I just read this in Dr. Greger’s new book, How Not To Die:
Researchers at Harvard University compared the cost and healthfulness of various foods across the country, hunting for the best bargains. They found that in terms of nutritional bang for your buck, people should buy more nuts, soy foods, beans, and whole grains, and less meat and dairy. They concluded: “The purchase of plant-based foods may offer the best investment for dietary health.”
You already know that I’m a proponent of plant-based diets. Grains, beans, potatoes, squashes, fruits, and other vegetables should make up the bulk of your diet. But when it comes to cost, this excerpt doesn’t tell the whole story. While a bag of black beans or brown rice may not cost very much, there are more external costs to eating them compared to eating a burger or chicken nuggets or a tub of yogurt or even a home-cooked egg omelet. (I’m speaking of personal external costs, not external costs to the environment which is fair to say are not being fully figured in to the personal costs of eating animal food.)
These are some external costs that come to mind. It’s not a complete list by any means. Maybe you can think of more:
- One big external cost is time. Whole plant foods need to be processed. That means they need to be cleaned, soaked, and cooked.
- There is labor associated with food processing. For some – the elderly, frail, disabled – labor is a fading resource.
- The cooking part assumes knowledge, so there’s some cost up front in learning.
- You need to get these foods into your home, and for people who live where most food is sold in fast food restaurants and corner grocery stores, that might mean travel time, as well as travel cost.
- Sacks of beans, grains, apples, potatoes, and carrots are heavy and so are difficult for many people to get home: the frail, elderly, disabled, and those who use public transportation or walk.
- The cost of cooking fuel adds up when you have the oven or stove on for several hours a week.
I think plant-food diet advocates do themselves a disservice by not discussing these external costs more often. I’m going to try to talk about them more.