Is a vegan diet cheaper than one that includes animal foods? I recently read a comment on the internet about this—saying that a vegan saves $4,000 per year on food.

I don’t think so.

First of all, according to the USDA, food costs for a family of four following a “liberal” plan—that is, one that includes a fair number of higher-priced foods—are $954 per month. That comes out to $11,448 per year for a family of four, or $2,862 per year for an individual. So in order to save $4,000 on food—well, the grocery store would have to give you your food for free and then write you a check.

In fact—does a vegan diet save you any money at all? Obviously, it will if we eat the way we should. Replacing the meat, dairy and eggs in diets with lower cost foods like grains, beans and tofu isn’t just frugal, it’s much more healthful. Produce is expensive, but that shouldn’t be an omnivore versus vegan dietary issue. Everyone should be eating lots of fruits and vegetables.

But when we talk to people about how “easy” it is to go vegan and how much “fun” it is, we aren’t usually talking about soaking pinto beans. Because from the perspective of the average omnivore (not from your perspective, but from theirs), beans and rice are a poor substitute for steak. Pasta with plain marinara sauce can feel a little disappointing to someone who is expecting meat balls. And, while some of us may think it’s no big deal to soak beans, and we may enjoy cooking everything from scratch, it’s good to remember that convenience is a driving force behind most peoples’ food choices.

Beyond a doubt, one of the things that makes it easy to be vegan is that there are so many wonderful new vegan products on the market. They are delicious, healthful, and convenient. And they are expensive. Especially in comparison to animal foods like chicken, eggs, and milk. (These are always cheap sources of calories and protein thanks to the cruel and efficient practices of factory farming.)

You can eat a low cost vegan diet and it’s not very hard to do. Sticking with the basics, beans and rice, oatmeal, nut butters, fruits and vegetables produces a diet that is not only frugal, but just about the most healthful way you could possibly eat. But we can’t have it both ways. We can’t tell people that going vegan is easy and fun because of all the great new vegan convenience products and then tell them that they’ll save money by being vegan.

The only 100 percent effective and honest argument for veganism is based on ethics and animals. Trying to promote fringe benefits of veganism is almost always likely to backfire. Because let’s face it—most people will discover sooner rather than later that veggie burgers cost more than ground beef.