Beef…It’s Not For Dinner


I’ve got some bad news for you.  Eating beef makes you poor, sick, and damages the environment.  That ‘macho’ beef eating culture is also damaging your chances at financial independence. The crazy part is, you probably already knew this.  Did you do anything about it?

If you are anything like me, you grew up eating beef.  This cultural heritage was passed down from my parents, where beef consumption was considered normal. A nice steak was synonymous with a nice dinner.  

Think you don’t eat much beef?  Think again, it’s everywhere!  Maybe you enjoy a nice pastrami sandwich or pepperoni pizza from time to time?  It’s still beef, and it’s part of a collective ‘western’ cultural heritage that eschews the eating of vegetable matter for the raw manliness of beef.

 

Over-Consumption

The United States is one of the worlds largest consumers of meat per capita, and individuals eat more than 70lbs of red meat per year.  Clearly, residents of the United States are eating significant portions of beef in their diet.  

Some of the latest fad diets (Atkins, Paleo) even promote the eating of meat as some kind of wonder-product for weight loss.  Although U.S. meat consumption has declined slightly in recent years, the U.S. share of the proverbial cow is by no means ‘small’.  The U.S. isn’t alone either, any wealthy (western) country has similar carnivore-like statistics.  

The wealthy-world is eating a lot of meat.  I have to ask: is it really necessary?

Image Credit: USDA via the Wall Street Journal.
Image Credit: USDA via the Wall Street Journal.

Given the excessive waist-lines of Americans today, I think that’s money wasted.  Look at it like this:  Your life energy (time) is traded into money.  That money is traded into food in the form of high-cost, high-calorie meat.  That meat is then converted to human fat, because all those calories are excessive.  Why not eat some $0.99/lb broccoli instead?  The cost is far lower, and the calorie count per pound is also lower.  It’s a win-win situation!

 
Beef Prices Are Insane

If you’ve walked into a grocery store recently, you may have noticed how insanely high beef prices are. Around $7-10 dollars per pound in my area for standard ‘USDA Choice’ cuts.

By comparison, most fruit and vegetables sell at around $2/lb. Chicken can be had in various forms for around $2/lb. I find that to be pretty affordable.  Chicken has a good number of calories per dollar, is fairly healthy, and on par with the cost of vegetable matter. Various cuts of pork can also be had for $1.99/lb (Those spare ribs from last week are a good example).  

No matter how you slice it, beef is just insanely expensive.

Steak Anyone?
Steak Anyone?

 

As I mentioned in last week’s post, a typical meal for our family contains some kind of protein.  Beef wasn’t on that list, and it was no accident. We closely track the price per pound of our food, and any food over $4/lb we avoid purchasing.  That means beef is frequently not on our shopping list.

Occasionally we do purchase ground beef (I like a grilled burger in the summer), but it’s rather rare.

Pork is yummy!
This weekend, Mr. Tako cooked up a pork sausage and bean soup. Pork is a delicious cost effective substitute.

 

The Health Concerns

In addition to the monetary reasons, eating significant amounts of beef has health consequences too – In 2015, the World Health Organization released a report about the effects of eating red meat.  They looked at over 800 different studies on cancer related to red meat (and processed meats). The group concluded: Red meat is probably carcinogenic and processed meat is carcinogenic.

This kind of data isn’t new either – Another recent study published in 2012 linked red meat to cardiovascular disease.  Yikes!

While I’m no doctor, and I haven’t read all 800+ studies to validate the science involved, the odds seem pretty high that red meat isn’t terribly good for us.  Hmm…

 

Why Is Beef So Expensive?

If vegetables, chicken and pork can be produced in mass quantities at affordable prices, what’s going on with beef? Is supply and demand out of wack? Are cattle producers making huge profits? I’m no cattle farmer, but my research indicates the problem comes down to the animal itself.  Production costs are significantly higher for cows.  Cows need more food, water, and land to produce a pound of meat.  It’s the nature of the roast beast.

According to some sources, beef production requires “one order of magnitude more resources than alternative livestock categories“.  Most studies agree – cows are less efficient at converting grass/feed into protein for humans consumption, when compared to other livestock.  This is (of course) using current production methods.  A lot of scientists think this needs to change.  Without the use of antibiotics, hormones and feedlots, could beef production efficiency decline even further?  Seems logical, doesn’t it?

 

Environmental Challenges For Beef

Cows fart a lot of methane.  There’s no way around it – there is a significant environmental impact in the production of cattle.  Cows take more land, more water, more energy, and more nitrogen fertilizer to produce 1 pound of animal protein.  This production system has the environmental effect of generating more methane and CO2 than other forms of livestock.

Can we avoid these problems by buying only cage free, free range, grass fed, low methane producing organic beef?  Maybe, but based on my own shopping experience, you are effectively doubling the cost of your cow-protein.  In other words, by NOT choosing the more efficient animal you are required to spend a significantly larger amount of your personal resources to overcome some of those environmental effects.

 

Special Occasions
Roast Beast
Mr. Tako’s Christmas Prime Rib.

So, is Mr. Tako this non-meat eating superman that only eats broccoli and tofu, and then leaps tall buildings in a single bound? Sadly, I am not.

I grew up eating lots of red meat and I crave those flavors, the same as many other people. We try to have vegetarian nights, and I wish I could be completely vegetarian, but I don’t think that’s going to happen – I would miss too many of my favorite foods.

That said, we’ve been able to significantly reduce our beef consumption, down to just a few special occasions a year. On holidays, (like Christmas and Thanksgiving) our family has been known to buy a large luxurious side of beef, and prepare it for the holiday meal.  It’s a very guilty pleasure…

 

Go With The More Efficient Animal

Gaining financial independence is all about putting in place more efficient systems to free-up cash for investing. Why not optimize your eating habits and finances by deciding to eat the more efficient animal?  They even taste pretty good!  But it does require dietary changes, and putting that western-cowboy-meat-eating-culture out to pasture.

I say culture is what we make of it.  Make the change that will positively impact your pocket book, your health, and the environment.  It’s definitely a choice we made for our family: Beef eating will be rare.  We consume mostly chicken, egg, and pork animal proteins.  We’re even trying to eat vegetarian some days.  

Mrs. Tako grew up in a culture that eats very little beef, so the changes were a easy sell.  She doesn’t mind the occasional vegetarian night either.  By the time the Tako children were born, we already had put our dietary changes in place.  Our boys will grow up with a completely different food culture than I did.

We decided to choose the more efficient animal, and pass that onto our children.  How about you?

 

 

[Image Credit: Flickr, mods by Mr. Tako]

[Image Credit: Flickr]

7 thoughts on “Beef…It’s Not For Dinner

  • February 24, 2016 at 11:31 AM
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    We eat beef occasionally, but you’re right. The beef is getting really expensive. I was planning to get some steaks for Valentine’s Day, but it was just too much. We went with a big Dungeness crab and oysters instead. That was a special occasion, though. Usually we eat chicken, pork, tofu, and lamb when they’re on sale. I read that pork is just as bad as beef so that’s not good news.

    Reply
    • February 24, 2016 at 10:27 PM
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      Yep, pork = red meat, so at least from the health perspective it’s just as bad.

      Crab has been surprisingly affordable this year…I’m not sure why, but I’ll take it!

      Reply
  • February 24, 2016 at 12:06 PM
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    In our household, Mr. Amber Tree -me- likes a great steak every now and then.
    The good thing is that Mrs Amber Tree starts to get a healthy interest in vegetarian life styles for the same reasons you quote above.
    I have to admit that there are some great vegetarian recipes out there. Also our kids quite like them.

    As a result, we now also buy vegetarian items for the sandwiches we take to work. And I love it!

    Reply
    • February 24, 2016 at 10:32 PM
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      What kind of ‘vegetarian items’ for sandwiches? I’m curious.

      Reply
  • February 24, 2016 at 9:57 PM
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    I was intrigued to look up the poultry, pork, and beef consumption in Japan, which has an on average longer life span than other country. The total consumption of these meat in 2015 per person was 51.6kg, or 114 lb , but beef is only a small portion of that, 21 lb (data source: http://www.statista.com/statistics/440267/japan-per-capita-meat-consumption-by-type/). Pork consumption is pretty high – is pork really worse than beef?
    They also eat a lot fish, which probably helps with longevity.
    Yes we should cut down the consumption of beef.
    But seriously, cows fart is causing environmental issues? 😉

    Reply
    • February 24, 2016 at 10:21 PM
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      Apparently so. Methane is a greenhouse gas, considered worse than CO2. I don’t make this stuff up!

      Reply
  • February 25, 2016 at 1:18 AM
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    Good piece, if you have not watched it yet, check out “Cowspiracy” educative and fun documentary and kind of scary, even if it would only half true.

    We actually looked into the health point of meat and dairy consumption, and stumbled onto this site: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/uprooting-the-leading-causes-of-death/

    This MD reviews medical literature for fun and presents possible thesis for optimum health, very interesting. We have since tried a whole foods plant based diet (i.e. a healthy vegan lifestyle) to see how is would work in real life and how it would affect our health, with amazing results! Some nuisance conditions disappeared (think afternoon dip, acid re-flux after big dinner, irritable bowels, etc.) and recovery after workouts has never been better. Its a great tool to reduce your health risks and “cheap” for the wallet.

    Mr. CF used to be a large meat consumer, but currently does not even miss eating it. The only “sin” is the occasional sushi or smoked salmon. It does take up a lot of time in the kitchen and you can keep eating all day long as the caloric density is low and you get hungry faster. Can highly recommend trying it though, but keep going for at least 10 days, you feel crappy for the first few days as the toxins locked in your fat cells will be released and flushed out of your system. You likely start to feel great after about 5-7 days.

    Reply

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