This is perhaps the most common argument against veganism, and is used both as a reason for an individual not to go vegan and as an argument against veganism itself. It is thought by many that veganism is inherently expensive and vegans are frequently accused of being classist if they expect others to go vegan as well. Aside from the fact that the existence of poor people who cannot go vegan is not an effective argument against veganism itself, just as the existence of poor people who cannot afford meat is not an argument against an omnivorous diet, there are several other flaws with this logic.
Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet, while an estimated 4 billion live primarily on a plant-based diet. Most people in poverty throughout the world subsist on a primarily vegetarian diet, and across the Chinese-Japanese, Australian, Hindustani, Central Asian, Near Eastern, Mediterranean, European-Siberian, South American, North American, Central American and Mexican regions, every single staple food is vegan; staple being defined as a food that is eaten regularly and in such quantities as to constitute the dominant part of a person’s diet and supply a major proportion of their energy and nutrient needs. This is because, despite popular opinion to the contrary, meat is a luxury. The only reason it is not seen as a luxury in the western world is because we heavily subsidise it with taxpayer’s money. A full 63% of all food subsidies go to meat and dairy, compared to <1% towards fruits and vegetables. 62% of your average American farmer’s earnings come from the United States government, meaning that people pay for less than half of the real terms cost of their meat. If full ecological costs -including fossil fuel use, groundwater depletion and agricultural-chemical pollution were factored in the price of meat would double or triple. The rest is paid for in tax dollars, and this is the case in most western countries. It is the very definition of privilege to expect someone else to pick up the tab for your meal.
Poverty must also be viewed at a regional and global level rather than just at an individual one. 795 million people in the world do not have enough food to lead a healthy life. That’s about one in nine people on earth. Meanwhile, most of the crops we raise goes straight to farmed animals, not humans. If we look at cows, for example, it takes 16 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. That’s 94% more land, and 94% more pesticides than just eating that grain directly. All told, livestock consume 70% of all the grain we produce, 98% of all soy, and a fifth of all water consumed globally. Farmed animals take in far more calories in crop feed than they will ever give out in meat, meaning that they are literally detracting from the global food supply. If the world went vegan, we would add an addition 70% to the world’s global food supply, enough to comfortably feed everyone if it were equally distributed. Even considering the fact that global market forces and capitalism means that distribution would never be equal, 70% more food in the world means significantly less people go hungry.
It is not that people are lying when they claim veganism is expensive, it is often simply due to never having been exposed to what an average plant based diet looks like. Most vegan staples, including pastas, rice, noodles, beans, quinoa, lentils, chickpeas, breads, nut butters, frozen fruits and canned vegetables represent some of the cheapest and most nutritious food sources in any supermarket and they are widely available. This makes perfect sense economically because the lower on the food chain you eat, the less work has gone into the final product and thus the cheaper it tends to be. The claim that poor people cannot go vegan is not only untrue, it is invalidating and erasing the struggles of poor vegans the world over. There are disabled vegans, vegans on benefits, vegans on food stamps, homeless vegans, student vegans, vegans living with their parents and vegans living hand to mouth all over the world. On every post claiming that poor people cannot go vegan, you will find dozens of comments from poor vegans telling you that they exist.
This is not to say that there are not situations where an individual may not be able to go vegan at this particular time in their lives, either because of their financial and living situation or their location, but it does mean that veganism is not inherently any more expensive than an omnivorous diet is. An individual poor person may not be able to go vegan, but it does not follow that poor people as a collective group cannot go vegan. By extension, it also does not follow that a poor person is any less likely to be able to maintain a healthy vegan diet than they are to be able to maintain a healthy omnivorous one. Unless you yourself absolutely cannot go vegan due to your financial situation, bringing up the existence of poor people as an attack on veganism without any real empathy or analysis is intellectually lazy at best. At worst, it is using the struggles of impoverished people as fodder to support an anti-vegan agenda.