USA Today is running an article on the high price of beef today. But it’s not just beef that’s high. In February 2014, the average retail prices for meat were:
- All uncooked ground beef average: $4.03/lb.
- All uncooked beef roasts average: $5.22/lb.
- All uncooked beef steaks average: $6.56/lb.
- Bacon, sliced: $5.46/lb.
- All pork chops average: $3.66
- Whole chicken: $1.50/lb.
- Chicken boneless breast: $3.38/lb.
- Eggs: $2.00/dozen
(You can download the latest monthly updates from the USDA here.)
In short, meat prices are up across the board. Beef is up because ranchers are keeping small herds due to drought, a situation unlikely to change in the near future. Pork is up because of a virus that killed many pigs. And chicken is up probably because cash-strapped customers are looking for options. So what is a frugal gardener and consumer to do?
- Looking at the latest beef prices, my price breakdown for a pasture-raised beef quarter is starting to compare favorably to retail prices of conventional beef. It’s too soon to say if local farmers may be required to raise their prices this year, but our spring weather looks promising for lush pastures. If you are a beef eater, locking in your price by purchasing a portion of a cow may be more cost-effective than ever.
- Use everything you buy. Bones and bits make excellent stock. Fat drippings and grease can be saved for gravies, sauces and baking. And chicken feet are a culinary delicacy, but a good addition to your stockpot, too.
- Eat less meat: most of us eat too much anyway for our health and the health of the environment. You don’t need to go vegetarian (although that’s an option, too) to start looking at meat as a condiment or flavoring instead of the main dish. Asian cuisine is a great source for inspiration.
- Learn to hunt and fish. Learning to hunt takes skill and time and money, so it’s not to be approached lightly. Alabama hunting season information can be found here. You can hunt invasive and destructive feral hogs on private land any day of the year.
Unfortunately, raising your own is generally not going to save you money on a small scale. Industrial meat farming, despite its many problems, is very cost-effective. Even meat rabbits on a backyard scale will set you back about $5 per edible pound of meat, not counting initial startup costs and labor. Those who choose to raise their own meat do so for reasons of quality, self-sufficiency or philosophical reasons, not finances.
If you are eating less meat, that means you need alternate sources of calories. While home scale gardening of wheat and other grains is a dicey proposition, high calorie starchy foods like flint corn, sweet potato, irish potato and winter squash are quite manageable. If space permits, the time invested in pecan trees can pay off 7-10 years down the road, and foraged acorns are very nutritious and easy to process. If an empty trellis or fence is available, dry beans may not be cost-effective compared to purchasing them, but they require minimal care and have no special storage needs.
Higher meat prices are putting the squeeze on grocery budgets, but your backyard garden can be a part of your strategy to keep your food budget under control.