Take a Bite Out of Record-High Meat Prices

Jeff Yeager, Ultimate Cheapskate Money ExpertHave you noticed how more and more of your grocery budget is spent on meat these days? If so, you’re not alone, and for good reason: Meat prices are rising faster than any other food group, with the price of beef, pork, poultry and fish all recently reaching record highs. The price of ground beef, for example, is up more than 75 percent in just the past five years. That’s enough to give a cheapskate like me a grocery shopping phobia.

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But that’s only part of the reason why meat is taking such a whopper of a bite out of our food budgets. According to the USDA, Americans have increased their consumption of meat by about one pound per person per year for each of the past 50 years! We now eat, on average, about 40 percent more meat than we did in the 1950s, for a total of almost 200 pounds of meat per person every year. That’s a trend that’s been hard on both our wallets and our health, and — unlike the escalating prices we pay for meat at the supermarket — it’s a trend that we can control. By rolling back the amount of meat we eat to the levels of previous generations, or even eliminating meat from our diets entirely, we can eat healthier and save money at the same time.

Like a lot of people, you might think it costs more, not less, to enjoy a healthy diet. In that case, I’d direct your attention to the good old-fashioned USDA food pyramid. You’ll recall that at the base of that pyramid are the types of food we should be eating the most for a healthy diet, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes. At or near the top of the pyramid are most meat and dairy products, things we should be eating in moderation, if at all.

The thing that always strikes me about the food pyramid is that many of the things we should be eating the most happen to cost the least. Whereas the things we should be eating the least often cost the most, particularly on a per-pound basis. In fact, as I have written about here before, there are all kinds of healthy foods that you can often find at the supermarket for under $1 per pound, if you’re a careful shopper.

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Whether you want to just decrease your meat consumption — maybe by going meat free for a day or two every week — or you’d like to know more about becoming a vegetarian or vegan (i.e., a person who does not eat or use any animal products, not just meat), here are some of my favorite online resources for vegetarian/vegan recipes and advice: www.vrg.org, www.savvyvegetarian.com, www.vegetariantimes.com and www.vegansandra.com. And be sure to check out the latest episode of my weekly AARP Web show, The Cheap Life, for more information for how to live high on the hog by eating less meat.

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