Friday, June 15, 2012
ou est le bœuf?
Beef has become a luxury item. Now over $5/pound on average, prices of burgers and steaks are rising faster than the rate of inflation, running eight percent higher now than a year ago, when it was already ten percent higher than in 2010.
So far, accelerating beef prices are a function of decreasing supply rather than increasing demand. The severe drought afflicting the southwestern US has forced a large-scale liquidation of herds in Texas and Oklahoma, and our domestic herd of 30 million is 10 percent smaller than in 2006.
The decrease in production is tied to ongoing changes in the US diet. We're eating a lot less red meat than we did just a short time ago. Average beef consumption is now at 56 pounds a year, a 10-pound-per-person drop in just six years. At the same time, foreign appetite for US beef has increased thanks to the weakening dollar, driving the price up further.
Chicken is more and more replacing beef as the meat of choice for Americans, and many are eating much less meat altogether.
I've eaten beef a couple of times this year, from locally grown, free-range angus steers, and it's pretty pricey. Ninety-nine percent of the beef sold here or exported, however, is feedlot-raised, full of growth hormones and antibiotics, and covered with a film of malevolent bacteria on its surface as it sits in the supermarket cooler, sealed in plastic on a styrofoam tray. I wouldn't touch it with a Roto-rooter™.
All in all, I have to consider this a good thing. Nothing motivates people to improve their dietary habits like higher prices on the bad stuff, which makes the relatively inexpensive good stuff more attractive. We've seen this with gas prices, consumption only diminishes when the pain of continuing our old ways reaches a breaking point. So eat your oatmeal and stop mooning over them burgers. They weren't good for you anyway.