Consumers Trade Meat for Veggies as Food Costs Soar

The price of beef, fish and poultry is up nearly 9% year over year.

September 23, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Americans are turning to vegetarian and vegan lifestyles to offset the skyrocketing cost of meat, reports Bloomberg. Although vegetarianism and veganism have gained popularity over the past few years, lately the reason for people switching to these ways of eating has been because they are more worried about stretching their dollars than about health, ethical and environmental concerns.

The cost of meat, including beef, fish and poultry, was up 8.8% year over year last month. A pound of steak is $9.54, which is up 25% since August 2019. Bacon costs 12% more than it did last summer.

One woman, based in Atlanta, said that she’s been swapping milk for plant-based creamers and chicken nuggets for a vegan version six months ago, so she wasn’t paying attention to meat prices. When she checked out a pack of chicken that she used to buy, the price had risen from $13 to $20. Seeing that made her decide to give up meat when she’s cooking at home. Oftentimes the non-meat alternative to meat products is more expensive than the meat itself, so Parrish makes pizza without pepperoni or eats burrito bowls full of vegetables.

"It's better for the environment, and it's cheaper," she told Bloomberg.

A single mother in Chicago said the increase in the cost of meat was the reason she became a vegetarian. A few months ago, she started cutting back on her chicken, salmon and shrimp purchases at the grocery store as she saw prices rise, but in July, she hit a breaking point and cut meat out of her diet completely, unless there is a sale at the store or she visits her parents for a home-cooked meal. She still buys chicken nuggets for her 11-year-old daughter.

Some families are getting more creative to cut down on their grocery bill, reports the Washington Post. One family purchased half a cow and an entire pig, plus a freezer to hold all the meat. They saw their grocery bill go from $200 to $125 after they stopped buying meat at the grocery store.

Even smaller families are using this method to cut costs. A husband and wife in Oklahoma City purchased a chest freezer and filled it with a quarter cow from a nearby farm. The couple paid $875 for 175 pounds of grass-fed Black Angus beef.

“Now instead of $15 a pound for rib-eye steaks, it’ll be $5 a pound,” the husband told the Post. “This way we don’t have to worry about the price going up or availability going down. It just made perfect sense for us.”

“With prices getting higher at the meat counter, there’s definitely been more direct interest from consumers,” said Jess Peterson, senior policy adviser for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and a cattle rancher in southeast Montana, told the Post. “Our price points are still less than what someone would pay at the store.”

Meat sold directly to the consumer is much cheaper than buying on grocery store shelves. The Post reports that most cattle does come from family-owned ranches, but then they are sold to feed lots where they are fattened up before being sold to a meat processor. Four major meatpackers—Cargill, JBS, Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing—process roughly 85% of beef from U.S. feed lots.

Inflation last month rose 8.3% over August 2021 but slowed slightly compared to 8.5% in July and 9.1% in June. However, when looking at the core consumer-price index, which excludes energy and food prices, inflation was up 6.3% year over year, and up sharply from 5.9% in both July and June.

Month over month, the core Consumer Price Index rose 0.6% in August, which was double July’s pace. Core inflation is closely watched by investors and policymakers because it can replace broad, underlying inflation and predict future inflation.

Gasoline prices were down 10.6% in August, but high food prices, new vehicles, medical care, education, electricity and natural gas offset the drop in fueling up. Both food and new vehicle costs were up 0.8% in August over July.