By Sima Nuri
This year the Canadian government has issued a new draft of its healthy-eating guide, which, ultimately, encourages a shift away from animal-based foods to more plant-based foods. (This is part of an ongoing multiyear revision that will be completed in 2019.) According to Health Canada, four out of five Canadians are at high risk of developing cancer, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, etcetera.
These health issues put a considerable economic burden on the health-care system, with estimates of the costs nearing $5 billion annually. Not only that, but the government otherwise acknowledges that our diets are inextricably linked to our environment, with high meat diets contributing to greenhouse-gas emissions, soil degradation, decreases in water quality and availability, and wildlife loss.
So was Canada’s rationale to eat less meat and more vegetables? Nope.
Despite the friendlier-on-your-wallet claims with which a vegan diet is often associated, vegan products are not only mostly the same price as their nonvegan equivalents but in many cases are more expensive. Take your local fast-food joint, for instance: $3 for a burger yet $10 for a salad (or a bunch of spinach thrown in a bowl).
All right, lets look at a specific example. A chicken sandwich is priced at $16 at Cactus Club Café, whereas a vegan burger is also priced at $16. Wait, what? Why the price equivalency?
Okay, lets look at specific products: a gelatin-free vegan bag of Dandies Marshmallows is $6.99 while the same-sized regular marshmallows are about $1.99. You get the point.
What are we teaching our upcoming generations? That animal-based food is cheaper and more convenient—and eating vegan food is elitist.
The irony behind all of this is that animal-based foods, in general, are more expensive to grow, feed, and transport. So why is my vegan entrée as expensive as the meat?
This unwarranted pricing makes it difficult to follow the eating guidelines that Canada is suggesting. It also gives the impression that vegan food is intended for privileged people with larger pockets. Not only that, but this price discrepancy affects the people that need healthier food choices the most: the students, the senior citizens, the working poor, and immigrants. Obviously, as a student I'd be more inclined to get a $3 milkshake than a vegan all-green, all-natural $9 drink (and that’s not even taking into consideration the size/volume difference they’d have).
This high cost is, paradoxically, making it more difficult for Canadians to eat well. Seniors, in particular—especially ones who live alone—are at increased risk for health issues associated with poor nutrition.
And it doesn’t end there. Produce prices are expected to further rise. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016 vegetable prices went up 18.2 percent and fruits by 12.9 percent compared to 2015. This inflation is expected to increase by 4.5 percent for some produce items. When fruits and vegetables rise in price, it makes it more difficult for the aforementioned groups to buy enough to get their recommended daily intakes of vitamins, minerals, etcetera.
As Diana Bronson, executive directer of Food Secure Canada, has said: “The wrong kind of food is cheap, and the right kind of food is still expensive.” Also, vegan diets lead to further expenses—such as vitamins and supplements—that may be needed as a result of decreased meat consumption.
Thus, following a vegetable-based diet is not simply the healthier alternative; it’s a transition to a privileged lifestyle. One not everyone can follow.
My proposition: if you’re going to change your healthy-eating guidelines, at least try to make it easier to follow them.