegetarism a luxury and I can’t imagine veganism is either. It is cheaper for me once I started comparing the grocery bills. Though, I guess as you pointed out the fact that we have a choice is luxury in and of itself.
I find it funny that we should have to take a step back and ask ourselves if we take the food we choose to nurish our bodies with for granted. I think carnivores are horrible about taken what they eat for granted. They never take a second look at what they eat because it is more “socially acceptable” to “go-with-the-flow”. No one I know since I have stopped consuming meat has ever stopped to ask themselves whether or not eating meat is a “luxury” or if it is right. I would love to share my experience with someone and help them truly understand my decision but that has yet to happen. I think you were probably thinking globally about sharing access to healthy foods but at the moment I’m focused on trying to share healthy foods with my friends and family.
Anyway, I’m not sure I made any sense with my rambling but that is my two cents.

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raechel @ the rebel grrl kitchen July 5, 2012 at 3:51 pm

Thanks for writing this, Gena. This is a hugely important issue to me, and I’ve struggled with feelings of hypocrisy when I, in my academic and political life, critique the wealth gap (and capitalism in general), and then proceed to buy a membership to a yoga studio and eat vegan, organic, and indulge in some of those afeorementioned superfoods.

One of the things that keeps me going is the realization that my individual choices actually won’t change the world. And that’s not a defeatist statement; quite the opposite. That realization allows me to continue eating the way I eat because I know that if I stopped eating this way and started eating junk that it would have NO POSITIVE EFFECT on those in food desserts, those who live below the poverty line, those in parts of the country where this diet isn’t available, etc.

In contrast, eating the way I do (and yoga-ing the way I do) allows me to maintain the energy, stamina, and motivation to devote my academic work and activist/political energy to working to change the SYSTEM. I know my views are a bit more radical than some in the healthy food blog world where remaining apolitical seems to be more commercial, but really, capitalism is the problem. Not the yuppie yogis, not the white folks in Prius’, not Whole Foods. It’s bigger than that.

And while it’s tremendously important to be self-reflexive about the individual consumer choices we make, I think it’s important that the goal always stays fixed on ensuring we live in a world where this lifestyle IS more accessible, rather than being paralyzed with counter-productive guilt.

And until the day that capitalism is overthrown (no filter here, clearly), I think things like those mentioned in the WP article, and lots of other social justice-based food movement stuff–(e.g., one of the actor’s from The Wire and Treme started a chain of affordable healthy grocery stores in impoverished areas of New Orleans; lots of volunteer and sliding scale yoga studios; yoga classes in prisons; Food Not Bombs (an amazing vegan “soup kitchen”; totally the best! the reason I’m vegan! look it up if you don’t know about it :))–are amazing and are at least inching us closer to real food/health justice.

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Jenny July 5, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Thanks for saying this! Depoliticitization is part of the movement to mainstream veganism, I guess, but I agree with you: our own choices matter mostly for us, and lack of food access is a systemic, structural problem.

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elizabeth July 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm

I am a Christian anarchist, and like you, a huge critic of capitalism, not only because of the “wealth gap” it has generated, but, perhaps more so, for its devastating impact on culture, and community. And I’m saddened by the “food gap” dividing rich and poor neighborhoods (so that, as Mark Winne puts it, the rich get local and organic, the poor get diabetes). Yet, I must admit, I experience not an iota of bourgeois guilt over buying organics, or super foods, or yoga classes, or even over outsourcing my housecleaning. It’s important to remember that even if we’re not capitalists, we inhabit a capitalist world, and the modes of resistance available to us are, to a large extent, dictated by the “system.” Yeah, we opt out where we can, bike to work, etc. But truth is, it’s a system in which making conscious choices about how we spend (or refuse to spend) our money is often not the least but the most we can do. Personally, I find, because I am spending money on food so regularly, with each organic apple, each superfood order, each stop at the farmers’ market, each local beer, etc., I re-connect with and reaffirm my core beliefs. I don’t believe it’s insignificant. And can I just say how much I love Wendell Price?

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Gena July 5, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Wendell Pierce: be still my beating heart. He’ll always be Bunk to me.

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Elizabeth July 6, 2012 at 6:32 am

Wendell Pierce! I knew that!

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raechel @ the rebel grrl kitchen July 6, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Yes! Bunk love! <3

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Nikki July 5, 2012 at 3:58 pm

I was just thinking about the luxury of fresh organic plant food the other day as I walked through the produce department. I spent some time in a small town in Central America and finding anything organic was pretty much impossible and the fruit/veg selection was not only sparse and random, but not healthy looking. It was a take what you can get sort of shopping experience.

I’m so excited to see the farmer’s market vouchers! That is the type of project I want to work on in my neck of the woods, as a nurse practitioner.

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Lisa @ The Raw Serenity July 5, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Bravo Gena!
I completely agree with you and couldn’t have said it better myself.
This is just another example of how eating a vegan wholefood diet has helped/ helping me recover from a long term battle of an ED.
Food isn’t just basic fuel these days, it has a history, an importance and an ability to medicate and heal you with also the ability to harm you.
To be able to have a choice in what I eat , I am extremely grateful.
My home town is very anti-vegan. Its all about farming and producing meat and milk products and when seen not to support the farmers, its not something people respond well to.
That said, although I don’t have a live community or even a friend to support me, I have a great community like at CR that make me feel perfectly satisfied with my lifestyle. Thank you x

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Shira July 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Hi Gena,
Once again, I always appreciate your courage to touch on thought provoking topics that relate to veganism, and to our larger relationship with food in general – I love the way you present your arguments and articulate your thoughts so well! I agree with you that gratitude is perhaps the single most important element that all of us living in the abundant parts of the western world can take away from this, and I wholeheartedly believe that simply having choice at all is in itself a luxury – and as you so aptly point out, there are many parts of the world where people do not live under these comfortable conditions (so many in fact).
While veganism is totally possible on cheap staples, it is also true that many of the high density staples heavily promoted as part of a modern vegan lifestyle (many nuts, sweeteners, etc) do remain largely unavailable and in-accessible to many due to lack of availability and very high cost. Where I believe bloggers can really make an impact is in touching on ways to make eating well less focused on what we might call ‘luxury’ ingredients – getting back to those basics that are more accessible to more people – like the dry legumes and grains from the bulk bins. This could go a long way to addressing the stigma that veganism is seen by many as luxury.
Great topic Gena – thanks!

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Averie @ Averie Cooks July 5, 2012 at 5:15 pm

On blogs, there’s a big focus on the high end vegan stuff, the dried fruits and seeds and nuts and specialty this and that (and also b/c raw foods get lumped into vegan foods many times, that category of raw + vegan is also full of pricey stuff) but “frozen vegetables, dried beans, and quinoa and rice” — there needs to be more of that.

The average woman in Oklahoma with 3 kids and a job and bills and a husband and is not buying gogi berries and taking 3 days to dehydrate kale chips. She’s going to Walmart because her kid needs shoes more than she needs chia seeds. If she wants to raise a family on a vegan or largely plant-based diet, she has to know it’s do-able from both a budget and time and TASTE standpoint.

It’s possible to do vegan cost-effectively and that’s why I like vegan cookbooks that showcase everyday rea food for real people – not the specialty stuff.

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Daniel July 5, 2012 at 5:40 pm

“… but “frozen vegetables, dried beans, and quinoa and rice” — there needs to be more of that. She’s going to Walmart because her kid needs shoes more than she needs chia seeds.”

This. I could not agree more.

I’ve come across far too many blogs supporting vegetarianism/veganism that make it seem like omnivores lack the ability to have morals and if you purchase vegetables that aren’t local or organic that you’re some kind of monster. More blogs that support the common 9-5 family struggling to live a vegan lifestyle are needed. Not only would it help to improve the image of veganism, it would make it easier for those trying to make the transition – or even eat better in general – who are getting all bent out of shape because their store doesn’t carry flaxseed and if that’s the case, “why bother trying?”

I’m happy that Gena, while promoting superfoods and amazing raw dishes, includes a great deal of flexibility in her suggestions and personal life, and doesn’t knock people down who can’t live the way she does.

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Gena July 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Thanks, Daniel. And Averie, thanks for this comment. I totally agree with you both. At bottom, it’s possible to be vegan whether you’re shopping organic or not, eating superfoods or not, and regardless of whether you’re shopping at Whole Foods or the neighborhood grocery. It will be more challenging to participate in some of the niche, specialty stuff–and I admit, I really like that stuff–but it’s not the heart of a vegan diet, nor is it the essence of what a vegan philosophy means to me.

It would be utterly disingenuous of me to say that I don’t really love some very expensive (comparatively speaking) stuff: avocados, hemp seeds, chia seeds, dried mulberries, flax oil, and Ezekiel breads. But in my first year as a vegan, I was rarely shopping organic, I bought only conventional wheat breads, and I couldn’t afford anything labeled as superfoods except maybe berries, which were a financial luxury (I still remember buying them from street vendors only!). When I finally got a raise, it was the same time I got into raw, and I could afford to indulge my taste for hemp and chia and the like, but I try to remember the fundamentals, stay adaptable, and not become dependent on things like goji berries or Vega protein.

Though I admit, I would be pretty sad without hemp seeds :)

Thank you both for the reminder to set an example with affordable food.

Edited to add: The one thing that’s important to point out about organic food is that, while it is often unaffordable, the labor practices involved are often more beneficial to human animals. So it becomes an ethics question, too — which is why I can say that organic and vegan are not synonymous, but that organic is not dismissible as a purely fiscal luxury, either.

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Kate July 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I think the more interesting observation to make is that contemporary adherents of veganism in the US tend to occupy a position of educational and socioeconomic privilege. This is true regardless of how affordable or accessible a vegan lifestyle can be. If we start by unpacking that phenomenon, I think we get a lot closer to understanding the complexities of food politics in the US, and can focus for instance on how broader inequities in labor, educational and transportation systems create dietary variances that break down in some way along class lines. The argument too often gets stuck on whether or not it is more expensive to eat health food or junk food, which is quite elementary.

Now, you ask at the end of the post how we can begin to share access to healthy food with those in need. I imagine a lot of people are going to chime in with great examples of school gardens and food stamps at farmers’ markets, all of which I fully support. However, I do want to add that from the perspective of broader food politics, understanding the ways that animal injustice, ecological injustice, environmental injustice but also racial injustice and labor inequities are connected within our very screwed up food system is of utmost importance if we ever want any aspect of that system to change significantly. (Significantly as in going beyond band-aids like the foodstamps at farmers’ markets example.)

So, regardless of if it can be affordable to be vegan or not, I think the vegan community should go much deeper with their thinking about what it means to be cruelty-free or to “do good for other beings” through meal choices and build even stronger alliances with farmworkers and food factory workers groups. The stronger those alliances are, the more just our food system will become, whether you care about animals or workers or poor urban communities or your own family!

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Gena July 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I think this is a really insightful comment, Kate. And beyond that, I think you raise a good point about farm workers and factory workers. One of the temptations in response to this discussion is to say, “screw organic,” and while I felt that way sometimes myself in response to the fact that organic produce can be so much pricier, I also worry that the labor practices of non-organic food are, by and large, far worse. Anyway, this is a complicated intersection, and I appreciate hearing your take.

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Kate July 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm

I know just what you mean about organics, particularly because I work in a low-income community where affordability and healthy diets are a problem but so are exposures to chemical contaminants. It drives me crazy, too, that the EWG’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists are based entirely on consumer exposures and fail to acknowledge that foods can be safe for consumption but still have required high amounts of spray and thus be very dangerous for farmworkers.

These difficulties ultimate exemplify why these issues just can’t all be addressed at the level of the consumer. There shouldn’t have to BE a choice between affordability, chemical safety, animal health, or workers’ rights. We have to work together to show that these are false choices created by our political and economic systems. Which is why I think veganism when framed as part of a broader food movement is ultimately more powerful than veganism when framed just as a personal political or ethical decision.

And now I’ll stop rambling!

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Gena July 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

Your ramblings are illuminating! In the fine words of Led Zeppelin, ramble on!

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raechel @ the rebel grrl kitchen July 5, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Really excellent points, Kate!

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Melanie St. Ours July 5, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Yes! This post and so many of the comments are really making me feel encouraged. Widespread change will only be possible as we begin to unmask and unravel the systems behind oppression in all its forms. Our individual choices matter a great deal, insofar as our own actions are the only facet of life that we can control. Yet, historically, it has only been through collaborative action on the part of large groups of people that social justice has been able to make significant gains.

I believe there are significant barriers that stand in the way of all socio-cultural groups adopting a vegan diet, but I’m not convinced that cost alone is at the heart of it. I do believe that privilege is, though. It seems to me that in the US veganism has flourished within groups that have more class privilege. (Remember—class is not purely about how much money you make.) I’m not quite sure where to go with this observation…

The exploitation of non-human animals is deeply connected with other interlocking systems of oppression and subjugation. It’s connected not only ideologically, but in practical terms. For example, the human beings who work in slaughterhouses experience significant threat of physical harm in the workplace, suffer labor abuses, and often experience psychological trauma from the nature of their grim work. I can’t imagine that anyone with a real choice to do otherwise would freely work in such conditions at such a task.

I’m engaged in a lot of on-going work to undo oppressions. It’s never been easy for me to talk about animal rights in those circles. I keep silent because I fear that I’ll be seen as the pampered white girl who thinks that animals are more important than suffering people. I’m not sure how to talk about the connection that I sense between racism and the exploitation of human beings with the senseless exploitation, mutilation, and killing of animals.

I’ll be reading eagerly to hear what each of you have to say. For my part, I am a very imperfect advocate and my activism has a lot of room to grow. But I’m committed to continuing to learn and continuing to engage at my own growing edge. Thanks all of you for your work and thoughtfulness. It gives me a lot of hope.

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Kathryn July 5, 2012 at 5:51 pm

In the province where I live (in Canada) the provincial government has recently contributed to an initiative called “The Farmers’ Market Nutrition and Coupon Program.” This program offers low-income families the opportunity to obtain $15 worth of coupons each week, while low-income seniors will receive $12 worth. Coupons are treated like cash and can be used to purchase a variety of B.C. food products including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, dairy and fresh cut herbs. I recently studied the efficacy of programs such as this in Canada and the US for a school project and they do seem to make a difference in terms of improving nutrition and quality of life for people in need, as well as increasing food security.

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Sarah July 5, 2012 at 6:39 pm

I have to echo all the other sentiments that this is an incredibly helpful and important topic to discuss. Sometimes I think you are inside my brain because you constantly bring up the very issues I have on my mind! Viewing veganism as elitist and a luxury is something that I have struggled with for quite sometime. It’s been a major barrier in my being able to tell others of my dietary choices. Until very recently I’ve been a closet vegan. It has also brought on enough guilt, that I’ve found myself compromising my own ethical convictions, to pacify the crowd when it does come up and I’m told I “need” to eat meat. Food is indeed a basic human right. Healthy food. Not just anything that can go through out digestive systems without killing us immediately. Healthy food is not just something that would be nice because it tastes good, it is essential for life and remaining healthy. The staples of a vegan diet are exactly the foods that promote such health. The declining health of our population is a perfect example of what happens when we are not properly nourished. I agree that the goji berries and chia seeds may not all be “necessities” (though they do offer some unique health benefits), but the staples of veganism are by no means a luxury. And we are not trying to keep only ourselves eating this way. Part of the vegan movement is to find ways to make it possible for everyone to have the choices we do. We want everyone to have an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and to look forward to their dinner loaded with beans. We aren’t trying to reserve it as our own exclusive right. Us making the choices that we do is the best way we can influence this becoming reality for an increasing number of people. So now I’m finally beginning to embrace the fact that by eating this way I am doing the most substantial thing I can as an individual to make this world a better place.

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Emily July 5, 2012 at 6:46 pm

You’ve summed up my thoughts perfectly; as Americans, we have a ton of work to do in order to secure better food sources. I’m so grateful that my income (and sacrifices) support my vegan lifestyle.
I recently visited my parents in the town I grew up in (roughly 30 miles from my new town) only to panic because our local grocery store did not stock any tofu or organic fruits or vegetables. The truth is, even if they did, most individuals in my hometown could not afford it or would not see the added health benefits of buying organic, wholesome ingredients. On the bright side: the local farmer’s market just started offering tokens in exchange for food stamps so individuals who require assistance can use their monthly allotment there. I really hope people use this program because I think in the end, it is much more healthful and budget-friendly.

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Catherine July 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Thank you for posting on this topic, Gena. Very thought-provoking.

I agree that having a choice is something for which to feel grateful, and I do. It does bother me when many people who expect meat and cheese to be present at every meal forget that, in our parents’ (some of us) and grandparents’ generations, meat was not expected at every meal, or even every day. And they would use every last scrap of it, streching it as far as possible. It was expensive, and for good reason. But now our government has chosen to subsidy foods (like meat, and the grains that are grown to feed those animals) and dairy that were once a bit more expensive. Just like cutting back on gas and driving when oil prices rise, more people would reduce their meat consumption if its price reflected the actual cost of raising, slaughtering it, and bringing it to the table. Instead, we can get an entire hamburger for $0.99. What kind of statement is this about our country’s food ethics?

As others have said, other countries around the world have had long, long histories of dependence on cheaper foods like rice and beans. I blame part of the U.S.’s adherence to junk food, packaged food, and the SAD as a consequence of our relatively young age as a country in comparison to Mexico or China, where cultural identity might be stronger, and where it is easier to fall back on staples like rice and simple vegetables.

I hope there is something we can do to bring a healthier, cheaper lifestyle to more people!

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Kari @ bite-sized thoughts July 5, 2012 at 7:09 pm

This is a really interesting post – in fact I wish I’d read it before I hit ‘publish’ on my latest because it touches on similar issues – and I have been pondering these sorts of things of late. I think the ‘luxury’ label is unfair but I also think that there is a big division between the vegan staples (which as you note are actually very cheap) and the vegan ‘treats’, which can be very pricey. It is an eating style that can also require more planning and preparation, at least in Western societies, so I suppose some people would take issue with that.

On a lighter note, I love those vegetable vouchers :D

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Crissie July 5, 2012 at 7:18 pm

I find it interesting also that many people assume I’m spending a fortune on groceries because I don’t eat meat. I not only spend less than I once did, but I think about what I am saving in current and future healthcare expenses. I look at what my childrens’ schools offer as “food”, and find it horrifying that they could spend so much less on more nutritous beans and rice than they do on pizza, burgers, and french fries. It makes me sad to think people find eating off the dollar menu at a fast food joint more cost effective than spending their money at a farmer’s market. We suffer from a huge lack of education on how to eat well and nutritously without breaking the bank. I really hope that the deficiencies in education will be highlighted more as we work towards a better healthcare system – and what we can do for ourselves in this situation.
Okay, sorry….I’m so rarely this serious!

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Vanessa July 5, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Hi Gena! Excellent post. You’ve really articulated the issue well. As you point out, there is luxury as access and luxury as cost. In terms of access, I agree with you that some places make it much easier to be vegan and we should be grateful if we are in a place that makes it easier for us.

As for cost, it wasn’t all that long ago that I counted every cent at the grocery store. Both my husband and I were unemployed. Buying organic was out of the question and we ate lots of pasta! I truly do give thanks every time I walk into Whole Foods. I remember those days and thinking, “what I wouldn’t give to shop at Whole Foods!” Now taking unemployment out of the equation, on normal terms I don’t feel I spend more money eating vegan. I’m not sure I save either though as I’ve changed meat and eggs for organic produce. However, where I have saved is on doctor bills! Previously sick all the time, I rarely catch a cold or the flu anymore so no more doctors visits or antibiotics for me.

Thanks for a thought provoking post!

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FoodFeud July 5, 2012 at 8:38 pm

I am considering going back to school for public health and addressing these same issues – how to bring healthy AND cheap food to those who need it most. I volunteered at a food pantry last summer in conjunction with Just Food (who do incredible work!!) and a farm to bring organic vegetables to the inner cities. I described how to use the vegetables, or tried to but was wowed at how much people already knew about (most) of the vegetables, they just really saw them in the urban food desert, or if they did they were bland, old vegetables from mass farms for super cheap.
We need to keep farmers markets accepting food stamps, I think that’s most important, and we need to get into schools and communities to educate. I wrote a long, long, article about this for my zine, marmalade umlaut (if anyone wants a copy, let me know!!) so I’ll try to keep this short but I FIRmLY believe that plant-based living is cheaper but I agree with Raechel that this capitalist government makes it difficult to be, since they subsidize meat and dairy farmers and force smaller farms out. It’s sad.
Thanks so much for opening this discussion, Gena. I also recommend that anyone interested in these issues read Janet Poppendieck’s Sweet Charity. It’s amazing.

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elizabeth July 5, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Another great introduction to food politics is The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved by Sandor Katz.

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Nicole July 5, 2012 at 9:01 pm

This article was a nice reminder about appreciating our food. I loved reading it along with the follow up comments. Wonderful points being made!
I wanted to mention the author Bryant Terry. In his book The Inspired Vegan he talks about this very issue. He has a charity that helps bring grocery stores like whole foods to rural areas that don’t have access to fresh foods and produce. Along with that, he is all about educating people about how healthy and reasonable priced a vegan lifestyle can be. It is certainly a book worth checking out related to this topic, and his recipes are pretty awesome too! :)

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elizabeth July 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm

I don’t eat a lot of cooked food, but a lot of what I do cook these days is straight out of Bryant Terry. Proof you don’t need fancy gadgets or expensive ingredients to make healthy, delicious, and beautiful food. He’s got great taste in music too! I love the attention he gives to the whole aesthetic dimension of cooking and eating; it’s something HUGELY important to me, and yet, I always regarded it as superficial compared to my other concerns – for animal rights and food justice, to say nothing of health. Bryant’s concerns for all those things are inseparable – which makes him a great guide, i think.

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Hannah July 5, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Thank you, Gena, for expanding more on my comment into an entire post! I like that it has sparked a lot of discussion, of which I have to read more of because there is so much.

I actually did a paper on food deserts last Fall – and while I can’t find all of my resources at the moment, here is a radio interview about a community garden in Springfield, Mass, known as a food desert in some parts of the small city:
http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/wfcr/news.newsmain/article/0/0/1705672/WFCR.Local.Features/Food.Deserts..Part.2.Community.Garden.as.Antidote

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Gena July 5, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Thank you for sharing this, Hannah! My father’s parents once lived in Springfield, Mass.

xo

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Cat July 5, 2012 at 10:55 pm

I heard of something here not too long ago called “Bountiful Baskets”. Not entirely certain of the numbers and how it works. I think people pay something like $15 every two weeks for a box of produce – the assortment is anyone’s guess each time; but it gives folks an opportunity to try a variety of things, some that might be foods they’ve never tried before. Not sure if it’s organic or not, but it seems affordable and a good way to get some healthy foods into hands of people who might otherwise not shop for those items.

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AmandaRunsNY July 5, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Great post, Gena. I agree that in many parts of the world veganism is attainable and affordable. It might not be all sorts of dehyrated foods and super foods, but really, a normal diet isn’t full of brie and scallops either. That stuff is expensive too, and not exactly available in every grocery store around.

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Barbara July 5, 2012 at 11:14 pm

Capitalism is not the problem. Crony capitalism, speculation gone wild and lobbyists writing legislation, political payoffs and food subsidies which kill COMPETITION which would allow markets to set lower rates/prices, are.

When this county had true free markets and and competition was favored amongst the big businesses and small business, prior to 1913, you didn’t need laws and regulations because businesses (all kinds) that were bad (corrupt, mismanaged, not what the people needed) failed because the public wouldn’t support them with their money (boycott – very affective if done long enough.)

Organic meat, fruits, and vegetables would be lower priced if competition was allowed and subsidized big agribusiness wasn’t allowed to happen. Most of the subsided food goes to animal feed taking up most of our farm land. Many local farmers who had to fold, would still be in business today and helping to keep prices down. But it is not all about price, the soil of most conventional produce is farmed nutrient and mineral deficient. It’s definitely not as healthy, therefore the food grown isn’t healthy. By the time it travels to distribution and then on to stores there is hardly any nutrient value in the food at all. So cheaper is more exensive int the long run due to health issues..It is also better for the earth long term as when the soil gets so depleted and is basically dead, it blows away in the wind. We lose so much good nutrien rich soil every year. Also, if less factory farmed meat was produced there would be more land for non-feed farming. While I am vegan, I believe who am I to judge those that care to eat it, though I do speak out to friends about it and to at least ask they buy meat raised humanely, though my personal belief they should live and not be slaughtered. Some peoples ancestry and genetic makeup lends them to eating meat.

Yes the world has too many starving people, I wish could personally feed them all, but I can’t. But for all the donations that are made to organizations that are supposed to feed millions around the world, in many countries, it is very difficult for many of them to get beyond the regimes in those countries to deliver the food. The king or leader for political control wants their nation to be suppressed to stay in control. What better way for them to achieve that than by starvation and lack of clean water. Thank goodness for the organizations that are able to get through to the hungriest people who survive most times on one bowl of food for the whole family to share.

Thanks for the post. I do not feel luxurious to be a vegan. It is less expensive than purchasing meat, it is better for my health, no medical insurance, but I have no medical bills because I choose to be healthy and so I eat healthy. A pay my natropath as go. It is not a question if veganism is a luxury really. It is about compared to how much many in the world who do eat is the luxury compared to the many in the world who don’t and who feel the pangs of that always. Veganism isn’t the only lifestyle with a diet, there are so many. So many starving people do not eat what we eat around the world do due to their cultures and climates and would probably refuse some of what we eat if it was purchased and shipped over to them plus allowed to get to them (no power conflict, not hijacked). They probably would get sick because they wouldn’t absorb/digest/have lack of enzymes for our fruits and veggies. In this country with the diverse cultures many of our starving people would not necessarily eat what we believe is best for them due to their cultures and knowing how to cook/prepare them, but it is worth the effort to try because I do believe it will surely be beneficial to try, more so than if the impoverished are in an extremely arid wasteland elsewhere.

And yes, the empowerment for roof gardens and vacant lots turned into gardens in impoverished areas in big cities or in rural areas is a great start, as the people are participating, and from what I’ve read love creating and tending their gardens and eating the bounty they grew. Many have had access at times to some produce, albeit minimal, but even those with money do buy and have decided junk food, most of the “food” today is what they want and they won’t touch fresh produce.

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hannah July 6, 2012 at 6:51 am

I wish there were a “like” button for your comments :)

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Fiona July 6, 2012 at 11:21 pm

I would also love a “Like” button for comments! :)

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Fiona July 6, 2012 at 11:22 pm

For comments in general, not to like this comment in particular, as I am not fond of capitalism myself.

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Rebecca July 5, 2012 at 11:49 pm

I’ve had a couple thoughts as I read the original post and comments. Here they are in all their unrelated glory…

Regarding both financial resources and access: I think cooked vegan (the rice and beans route) is nice and cheap, and the cheaper fruits and veg help with flavor a lot. Think Aldi here. Or the many ethnic fruit and veg markets. I think raw diets or high raw vegan are another thing altogether.

I also think cultural factors are a huge factor in food choices and expenditures. I grew up in Europe where people live in comparatively tiny houses with a lot more people in them and spend… I don’t know, half? their income on food because they value taste and companionship over other uses of their money and time. I now live in Chicago, a marvellous city of immigrants and it seems to me that the food deserts are definitely not in the sections where new immigrants/refugees first live. They are full of fruit and veg markets. I’m guessing the cultures represented also value the fresh vegetables. A culture that values fresh will create its own access. A lack of access within a culture that does not (yet?) value fresh, will prevent fresh from ever being valued.

Rural/semi-rural areas are outside my experience, so I can’t comment. Except to say that a friend living in a small town in the south-western Pennsylvania mining areas said she had a very hard time indeed accessing fresh produce besides carrots and potatoes. She had a garden full of kale when I visited, much to her kids’ disgust! :)

I second (or third!) the observation that many of us haven’t a clue how to cook – and that, I think, for sociological reasons. For most of us, it was not handed on. Or as my mother puts it (perhaps more truly?) when I complain to her about my own lack of skills “the interest wasn’t there…” Even if an omni form of cooking was handed on, one could figure out how to cook vegan. But some of us are truly starting from scratch! A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine in her early 30′s was amazed to see what a butternut squash looked like inside. Although she loved squash, she had never bought or cooked it herself because she didn’t know what to do with it. She does not tend to get information from print (or the internet) so just passed squash by. This has more to do with knowledge/personal resources than financial. Although my friend lives below the poverty line, she has both access and decent food stamp resources, and dedication to providing good nutrition for those under her care, but she has less of the knowledge/information resources than others of us.

I think being able to afford restaurant food and/or more expensive foods in general, is a luxury, whether vegan or not. I spend a lot of money on food and am very grateful I can. Cities have different access than rural. Globally, I do believe being a healthy vegan is a luxury in that so many many people do not have access to good nutrition, in general.

Political and economic systems, yes. But I wouldn’t demonize capitalism myself. While I understand the subsidy consequences, lack of protective legislations, etc., many other countries have massive problems with food supply/worker’s health/rights either now or historically and it’s not necessarily due to their adherence to capitalism. Unfortunately, there are plenty of problems to go around. Sigh.

Okay, it’s way too late. Thanks for an interesting discussion.

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tara July 6, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Rebecca,

So much of your comment resonates with me, especially the not cooking part. As I grew up (I’m 31), my mom rarely cooked. So in addition to my lack of interest (did you get my doritos?), I didn’t have much of a role model at home. However, I spent a lot of time with my aunt and grandmother, who both cooked regularly, so I was exposed to the basics. After I left home and started feeding myself, it was mostly a combination of frozen dinners, chips, cookies, and rice-a-roni (my specialty, lol). However, a little over a year ago, I decided to get healthier, thanks to the two blogs I read: BonzaiAphrodite.com and Vega-licious.com. These two ladies totally inspired me to wake up and take responsibility for my health and body. I’m still not a superb cook, but I can follow any recipe and I *have* cooked butternut squash. ;-)

On a different note, I’ve been wanting to go to Chicago for a few years. I don’t really know why. Don’t know of anything in particular I want to do or see. Just want to hop on the train (I’m in Memphis) and hang out up there for a while. lol.

Also, I agree with you politically. After I started listening to Ron Paul and noticed some stuff he said made sense, I did a lot of reading and studying about our history and economy. Capitalism is definitely not the problem. We can only hope to have true capitalism again, someday.

Great post!
Great comments all around!!

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Findabair July 5, 2012 at 11:53 pm

Hi, I haven’t read all the comments, so sorry if this has already been mentioned. If we have a healthy diet, we tend to spend less money visiting doctors and hospitals. That has got to be a major savings.

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Hannah July 6, 2012 at 12:20 am

Brilliantly put, Gena. During my undergraduate/Honours years studying Sociology (and English, but that’s not relevant to this discussion), one of the areas I was most drawn to was the interactions between health, body, socio-economic status, and social geography. (This interest often meshed/crossed over with my equal pull towards critiquing gender, racial, and “class” [for want of a better word] inequalities.) You’re absolutely right in talking about, and framing, luxury not simply in terms of frivolity and waste, but of the ability to recognise our privilege and then, in turn, do what we can with our privilege to tread more lightly on this earth and our fellow beings.

Of course, this also extends beyond food to how we treat and behave in many ways, for it is stupendously easy for people to slowly (or, let’s be honest, from birth, sometimes!) drift into conceptualising their privilege as not privilege but their right, and in so doing continue to marginalise the majority of other beings/groups/realities around them.

I could talk about this for hours, but I’m sure every comment I could make has already been made more eloquently here! So I shall pull back my inner sociologist and feminist, and applaud you for instigating another fantastic discussion.

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Sue July 6, 2012 at 5:00 am

I am, in fact, very grateful to have the option to choose a veg*n diet. I agree that it is a form of luxury, not because it’s expensive (it’s not!), but because I have access to fresh produce, and other plant-based foods.
On the other hand, it is quite challenging to be vegan in a rural area of South Germany, on a tight budget, without Whole Foods or even Trader Joe’s, or any vegan restaurants, but it’s possible! While I don’t have (easy) access to things like chia seeds, nut butters (except pb and tahini), pre-made vegan hummus, or almond milk, I try to focus on the foods that I can find easily, and that I can afford, like whole grains, beans, lentils, soy products, vegetables, and fruit.
And I’m also very grateful to have access to a wonderful community of people who share my interest in a plant-based, healthy lifestyle.

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Anna July 6, 2012 at 6:57 am

There’s a huge difference between what’s easily available in different countries as well as different areas of countries. Fresh blueberries (and even frozen) here in the UK are out of my price range, but that doesn’t mean we don’t eat other fruit that is local and seasonal. I’m lucky to get an organic vegetable box and fruit bag every week for a pretty good price (compared to what I’d spend in a supermarket for the same) and these schemes are becoming more and more available to all areas of the country.

Here in the UK there is a government scheme whereby you get Healthy Start vouchers (http://www.healthystart.nhs.uk/) from when you are pregnant until your child is 4 years old if you are on a low income. You can use the voucher towards buying formula or cow’s milk (you used to be able to use it for soya formula but they no longer allow that for some reason) but also for fruit and vegetables. I found them really helpful and have missed them since my youngest got too old for us to claim. The local greengrocer in my village had a sign saying they accepted them so there’s no need to go to a big supermarket (our closest is 12 miles away).

Like you I forgo some things like going out or top of the range anything (!) in order to be able to buy organic and some speciality items, but should I need to radically reduce my budget I know that I can cut back on organics and rely more on beans and fresh vegetables without compromising our diet too much. My kids see pre-packaged food as a treat and accept that we only eat something out of a box once a week maximum, every other meal is made from scratch and my older son is very interested in seasonal eating (local, seasonal and organic are important to me) and we share the excitement when things we like come back into season and he checks the wall chart we have to see when things he doesn’t like will go out of season for a while too!

The main things we buy that are packaged are breakfast cereals (‘healthy’ organic ones), soya yoghurt, Tofutti cheese slices for my son’s lunch, tofu, cheese for the home made pizza we have twice a month and some vegan chocolate as a treat. These are all things we could live without if need be or make home made versions of. I think the ‘privileged’ idea of veganism comes from people seeing vegans going on about packaged speciality items like cheese, seitan etc (I make my own seitan as it’s very rare to find it pre-made here and if I do see it I can’t afford it), many of those items are very expensive and only available to people who live somewhere that they can actually have access to them (or afford the shipping if ordering online) and have the disposable income to afford them.

Some of the poorest countries in the world have diets that are mainly vegetarian or vegan through necessity rather than choice which is great for cookbook enthusiasts like myself as I can make Italian peasant food or Ethiopian food from things I always have in the house, it’s filling, nutritious and most of all reasonably priced. When I see the price of meat and packaged foods I don’t understand how people manage to buy it, even with all the organics I get my food budget is still lower than many who have an omni non-organic diet.

Thanks for the thought provoking post!

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Brittany July 6, 2012 at 7:31 am

Thanks for raising this very important issue. Running a raw and vegan food business in Johannesburg, South Africa, I am all too aware of the kind of privilege this diet entails. Even though fruits and vegetables are grown locally, they are not generally available in the townships (poorer areas outside the city). That means that even basic healthy food is relatively inaccessible to the majority of the population, or at least the urban poor. When I am blogging about smoothies or juices I am aware that many South Africans: a) don’t have access to the internet; b) can’t afford a blender or juicer; c) don’t have access to as many fresh fruits and vegetables as they should; and d) in some cases don’t even have electricity. Sadly, we have a long way to go before the natural abundance of fruits and vegetables are produced and distributed to everyone at fair prices, so that they are cheaper than the unhealthy fast food meals people survive on.

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Alex @ Raw Recovery July 6, 2012 at 7:48 am

Really well-written post, Gena. I have to agree with a lot of what you said and I’d also like to add that I think people can be compassionate towards animals without being vegan. My best friend from my last treatment center for my eating disorder is allergic to soy, lentils, anything with seeds (so all fruit and some vegetables except bananas) and would not be able to get her nutritional needs met on a vegan diet but loves animals and is a very compassionate person. I know that is slightly off topic but I felt the need to add that in (and I didn’t think that you are or have ever implied that one must be vegan to care for animals).

I think it is a misconception at least in my own experience with family and friends that veganism is for those with greater financial resources because of the high price of certain specialty items. I believe those individuals forget that there are also non-Vegan specialty items that are highly priced as well. There will always be products on the market that are not financially feasible to many people, and I feel incredibly fortunate that with the help of my parents (since I’m a recent college grad), I’m able to purchase the amount of food I need, as well as mostly organic (which can be found at good prices if you do a little searching!) Just a few thoughts.

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Sarah E July 6, 2012 at 8:46 am

Great article, really interesting comments rolling in. Thanks, Gena!

I totally love the idea of writing veggie prescrips. Insurance companies should totally be covering fresh produce!

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melissa @ the delicate place July 6, 2012 at 8:53 am

while i do think a healthy diet can be affordable, i definitely spend more on groceries than i’d like. i do stress about buying whole, organic produce and proteins. i haven’t mentioned this on my blog yet but i have been eating vegetarian (no dairy, & small amounts of oily fish/local & cage free eggs from our farmer’s market) for 4 weeks now. i have seen a small decrease in my overall bill from not buying chicken or red meats and have also cut out nut mylks since i can use water in my smoothies or make my own mylk.

i find that i hit the grocer twice weekly. once for a big order and then a small supplement trip because i cannot keep my produce fresh for 7-10 days. i am freezing fruits which helps but herbs/greens tend to get a bit soft towards the end.

i feel lucky that i can make choices to nourish my body and mind and it’s a splurge i am willing to make. i would rather spend money to support my health and life in forward thinking than cut corners now only to wind up sick from poor eating in later adulthood.

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Janet July 6, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Great article! I am very interested in the label aspect of this discussion.

Anecdotally, in my work (I work in public health research of day care in a large urban area) I see a lot of people who eat veg*n several meals per week not because of a label or a food blog but because meat is expensive and opening a can of beans with some rice is a regular meal. I have been in more affluent centers where several of the kids had special diets (no dairy!, vegan! No wheat! Only organic! No sugar!). These diets are almost never present in lower SES centers. The cooks do their best with what they have and the kids eat what’s given to them because hunger is a real problem. Many kids don’t get any breakfast at home and look forward to the grits, oats or whatever and those things are veg*an! As many others have stated, it’s the wealth gap again.

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Marissa July 6, 2012 at 10:58 pm

I used to cook and serve for my local chapter of Food Not Bombs and had the opportunity to cook in other cities as well. They’re a great resource for getting healthy vegan food to those who need it. The veggie prescriptions you mention are something to get excited about, too!

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Sarah July 7, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I agree that there are many inexpensive vegan options, specifically grains and beans. Unfortunately I think many people don’t consider making a simple meal of buckwheat, lentils, and kale. For most, this is untraditional. However, I think financially speaking, you could plausibly feed a family on grains and beans for the same cost as that encountered at a fast food restaurant. I think people don’t know that there are ways to be healthy on a minimal budget. Even though people may have access to cheap vegan fair, they may not be aware of how to create a complete meal or where to look for cheap ingredients. As for food desserts, the situation is often bleak. I’m very interested in The Food Trust’s Healthy Food Initiative which was just introduced. The Philadelphia program is introducing healthy food options into corner stores in Philly food deserts in an attempt to battle the obesity epidemic. However, access is not the only issue. Awareness and education or lack thereof play key roles as well. People are so far removed from what they eat and how it affects their bodies – the idea of ‘you are what you eat’ is almost a foreign concept. We have no societal understanding of how food impacts our health and the environment. I believe that if you have the information, then you can be vegan on any budget. Obviously, there is a wave of upperclass veganism that perhaps makes veganism in general look like a luxury. But this is misleading. We know there are vegans of all different socioeconomic background.

I once lived off of peas, canned soup, and potatoes for an entire winter when money was tight. Similar to you, I have been fortunate to not encounter extreme poverty / financial difficulties that would threaten my food choices long term. Sure, if I had more money coming in, I’d probably spend more on food, but overall I can’t complain. I can’t imagine ever not being vegan, even in times of financial stress. I know from experience that I would just go to grains, veggies, beans, and soup.

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Sandy July 7, 2012 at 4:24 pm

Like others have said, it’s all about what you buy…the luxuries that give vegans a bad stereotype are the trendy groceries. Someone may buy organic black quinoa, broccoli rabe, mung beans, raw tahini, and imported cacao nibs at whole foods while someone else buys red beans, rice, tomatoes, greens and a dark chocolate bar at walmart. They’re both equally vegan.

I must admit, when people find out I spent $4 on a kombucha I kind of feel like an A-hole sucker that’s been pulled in by trendy “healthy” marketing. I still drink them though :) I also pull the price tags off sun butter and tahini before anyone sees them and I avoid any talk about the cost of the vitamix. Back in the day (I’ve been vegan for 25 years) it was cheap because there were no whole foods or vegan packaged foods and all we ate were veggies, beans, rice, granola and bread. If you were really lucky you had tofu. Now? I’m not so sure. I live in LA where the rich vegan yoga going coconut water drinking green smoothie “detox” stereotype is everywhere….and I’m kind of one of them! Very interesting topic, thank you!

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Lexi @ You, Me, & A World to See July 7, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Whoa Gena, great post!!

I’m a vegetarian (for all effective purposes). And while I’m not a vegan, I can definitely appreciate what you’ve said. This, in particular, really struck one of my own chords:
“I spend so much time thinking about food as a form of nutrition or artistry that I forget to think about food as a basic human need.” I know farmers’ markets, buying organic, and shopping at WF is widely considered a luxury. I can understand that and, to some extent, agree with it. But at the same time, I don’t think a plant-based diet is a luxury per se. It is a privilege that we are able to choose such a life style, but the diet itself is not a luxury. Because of my involvement with food now and in the past, I do often forget that food exists as one thing above all else: nourishment. It’s not kale or filet mignon, goji berries or foie gras, lettuce or lamb–it’s basic nourishment. And for that, I’ll always be thankful :)

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Anne P July 8, 2012 at 1:38 pm

I just saw this post – apparently great minds think alike! I wrote a similar post on Friday. :) http://www.fannetasticfood.com/2012/07/06/discussion-friday-prescribing-fruits-and-vegetables/

Got some great discussion going!

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Liz @ The Sixth Letter July 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Wow, wow, wow. This is the second post I’ve seen in the healthy living blogosphere I’ve seen recently that is addressing some of the fundamental food system issues we need to address. This is strange to admit, I suppose, but reading it – and the comments – made me tear up a bit because I am so thrilled to see the concern and compassion. So many healthy living folks out there focus on individual health only and don’t write about the larger system (even if they might think about it). Talking about stuff like this can be polarizing, I get it, but if we don’t address it, none of it will change.

So to Gena – thank you for writing. And to the commenters – thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I work in the sustainable food world, and my (for-profit) company’s current focus is farmworker rights. I’m happy to see that being brought into the discussion through the comments. I highly recommend reading “Tomatoland” by Barry Estabrook for a look at the life behind our food. Also check out http://www.tedxfruitvale.org for videos from an event on different aspects of farmworker welfare.

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Kristy July 9, 2012 at 1:45 pm

This is such a great post, Gena. Chris and I are always remarking out how random it all is and how we just as easily could have been born into a situation where food and water is not readily available. When you take a look at all you do have, it is hard to want anything more. Thank you for this beautiful reminder to not take it for granted.

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Kathryn July 9, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Wow, I really love the idea of a vegetable perscription. Amazing. I’ve heard over and over that eating healthy is too expensive. I have the luxury of buying juicers, a vitamix, a rice cooker, a dehydrator. However, I think as I acquired these fun gadgets I’ve also saved countless dollars on expensive animal products. My husband is a meat eater and when we go out to eat his meals almost always cost more than mine (except for when I ask for double avo!). When I get lazy and buy vegan convienence food my grocery bill goes sky high, but when I eat salads and sweet potatoes and other nutrient dense simple meals – I spend way less.

As always you say everything so well!

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Nichole July 10, 2012 at 3:00 pm

I would like to also point out that being vegan is not a luxury – eating well is. Although I no longer personally find animal products to be a part of a healthy diet, there’s no doubt that people living in these food deserts have the same limited access to hormone-free meat, farm fresh eggs, organic dairy and high quality cheeses as they do to organic, fresh fruits and vegetables.

I think because vegans tend to be self-aware and introspective, we fall into this luxury trap and feel guilty without warrent. Yes, it can be considered a luxury to choose to eat a meat-free dinner made of organic produce, but for some it is also as much of a luxury to eat a Hebrew National hot dog, or buy ground beef that isn’t full of gristle. I remember back to being a poor omnivore, and I actually ate a more vegetarian diet because it was cheaper and healthier. I couldn’t afford “luxuries” like meat or fish. My boyfriend and I were just joking the other day about how when we grew up, we knew which of our friends were rich by who had Thomas’ bagels in their cabinets, and who had store brand. It’s all a matter of perspective.

I agree with Gena that it is important to take a moment to feel grateful for having a choice, but I urge any vegans out there to also allow a feeling of pride or contentment that given the choice, this is the one you’ve made.

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Nichole July 10, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I would like to point out that being vegan is not a luxury – eating well is. Although I no longer personally find animal products to be a part of a healthy diet, there’s no doubt that people living in these food deserts have the same limited access to hormone-free meat, farm fresh eggs, organic dairy and high quality cheeses as they do to organic fresh fruits and vegetables.

I think because vegans tend to be self-aware and introspective, we fall into this luxury trap and feel guilty without warrent. Yes, it can be considered a luxury to choose to eat a meat-free dinner made of organic produce, but for some it is also as much of a luxury to eat a Hebrew National hot dog, or buy ground beef that isn’t full of gristle. I remember back to being a poor omnivore, and I generally ate a more vegetarian diet because it was cheaper and healthier. I couldn’t afford “luxuries” like meat or fish. My boyfriend and I were just joking the other day about how when we grew up, we knew which of our friends were “rich” by who had Thomas’ bagels in their cabinets, because our parents could only afford store brand. It’s all a matter of perspective.

I agree with Gena that it is important to take a moment to feel grateful for having a choice, but I urge any vegans out there to also allow a feeling of pride or contentment that given the choice, this is the one you’ve made.

Reply

Anonymous March 6, 2014 at 5:58 am

It is a luxury in the same way not being a vegan is a luxury. That is to say that you actually have a choice of what you eat as opposed to starving. This modern day and age affords many luxurys that never existed 100 years ago, like fresh fruits and veggies during the winter, fall and spring. Refrigeration techniques, green houses, Trucking industry, all those starving people in Africa who grow food to send here to vegans. The same ones who can’t afford to buy there own crop because your paying more for it.

Yes I dare say we all enjoy this luxury of life known as choice of food. Go back a little over 100 years and you would eat what you got or you starved. When Summer came and the harvest was upon them they would eat and preserve what little they could. Veganism, vegitarianism, paleo diets, all of the oddball specialties are quite honestly nothing more then luxury. One day we might find ourselves in the same predicament as countries like Ethiopia, Sudan, North Korea, Senegal, Gambia, Niger, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Burkina Faso and many more who found that luxury of food choice was suddenly stripped away. Whether it was due to Drought, disease, flooding, war, human error or worse, These people lives hung in the balance of a crop. We have floods and droughts here all the time, it never affects us because we have more then we ever need…

I am thankful for the luxury to choose the food I can eat, and I know it is a luxury to ever believe otherwise is fooling yourself.

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