By Mary Grlic
Image via Healthline.
Vegan and organic diets are becoming increasingly popular, as they can be very sustainable for the environment and beneficial for health. These diets incorporate a lot more natural foods, like fruits and vegetables, often without pesticides or unhealthy ingredients that most other products contain. It may seem like a perfect solution to so many problems: vegan and organic diets are healthy, eco-friendly, and sustainable. However, they can also be unattainable for those who cannot afford them or do not have access to such products.
Veganism excludes the consumption of all animal products. From an environmental perspective, cutting out meat can decrease methane production, land use, water use, and overall environmental costs of meat. Healthwise, vegan diets have been proven to improve human health and reduce healthcare costs by preventing heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Many vegans turn to fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, non-dairy alternatives, and fake meats, some of which are quite expensive.
Organic farms and fields produce fruits and vegetables using ecologically based pesticides and preservatives rather than chemical-based fertilizers. Striving for sustainability, organic farming reduces soil erosion, decreases nitrate in groundwater, and recycles animal waste (Britannica). This means that consumers would intake less chemicals, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics (Harvard Health Publishing). Organic food has been shown to have minimal, though not significant, increases in nutrients, as well as more Omega-3 fatty acids that are crucial to food health (Mayo Clinic). However, with such products comes high costs for consumers and lower yields, causing organic food to be less accessible by many people.
These diets have been proven to be beneficial for the environment and general health, but many consumers struggle to switch to vegan or organic products due to high cost and low accessibility. On average, organic produce and vegetables are approximately 47% more expensive than their non-organic counterparts.
Not only are vegan mock meats and other alternatives difficult to find, but they are also less cost effective. These items are more difficult to come across because the demand is lower, as the vegan diet is less popular than a meat-based plan (The Vegan Review). Oftentimes, it even costs more to go to a coffee shop and use non-dairy milk in a beverage. This inherent surcharge to be vegan or organic is surely a deterrent, and even for those who want to make this lifestyle change, it simply may not fit their budget. As vegan diets do not contain any animal products, it is possible that vegans may need extra supplements for protein, vitamins like B-12, fatty acids, and other nutrients necessary to the human body. It simply may cost more just to get the essential nutrients that people need to live. However, if vegans stick to purchasing whole foods, like fruits, grains, and vegetables, this diet can be more budget-friendly. The bulk of the high cost primarily comes from expensive substitutes for non-vegan products and supplements, many of which can be found in nutrient-dense foods as well. Regardless, it is recommended that vegans do take supplements to ensure that they receive these essential nutrients.
Coupling high cost and inaccessibility, plant-based and organic diets seem like a solution that is only available to the wealthy. Low-income families can struggle to afford specialty food items and more expensive produce. Oftentimes, low-income neighborhoods are offered greater access to “unhealthy” food options, like fast-food, making it difficult to consume or purchase organic products. Disabled individuals may struggle to travel to get certain vegan items or be unable to cook meals (The Vegan Review), making it a challenging diet to follow. Although vegetables and fruits are less expensive than “vegan” marketed products, they require a lot of maintenance. A UK report states that at least 900,000 people lived without a refrigerator and nearly 2 million people did not have a cooker in 2020, making it challenging to store fresh produce and cook such food. If one were to rely on these foods alone, plant-based simply would not be sustainable.
Although the increased consumption of plant-based and organic foods seems like a great way to live a healthier lifestyle and encourage sustainability, it is simply not a reasonable solution for all. As prices are high and accessibility is low, these eco-friendly diets can easily be seen as a classist solution to long-term health and ecological sustainability.
Written by writer Mary Grlic