Updated on 07.04.11

Organic? Vegan? Vegetarian? What Does It Cost?

Trent Hamm

A few weeks ago, I put out a call on Twitter and on Facebook for detailed posts that people would like to see. I got enough great responses that I’m going to fill the entire month of July – one post per day – addressing these ideas.

On Facebook, Vicki asked “what impacts going organic vegan has on your food budget—do you end up spending more or less than you did when you ate a more typical diet?”

I’ll start off by giving you a simple answer and then elaborate on it: eating organic foods caused the food budget to go up, while eating vegan foods caused it to drop a bit.

First, let’s back up and define what we’re talking about here, for those who might not be familiar.

Organic foods refer to “foods that are produced using methods that do not involve modern synthetic inputs such as synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified organisms, and are not processed using irradiation, industrial solvents, or chemical food additives.” (source) Our biggest reason for deciding to eat a large proportion of organic foods were articles relating various food additives and hormonal injections in animals to such effects as early onset puberty in children. We decided, on the whole, that we preferred to minimize the additives in the foods we feed our children (as much as we reasonably can) and one simple way to do that is to just watch for the USDA Organic label on foods.

Vegan foods are ones that do not involve the use of non-human animal products. In other words, vegan foods exclude meat, eggs, and dairy products, along with a few other minor ingredients. We chose to go this route because of personal health concerns and a recommendation from a dietitian to try a “vegan plus fish” diet for a while. I am not vegan for political reasons, I am following a “vegan plus fish” diet for now, while my family often eats much the same food, sometimes supplemented with meat and dairy products. For example, if we make a pizza, they’ll often have regular cheese as a topping while I’ll either have no cheese or soy cheese. At the grocery store, we tend to spend a lot of time in the produce section these days.

So, what impacts have these choices had on our food budget?

Organic foods and our food budget
We started eating a slowly-growing proportion of organic foods at about the time our first child was moving to table foods in late 2006. This choice caused a decided increase in our monthly food budget.

Why? Usually, organic foods are strictly more expensive than non-organic foods of the exact same type. Organic milk costs more than non-organic milk. Organic vegetables cost more than non-organic vegetables.

Of course, while this increase was a real one, the increase was somewhat mitigated by other gradual changes in our diet that came hand-in-hand with having young mouths at home.

First, our gradual move toward preparing more food at home reduced our monthly food costs. We started eating less take-out and making our own meals right at the same time as we were switching to organic foods, and for the same reason. We wanted more control over what our children were eating.

For similar reasons, we gradually moved away from prepackaged meals and toward meals from scratch, which similarly reduced our food costs. Believe it or not, it’s cheaper to actually plan out your meals and understand how to use herbs and spices than it is to throw a boxed meal or a frozen meal into your cart. I can make a far better tasting pan of lasagna than a frozen lasagna at about 60% of the price.

These changes happened gradually over roughly the same period of time and resulted in a net slight reduction in our food budget. It’s pretty easy to see that there was one cost-increasing factor (organics) and two cost-decreasing factors (preparing more food at home, preparing more food from scratch).

Vegan foods and our food budget
Last October, I made a switch to a vegan “plus fish” diet, for reasons described above. This meant our food purchasing changed a bit. We began to purchase less meat, milk, and cheese, and we began to purchase more fruits, vegetables, and grains.

The net impact on our food budget of this change was a reduction in food costs. On the whole, the increase in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and so on had less of an impact than the decrease in meats, milk, cheese, and so on.

The interesting part is that this dietary change pushed us to really start using a lot of new things. For example, we discovered how tasty and versatile quinoa is – that was really our top discovery here. Quinoa itself can be a bit expensive if you don’t look very hard for it, so we started really shopping around for it. Even given the relative expense, though, it didn’t compare to the ongoing cost of meats and cheeses and milk, which can really add up.

One example of a cost reduction that’s clear cut is the fact that our usual dinner beverages shifted, too. I always drink water with dinner now (sometimes with wine, depending on the meal), whereas before I often drank milk. My wife now often drinks water, too, though our kids typically still drink (organic) milk. That’s less milk purchased each week, which is a direct savings.

So, what saves money?
If your primary aim is to reduce your food budget, what can you learn from the above items to save money?

First, prepare your own food at home. Simply switching from eating out is a big cost saver. Virtually every meal you can eat at a restaurant is far cheaper to eat at home.

Second, make your own food from scratch as much as possible. The key here is simply learning how to cook things from scratch. Many people fall into the trap of using prepared meals at home because it’s easier than learning how to prepare them yourself, even though there’s often not much of a time savings from using a packaged meal.

Finally, use more fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains whenever and wherever you can, and drink water as your main beverage. Fruits, vegetables, beans, and grains are all usually bargains in your store, especially compared to the costs of meats and cheeses. Similarly, water from your tap is the biggest bargain there is for beverages, so take advantage of it.

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  1. Johanna says:

    This is at least the second time you’ve talked about how you’re not “vegan for political reasons.” I’m not aware of anyone who’s vegan for political reasons. I believe the phrase you’re looking for is “ethical reasons.” Or, if you want to be more specific (since “ethical” can refer to the ethics of environmental issues, issues of farm worker mistreatment, and all kinds of other things, in addition to the ethics of the treatment of animals), you can say “reasons of animal rights and animal welfare.”

  2. valleycat1 says:

    Where I live, organic produce is not necessarily more expensive than conventional – it depends a great deal on the particular item & whether it’s in season or not. Eating produce seasonally can save money. Our regular grocery has organic & conventional produce, so it’s easy to compare prices. You can also find lists online as to which produce items are more pesticide laden (particularly if sourced overseas), which are the main ones you want to try to get organically whenever possible.

    For a lot of people, the added expense of moving beyond the standard American diet is for the initial phases only, as they gear up with herbs & spices & maybe some more cooking equipment, plus they tend to buy replacement prepared meals/fake meat & dairy items which can be expensive. Also, I think that it is perceived to be more costly, because the money is coming out of your food shopping budget rather than the [often more nebulous] entertainment/eating out budget. Looking at our actual total dollars spent on food from all sources before & after, our household is saving money.

  3. SystemError says:

    I second Johanna’s comments. Although I can say you can often be “political for vegan reasons,” not often anyone is ever “vegan for political reasons.”

  4. Johanna says:

    Couple more things:

    If you like quinoa, you might also want to give millet a try. It’s got a similar (but not identical) texture and flavor, and it’s much, much cheaper. It may be a bit harder to find, depending on where you are, but any decent health food store should have it in the bulk section.

    In response to valleycat, I’m way past the initial phases of moving beyond the standard American diet, and I still buy plenty of fake meat and dairy items, as well as other vegan convenience foods. Most of what I eat, I cook from scratch, but there are times when I’m too busy (or too lazy) to cook, and don’t feel like eating whatever leftovers I’ve got in the fridge. If I can heat up a $1 veggie burger or sausage, slice up some fresh veggies, and have dinner ready in 5 minutes flat, I can save myself $10 or more on a restaurant meal.

  5. kristine says:

    If you already cook most of your food scratch, know your way around the spice rack, and plan your menu around what raw ingredients are on sale, then switching to organic is a straight-up increase in cost where I live.

    Mindful of filling my kids w/ preservatives, coloring and antibiotics, I try to be responsible, but not purist. Some produce it makes sense to buy organic- grapes, berries, pretty much anything with a thin skin or porous leaf, and some things you can survive the conventional- thick skins or food not normally quite as tampered with. My husband knows which states/countries of origin are preferable.

    But one thing I am adamant about- we only eat whole grains, not heavily processed white or unbleached starches- which make your blood glucose spike, and are a poor source of fiber. I have found that switch made our expenses go down, as now I make pancakes from scratch instead of getting pancake mix, and bread, and muffins, where I may have bought them in the past. (Freecycle breadmaker!). Only exception? Birthday cakes, of course!

  6. DOT says:

    I’m fairly sure Trent is not Vegan for ethical reasons, he is vegan for health reason.

  7. Lisa says:

    This is a very interesting subject. I’ve had people tell me that they could never afford to be vegetarian or vegan based on the prices for things like Boca or Morningstar products. I tend to only buy that stuff if my mom wants something fast and easy to make when they’re having burgers for dinner. Mostly, I stay away from it because I’m very strapped for cash, plus it usually has a lot of sodium and other stuff in it. I just cooked tofu the other day and made my own black bean burgers and I have to say (even with my beginner cooking skills) they are WAY tastier and cheaper than the pre-made stuff.

    I would like to buy more organic stuff because it’s better for the environment, and is safer for the field workers, but sometimes the produce can be very expensive. Things like carrots and salad mix are usually not that much more than conventional, but some things like apples are pretty expensive. It’s probably less expensive if you live somewhere where there’s an organic farm nearby. Even buying local produce that isn’t organic is better than buying the same items at the grocery store where they’ve been shipped from another state or country. The flavor is way better, the nutritional content is better, and you are supporting the local economy.

  8. Kevin says:

    I’m ethically opposed to organic food.

    Organic food is socially irresponsible.

    The reason is because growing food according to “organic” standards drastically decreases the yield, and increases the expense. By needlessly shunning pesticides and genetic modification, a given acre is handicapped, and will produce less food than it otherwise could.

    There are simply too many people clamoring for food on this planet to get all snooty about immaterial, junk-science nonsense like an irrational fear of GM foods. Sure, you and I can easily afford to pay more, but nobody ever talks about the people getting cut out of the equation: those who CANNOT.

  9. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: Are you ethically opposed to eating meat for the same reason? Growing grain and feeding it to livestock also drastically decreases the amount of food a given acre can produce.

  10. Kathy F says:

    The Costco where I shop sell quinoa in big bags (maybe 5 pound size).

  11. kristine says:

    Johanna- excellent point!

    I am more concerned about people clamoring for clean drinking water. Pesticides and algae blooms, fracking…not good.

    Some Americans are very poor, and eat poorly. But in many areas freegan groups are popping up that live primarily on discarded food. I see nothing wrong with buying organic.

    Kevin, Are you also against green grass lawns, that contribute nothing save a droll aesthetic and an increased water bill? All that land could be used to produce your own food, so you do not have to deplete the global communal supply.

  12. Jules says:

    I don’t see the point in eating vegan cheese and/or vegetarian sausages: seriously, if you want something that badly, just put the real thing on–if you understand the concept of “moderation”, it won’t kill you, and it’s better for the environment, and better for your taste buds.

    Buying organic vegetables is a question of personal preference. It’s really no better or worse than conventional farming–what you gain in not using pesticides, you lose in yield and reliability.

    But organic meat, dairy, and eggs? Absolutely. I don’t eat meat, but I do cook my boyfriend something meaty every other day or so. And we both eat dairy and eggs–for us, it’s a matter of ethics. Killing animals–well, that happen. But making them suffer just shouldn’t happen. I keep costs down by buying almost-date-expired meats, and then wrapping and freezing individual portions. For eggs, I take a walk to the petting zoo–it’s a nice walk, and you get the meet the chickens :-) (probably not the chickens that laid the eggs, but the eggs are only slightly more costly than normal eggs, so I don’t mind)

  13. deRuiter says:

    “Vegan foods are ones that do not involve the use of non-human animal products.” Does this mean that vegan foods are made of human animal products? Who knew until today?

  14. Johanna says:

    @Jules: Fortunately, I don’t care what you think is better for my taste buds. My taste buds can make their own decisions, thanks.

  15. AnnJo says:

    A comprehensive, soundly reasoned environmental, occupational safety, or economic cost-benefit analysis of organic vs. conventional food has probably never been done because anybody who could get the funding to do it would likely be committed to finding one particular outcome.

    So I think that any any claim that organic is safer or less safe for workers, or better or worse for the environment is probably mostly hot air.

    For example, while it might be safer per worker/hour for a farm worker to be exposed to fewer pesticides, if lower yields and more labor-intensive processes are required for organic foods, then organics will demand more worker/hours and therefore more risk from all other sources of danger to farm workers (injuries, joint damage, skin cancers, etc.).

    While organic food growing may discharge less pesticides and fertilizers into streams and rivers per acre, more acres will be required due to lower yields, increasing the loss of habitat, dimishing diversity of flora, and wasting more energy for farm equipment operation.

    To give an example of a cost-benefit analysis of worker safety from another field:

    I remember many years ago having a conversation with a professional painter whose father, uncles and grandfather had also been painters and had all used lead-based paints throughout their work-lives. I had remarked that it was a good thing for the safety of painters that red lead was no longer being used. He said maybe, maybe not – that a certain number of painters were going to be killed or seriously injured for every so many hours of work (from falls, mostly), and that a surface painted with lead based paint had to be painted only once for every four times it would have to be painted with non-lead paint. Painters would also have to clean brushes with heavy-duty solvents four times more often, with the related cancer risk, and sustain more skin cancers from sun exposure.

    He pointed out that banning lead paint gave more work to painters and expended the job demand for painters, so more people who were less experienced and less well-trained would join the trade and sustain injuries and death at a greater rate.

    He also pointed out that painters were, by and large, strong and physically vigorous, and more painters meant fewer capable people available for other physically demanding professions, increasing the rate of injuries in THOSE fields.

    His point, of course, is the same one I’m making about organic vs. conventionally grown foods – a true cost-benefit analysis requires much greater research than is usually done.

  16. AnnJo says:

    @Johanna, you said: “Growing grain and feeding it to livestock also drastically decreases the amount of food a given acre can produce.”

    I’m not sure this is really true because different grains grow best in different places. Granted, if you get a yield of 150 bushels of corn from an acre of Iowa farmland, feeding the corn directly to people may produce more food value (calories, I’m sure; protein, I don’t know), than feeding it to a cow and then feeding the cow to people. But it turns out people don’t want to eat that much corn.

    Worldwide, human grain consumption is mostly rice and wheat, while animal grain consumption is corn and other “course” grains (which are also used for sweeteners, brewing, distilling and ethanol production, in layers, ie, extract sugars, distill or make ethanol and then feed the grain remnants of the process to animals).

    If you shifted from planting corn in that Iowa field to planting rice or wheat, I suspect the yields would be so low that your net food production would go down substantially over devoting that acre to a mixed use animal feed like corn and feeding the remnants from other uses to a cow.

    There is no law that says corn must be eaten by animals and not people. But for whatever reason, people just don’t seem to want as much of it as we can grow. And they do want meat. So it’s a win-win that we use acreage and technology to grow corn for animal feed in fields that are unsuitable to growing high-yield rice or wheat anyway.

    Factoid: The yield per acre on corn has almost tripled in the last 10-15 years, while I don’t think yields on rice and wheat have grown as much, so only a third as much acreage is now devoted to feeding each cow or chicken as just 10-15 years ago.

  17. Johanna says:

    “A comprehensive, soundly reasoned environmental, occupational safety, or economic cost-benefit analysis of organic vs. conventional food has probably never been done because anybody who could get the funding to do it would likely be committed to finding one particular outcome.”

    You are probably right about this. (Or at least, if such an analysis were ever performed, nobody in the general public would ever hear about it, because neither side would find it sufficiently advantageous to their cause to want to mention it.)

    For the same reason, I doubt that there’s ever been a comprehensive, soundly-reasoned analysis of the relative yields of organic versus conventional agriculture. It’s almost certainly the case that the efficiency advantages of conventional agriculture are not as great as the proponents of conventional agriculture think they are, and not as small (or nonexistent) as the proponents of organic agriculture think they are.

    And as I said before, if you’re really so worried about maximizing the amount of food that’s produced from a given acre of farmland, are you prepared to argue against eating meat, for the same reasons?

    That’s a bit of a disingenuous question, since the very desirability of maximizing the amount of food that’s produced from a given acre of farmland is (you guessed it) also a complicated issue.

    If you’re concerned about world hunger, merely growing more food is not going to solve that, just like building more houses is not, itself, going to end homelessness. As a result of the housing boom, the US as a whole has more houses than it needs. Hooray, no more homelessness! Except not, because nobody wants to be the one to donate *their* house to somebody who doesn’t have any money to pay for it. Similarly, just growing more food isn’t going to help feed anybody, if you don’t have a plan to get that food into the hands of people who can’t afford to pay for it.

    On the issue of habitat destruction, it’s the same deal. Nobody who owns any farmland (or potential farmland) is going to volunteer out of the goodness of their heart to take *their* land out of production, and let it return to (or remain as) wilderness, just because the country or world as a whole has more farmland than it needs. If it’s profitable to farm the land, they’re going to farm the land.

    And then there’s the safety of farm workers. If all those newly-redundant farm workers could go off and get nice, safe desk jobs, that would be one thing. But (1) those desk jobs don’t exist right now, and (2) even if they did, the ex-farm workers probably wouldn’t be qualified for them. In reality, an out-of-work farm worker is probably either going to take an equally physical, equally dangerous job, or be out of work entirely. I have trouble imagining either of those as an improvement.

  18. Johanna says:

    AnnJo: I missed your post #16 while I was writing my post #17. So it’s probably easiest if you just ignore my disingenuous question and get straight to the disingenuousness of the question.

  19. Diane says:

    I am a big omnivore, who does like meaty things and cooks and eats meat once every week or two. But I eat vegetarian most of the time simply because I LOVE cooking and eating Indian food – especially South Indian food. Most of this diet is naturally vegetarian. I eat yogurt with my Indian cuisine, so rarely truly eat “vegan”. What I have found is that it is VERY inexpensive to eat this way, as well as quite healthy.

    The cost comes in I think when people switching to a less meat diet a) eat lots of cheese (veg not vegan), as cheese is expensive or b) buy fancy processed food that tries to replicate meat/dairy products as veg or vegan. I mean – faux cheese? Soy sausage patties?

    I’m with the commenter who said, if you want to eat something, eat it as the real thing. I love tofu and cook creatively with it, but I don’t contort myself when I cook it trying to make it into sausage or what it is not.

    But yeah, it’s cheap to eat the way you do. My monthly food budget is half of my friends, and that’s eating some meat in there too.

  20. Johanna says:

    One more thought on your “factoid”: I’m no expert in agricultural research, but I wonder how much of the increase in corn yields has been because increasing corn yields has been a priority, so that people can have cheap meat? If, instead, wheat and rice yields had been more of a research priority, might they not have improved just as much?

    This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

  21. Johanna says:

    @Diane: When you cook tofu, do you season it at all? Do you use different cooking methods, so it comes out with a different texture?

    Because really, that’s all vegan sausage is: a plant-based protein (sometimes soy, but more often seitan, or wheat gluten), seasoned and prepared with a certain texture. I mean, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it, but why do you have such a problem if I do?

  22. Diane says:

    Johanna: I’ve never cared much for tofu, but lately I’ve been cooking it in more traditional Asian style recipes and finding I really like it that way. Some successful things I have done are: sayur lodeh (a malaysian vegetable curry with pan-fried tofu); schezchwan style “bears paw” tofu (spicy sauce on pan-fried tofu); and ganmodoki (japanese tofu fritters); and crumbled with Thai spices steamed in a banana leaf. It’s been a nice revelation to discover I do enjoy it after all. The textures for all those dishes ends up pretty different. I don’t really ever deep fry it much as I’m not good at frying stuff.

    I still mostly cook Indian cuisine though.

  23. Jill says:

    For those us us who feel hungry much of the time and our blood lipids and blood sugar go in the wrong direction on a vegan diet (and the scale doesn’t budge), I suggest you try a Paleo food plan instead. We’re what’s called carbohydrate intolerant–and more carbs is like fighting a house fire with a flame thrower. It doesn’t work. If you’re not carb intolerant, thank your lucky stars!

  24. slccom says:

    AnnJo: Delighted to find another scientist! Good analyses!

    #22 Diane: Try Tofu with Oyster sauce. Fry the tofu cubes(1 cake, firm or extra-firm in an electric skillet with a little peanut oil, put in the mix of:
    2 tablespoons oyster sauce
    4 teaspoons dry sherry
    4 teaspoons soy sauce
    1 tablespoon cornstarch

    Cook until thick, enjoy! Put some scallion on the top when you serve it.

  25. AnnJo says:

    Johanna (@17). Not sure I understand what you’re saying in this post. I agree Kevin’s argument based on yields is disingenuous; if the demand for corn for human consumption was in danger of not being met with current production, foregoing meat would increase the amount available for food just as well (more, probably) than whatever yield might be lost from organic methods. Big If. I love my corn tortillas, polenta and popcorn, but that doesn’t seem to be a global taste.

    (@20) I think the research into increasing yields in corn has been driven just as much by the growth in worldwide demand for corn syrup and U.S. demand for ethanol, both of which produce animal feed as a by-product, as by the demand for animal feed itself. People may eat a little more meat now than they did 40 – 50 years ago, although that couldn’t be proven by my family, but they eat and drink vastly more corn syrup.

  26. Johanna says:

    @AnnJo: I thought I was pretty clear in my comment #17, so I’m not sure what it is that you’re having trouble understanding. You argued that the benefits of organic farming aren’t so clear-cut; I’m arguing that the benefits of conventional farming are just as complicated. In particular, increasing the amount of food available globally is going to solve precisely nothing, because the main problem is that people who need food can’t afford to buy it.

    Re #20, per capita meat consumption in the US has increased by about 30% (i.e., more than “a little”) over the last 50 years. Not everything is about you and your family. (Curiously, I myself ate exactly 30% more meat in 2010 than I did in 1960, but that’s neither here nor there.)

  27. AnnJo says:

    @Johanna, since I was making the point that cost-benefit analysis is difficult, I agree that it is difficult with conventional as well as organic. I also agree that increasing the amount of food won’t solve the problem of hunger, although I wouldn’t go as far as saying it is irrelevant.

    A 30% increase in the consumption of meat is “a little” when compared to a 1000% increase in the consumption of corn syrup, and when ethanol has gone from using virtually zero to about 15% of U.S. corn production.

  28. Kevin says:

    @Johanna: “Are you ethically opposed to eating meat for the same reason?”

    No. The human body has evolved to require meat as a part of its healthy diet. While I wish every animal could have a happy, full life, I recognize the necessity of maximizing the yield of each “crop” of animals. As you may recall from another comment of mine, I’m opposed to people who try to portray using every bit of the animal as “icky” or “gross.” Eating animals is a necessary evil, and I think we currently do it in the most efficient way possible.

    Organic produce, on the other hand, is deliberately handicapping the crop yield for misguided and irrational ideological reasons.

  29. Johanna says:

    @Kevin: Hilarious. I suppose you think we’ve “evolved” to eat food from genetically modified plants grown with the help of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? I hate to break it to you, but vegetarianism as a practice is much older than any of those technologies.

    “The human body has evolved to require meat as a part of its healthy diet.”

    Now, this is just false.

    “As you may recall from another comment of mine, I’m opposed to people who try to portray using every bit of the animal as “icky” or “gross.””

    I do indeed recall that comment of yours, and I still have no idea why you think it’s relevant to a discussion of people who don’t eat meat at all.

  30. Diane says:

    @Kevin: I am a pretty committed omnivore who loves meat, but it isn’t true that people need meat. Vast swathes of South Asia – comprising millions, if not billions, of people – eat no meat or eggs at all and are perfectly healthy. Meat is one concentrated protein source, and a fine one, but by far from the only one. It’s not essential.

    It is perhaps harder to eat a balanced vegetarian diet if one doesn’t come from a tradition of vegetarian foods as core to the community diet. One has to understand the pairings of foods that work well. But it’s a totally fine way to eat.

  31. Kevin says:

    “Vast swathes of South Asia – comprising millions, if not billions, of people – eat no meat or eggs at all and are perfectly healthy.”


    Is that why so many Olympic gold medals go to that region? Is that why all the best athletes in the world come from that region? Why the World Cup is dominated by fit, healthy Southeast Asians? Why every pro sports team in the US spends so much money luring Southeast Asians to their respective leagues? Why they’re featured on the cover of so many health and fitness magazines? Why the rest of the world is trying so hard to emulate and duplicate their diets?

    Oh, that’s right, the rest of the world eats more meat and consequently is in far better physical fitness.

    It’s true, you can survive without eating meat. You can cobble together a careful diet with tofu and beans and iron supplements and keep yourself alive. An IV drip can keep you alive too. But your body has EVOLVED to expect most of its protein from animal sources. All you’re doing is trying to fool it.

    I’m not going to fight nature. I’m not going to fight evolution. Particularly when meat tastes so darn good.

  32. Johanna says:

    Kevin, if you’re going to appeal to evolution (in all capital letters, no less), you should at least take the time to understand how it works. Evolution perpetuates traits that give individuals a greater chance of surviving to reproductive age (and thus reproducing). That’s it. It doesn’t care how many Olympic medals you’ve won, or how many times you’ve been on the cover of a fitness magazine. You could drop dead at age 40 (by which point most people have had as many children as they’re going to have) and still be a “success,” as far as evolution is concerned. Or you could be a 98-pound weakling who lives to age 98, and be equally successful.

    The human body has evolved to thrive on a wide variety of diets, which is how humanity managed to settle just about every corner of the world before we figured out how to ship food from one place to another. All kinds of different diets – meatless and meaty and in between – will give you about the same odds of evolutionary success. To a really good approximation, evolution doesn’t give a fig what we eat.

    But if you want to cling to your nonsense version of evolution, here’s some more food for thought: If you’re of European, African, or Asian descent (or some combination), none of your ancestors would have encountered a tomato, a potato, a pepper, or an ear of corn (to name just a few) until about 500 years ago, a blink of an eye by evolutionary standards. Does that mean you didn’t “evolve” to eat those foods? Are you opposed to eating them, for that reason?

  33. Johanna says:

    And another thing: South Asians may not be particularly well-represented among world-class athletes (I’ll take your word for that, because I don’t know), but they *are* well represented among scientists, engineers, and other smartypants brainiacs. And since the human species’ claim to evolutionary fame is our intelligence (our capacity for learning and for inventing and using tools), much more so than our ripped muscles, I’d say that South Asians are doing pretty well, from the point of view of nonsense evolution.

  34. Diane says:

    Kevin: That’s just silly. I eat meat, and I am no more an Olympic athlete than I am 6′-5″. And no major baseball team would ever recruit me.

    Much of India is vegetarian. I know many healthy, high-functioning Hindu men and women who are totally vegetarian for religious reasons. They aren’t suffering, they aren’t unhealthy, their intellectual acumen is top notch, several of them run marathons, and they mostly play cricket, not baseball.

    Look, it’s fine to eat meat. Grand if you do and you like it. It just isn’t necessary.

  35. Diane says:

    Oh, yeah – and Kevin – who won this year’s cricket world championship…? India!

  36. Julia says:

    From time to time I’ve considered making my diet more vegan. Does anyone know of a good book that can help guide me in making the transition?

    I’m not just looking for cook books. I’m looking for a step-by-step (or week-by-week) plan for rearranging my diet that includes good scientific discussion of what vitamins, etc you lose and the type of changes that happen to your body when you stop eating meat, as well as how to replace those missing vitamins. Political (or “ethical”) commentary is a big turn-off for me, so I’d prefer a book that does not spend too much time on reasons for changing. A “What to expect when your going vegan” type book would probably do the trick.

  37. Johanna says:

    @Julia: There’s a website called “VeganHealth” that’s a really good reference for vitamins and other nutrients. It’s maintained by a registered dietitian who updates the site constantly as new research and information becomes available.

    As for “the type of changes that happen to your body,” I’m not aware of anyone who’s done an analysis on that. There’s so much variation in vegan diets, nonvegan diets, and human bodies that there’s no one set of things to expect. Some people lose weight when they go vegan, some gain weight, and others notice no change. Some notice a change in their energy level, some don’t. Some notice a change in how often they get sick, some don’t. Some find that they pass gas more often, some don’t. Some find that they still find meat and other animal products appetizing, some don’t. Some suffer ill effects if they do happen to eat some meat (by accident or on purpose) after not having had any for a long time, some don’t.

    Sorry I couldn’t be of more help, but really, there are so many variables involved that it’s impossible to predict how your specific body will respond to your specific diet.

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