Another '70's flashback: The meat crisis

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With the return of inflation, insane gas prices, and Peter Brady, it's started to look like the 1970's revival is almost complete. However, as any cultural historian will attest, no reiteration of the polyester leisure suit decade could be complete without a good, solid meat crisis.

Most experts agree that the 1972 meat crisis was caused by a massive reduction in the population of anchovies living off the coast of South America. As these tiny fish migrated elsewhere, farmers who relied on them for animal feed had to pay ever-increasing prices, driving up the cost of beef. This, in turn, led to black market butchers, runs on beef supplies, and the rise of pasta as a main dish.

In time, of course, meat supplies stabilized and prices dropped, but the damage had been done. For many families, ethnic dishes that were less reliant on flesh became part of the regular menu, arguably contributing to the rise of gourmet cookery. Regardless, the huge slabs of meat that once characterized the average American's diet became rarer. Although beef certainly made a comeback, it never really regained its position at the center of the daily dinner table.

Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. According to the National Restaurant Association, beef prices have risen almost 20% since August 2007 and are poised to go up another 5% to 8% over the next year. Part of this inflation is due, once again, to increases in the price of feed. Midwest floods, the rise of corn ethanol, and an increase in food exports to Europe have all driven the cost of grain upward. At the same time, increases in the price of gas have also made it more expensive to transport meat from farm to stockyard to market.

Prices in restaurants are rising across the spectrum, from top-notch eateries to fast food chain Wendy's, which has raised the price of its quarter pound burger by 4-8 cents in the past year. Meanwhile, McDonald's is contemplating either raising prices on its dollar menu or changing the items that it offers. Stay tuned for the McTofu!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Luckily, he has a lot of recipes for roadkill.

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