Are Your Carnivorous Habits Too Costly?

A few months ago, I purchased some lunch meat from the deli counter in my local supermarket…and then almost keeled over when I saw the price. The price of meat has been climbing steadily in recent years, but in that single moment my shopping habits changed forever. I decided to reduce my family’s meat consumption dramatically.

Ribeye steaks on the grill by WmJR on Flickr

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index (CPI), the U.S. city average price of lean ground beef has risen 43% in the interval between Feb. 2001 and Feb. 2011. If your paycheck has not risen at a similar rate, you are probably feeling the pinch in the check-out line at the supermarket too.

There are many reasons to restrict consumption of meat products, including environmental and health concerns. But for me, the pivotal moment was brought on by pure sticker shock.

A quick rundown of some common grocery list items (Feb 2011 figures from the CPI) makes the price disparity abundantly clear:

  • Bacon, sliced, per lb. (453.6 gm) $4.37
  • All Pork Chops, per lb. (453.6 gm) $3.48
  • Chicken breast, bone-in, per lb. (453.6 gm) $2.29
  • All Uncooked Beef Roasts, per lb. (453.6 gm) $4.33
  • Bananas, per lb. (453.6 gm) $0.63
  • Potatoes, white, per lb. (453.6 gm) $0.61
  • Broccoli, per lb. (453.6 gm) $1.89
  • Beans, dried, any type, all sizes, per lb. (453.6 gm) $1.34

These items are just a tiny sampling of the products we consume, but they are indicative of the overall price pattern. Sure, there are plenty of expensive fruits and vegetables (imported, organic, and out-of-season items especially), but if you can live without pomegranates and white asparagus you will come out way ahead by loading up on fruits and vegetables and minimizing your meat purchases.

To reap immediate financial benefits, you don’t have to go totally vegetarian—simply reduce the percentage of meat in your diet. Americans tend to eat about twice as much meat as is necessary; the recommended amount is about 50 g/day for an adult female and 65/g day for an adult male—less than the amount in one chicken breast or pork chop. With adult and childhood obesity on the rise, practicing moderation as a family and instilling healthy eating habits is vitally important.

Here are some ways to cut back:

Reduce Portion Size: Instead of cooking a meal with a chicken breast for each person at the table, prepare a large stir-fry with using one chicken breast and loaded up with vegetables. Prepare a large pot of chili with protein-rich beans and a small amount of ground beef, instead of inch-thick hamburgers for the whole family. Cutting back on meat consumption in this way is economical and your family will barely notice.

Use Meat for Flavor: Try a bean soup with a few slices of cooked minced bacon, or a pasta dish with a small amount of crumbled Italian sausage. These types of dishes are very flavorful but only use a few tablespoons of meat in the whole dish.

Skip Lunch Meats: Lunch meats and other highly processed meats like hot dogs are high in nitrates and other preservatives. Studies have shown that high intake of processed meats increases mortality risk. This fact, coupled with the often hefty price tag, makes this choice a non-starter.

Bye-Bye Filet Mignon: Substitute less expensive cuts of meat. Purchase stew meat instead of a pot roast for a satisfying slow-cooker meal, or opt for pork chops instead of t-bones for your next barbecue. Watch out for grocer’s specials so you can stock up on (and freeze) your favorite cuts when they are on sale.

Once a Day, Max: Think of meat as a once-a-day menu item. There is no nutritional need to eat meat as often as many of us do. Having meat with breakfast, lunch, and dinner is an unhealthy and outmoded way of eating.

Meat free Mondays: We can all take a note from Sir Paul and get on board with Meat-Free Mondays, a campaign launched by former Beatle Paul McCartney in an effort to reduce the impact of the meat industry on the environment. The MFM website provides recipes and encouragement to those interested in exploring the environmental, health, and financial benefits of reduced meat intake.

Triple Benefits

There are not many choices we can make that have the huge triple-whammy benefits that lowering meat consumption has.

Environmental—Eating less meat reduces your family’s carbon footprint and helps curb the meat industry’s ever-increasing demand for grains. The insatiable demand for grains leads to pollution, greenhouse gas production and deforestation, and also leaves insufficient grain reserves for human consumption.

Health—Reducing meat consumption lowers your family’s risk of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, stomach ulcers and an host of other medical complaints, according to a U.S. National Cancer Institute study.

Financial—You can realize significant savings over the course of the year by making substitutions and changes in your carnivorous habits. The savings in future health care costs, while unknowable, may be the most important benefit of all.

This article was written by contributing author Laurel Gray.

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