Is it really that bad if vegan dishes cost almost as much as meat?

Reading time: 3 minutes

When you cook your own food, it really doesn’t cost much to be vegan. Unless you’re doing your weekly shopping at Planet Organic for maple-glazed tempeh and Raw Health crackers, you can very easily whip up a three-course meal for five cents.

So why do restaurants insist on charging the same price for vegan dishes as for meat dishes? Surely a cauliflower ‘steak’ can’t cost the same as a real cut of beef to produce?

Vegan restaurants also don’t tend to give out food (unless you’ve been to a vegetarian curry or an Ethiopian restaurant which are usually excellent value for money).

Who wants to pay £14 for a piece of cauliflower?

Expensive vegan dishes

Pub chain Young’s has been criticized for charging £14 for its cauli steaks – the same price as its Aberdeen Angus steak.

Knowing that a whole cauliflower costs around £1, this seems ridiculous.

Restaurants tend to cut 70% gross profit on ingredient costs to cover labor, rent, etc., leaving them with about 10% actual profit.

But Twitter had none of that on the cauliflower, with many accusing the channel of trying to cash in on Veganuary. After Young’s attempted to defend the “premium dish” award, it removed the item from its menu altogether.

But is it really reasonable to demand that vegetable dishes be sold at very low prices – especially if we want them to be taken seriously as a gastronomic option?

Labor has a cost

Chef Chantelle Nicholson told the I paper that although she does not charge the same for meat and vegan dishes, the price is not this radically different.

Its steaks come from a butcher before being processed on site – brined, marinated, grilled, carved and served with a pepper sauce. The eggplant dish served by his restaurant requires much longer preparation.

She says each eggplant is pierced, vacuum-packed in stock before being steamed, cooled and pressed. It is then sliced, pan-fried and caramelized and served with a sesame, ginger, tamari and tofu sauce before being sprinkled with Minestra Nera (a piece of cruciferous greens).

Steak is served at £23, while eggplant is £18. It’s cheaper but no so much cheaper.

The cost of business

“My fixed overheads are the same for everyone: rent, tariffs, electricity, water, gas, waste collection, music license, operating an EPOS system, credit card fees – the list goes on,” she wrote. .

“The cost of the main items – a burger versus an eggplant – is the first difference: the serving of eggplant itself is 25% of the cost of the steak.

“But the cost of ‘labour’ (for lack of a better word) is probably reversed. So why is the cost not the same? The answer is the age-old formula of supply and demand. If the demand at that price level isn’t there, it won’t sell. And restaurants have to sell food to stay in business.

In other words, not enough of us are willing to spend on vegetables to make it worth many restaurants charging the same.

Pay for quality

You must be willing to pay for quality

Many of us would swell at the thought of paying even £18 for a vegan dish, let alone more. But perhaps higher prices indicate that vegan food is taken more seriously. Gone are the days when the only vegan options were a side salad and a plate of fries. Now, most respectable establishments have a suitable vegan option that is as popular as meat, fish or vegetarian dishes.

If vegan options were significantly cheaper, people might question the quality – which is exactly what we do not do to want. Veganism should be considered a viable culinary option and not just an alternative. In an ideal world, omnivores would be tempted to choose a vegan dish simply because it looks more delicious than a meat-based one – which is how more people switch for good.

It’s fair to complain about overpriced vegan food when it’s substandard and boring (as we imagine a boring slice of cauliflower can be!), but in healthier establishments, comparable prices don’t maybe not such a negative thing after all.