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Meat Theft Is on the Rise—Is Vegetarianism the Answer?

A new spate of meat thievery is a reminder that eating vegetarian is actually a lot cheaper.

The cost of meat has ballooned as growing demand worldwide has combined with skyrocketing costs for fuel and feed grain. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said that Americans should anticipate meat prices to rise 6 to 7 percent this year, with beef prices expected to climb 7 to 8 percent. Two months later, in the United Nations' food and agriculture outlook report, researchers said the cost of meat will increase by as much as 30 percent over the next decade.

For some folks, these price hikes are too much to bear: Police in Texas recently enacted "Operation Meat Locker" to catch a team of supermarket meat thieves who were selling their booty to local restaurants. Silly as it may sound, meat theft is a growing problem. "The National Retail Federation has done research that shows businesses lose as much as $30 billion a year from 'organized retail crime' such as meat theft," writes culinary blog Eater. "95 percent of retailers fell victim to such crimes in 2010, up from 89 percent the year before."

Are you struggling with how to cope with rising meat prices while not becoming a felon? The answer is probably simpler than you think: Stop eating meat.

We've made the case for vegetarianism—or at least eating less meat—many times, most recently during our Go Vegetarian 30-Day Challenge in June. We've covered the devastating health effects, the torturous treatment of animals, the strange psychology, and the environmental impact of eating meat. If that's not been enough for people to reconsider their diets, perhaps the dent meat makes in their pocketbooks will finally change their minds.

Vegetarianism and veganism are stereotyped as bourgeois pursuits, suitable only for people with a lot of disposable income and time to shop for specialty goods. That may have been the case in the 1800s, when most people didn't know any better, but today that's just wrong. Nowadays animal protein replacements are plentiful and cheap, meaning vegetarians and vegans actually spend less on food than people who eat meat and fish. A one-pound bag of black beans from FreshDirect, for instance, which contains about 110 grams of protein, costs $2. Compare that to the grocery's New York Strip steak, which costs a whopping $14 per pound. Sure, the steak's going to have a lot more protein than the beans, but unless you're an Olympic athlete, you probably don't require as much protein as you think. Some experts even theorize that sedentary Americans consume about 50 percent more protein than they actually need. Pair some healthy fruits and vegetables—which you should be eating regardless—with your plant proteins, and you've got meal that's filling, well-balanced, and, maybe best of all, cheap.

Of course, if you're eating $1 cheeseburgers from Wendy's for most of your meals, trying to find something comparably priced that tastes as good may be difficult. For the rest of us, it's important to know that alternatives to meat-based diets aren't just a for the wealthy elite. In these times of financial instability, a plant-based diet might help you save your paycheck and your cholesterol levels.

photo via (cc) Flickr user Southern Foodways Alliance

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