Jay from The Linkery has some interesting thoughts about the idea of a "less for more economy," the idea being that we need to change our consumption habits towards consuming less quantity, but higher quality and therefore more expensive items. The original blog post at The Plastic Society touches on food as one aspect, but Jay goes into more depth. This is a pretty bold position for a business owner to take. I don't think there are too many ad agencies out there that would recommend their clients slogan be "We'll give you less and charge you more for it, but for a good reason." But if we step back and think about what qualities we want in our food, "cheap" shouldn't really rank all that high. For me, nutritious, flavorful, safe and sustainable all immediately come to mind before cheap.
I think that this is even more important when it comes to meat. Health concerns from E. coli and mad cow, to heart disease and colon cancer are all linked to consumption of meat, especially "cheap" meat. In addition, as consumers, we've been tricked into believing that meat is a commodity, essentially all the same regardless of where its from or how its raised, and that the most desirable cuts are all middle steaks. In essence, we've come to expect that we can eat filet mignon all the time, anytime, anywhere, that it should be relatively inexpensive, and that it should taste the same all the time. The problems with this, though, are too numerous to list. (Read the Omnivores Dilemma, Fast Food Nation, or Food Matters for a more complete run down.)
The reality is that good, healthy meat is expensive, and we need far less of it than the average U.S. consumer eats. Government subsidies have made bad, unhealthy meat artificially inexpensive, and so most of us eat way too much of it. Even under the best of circumstances, I can't envision changing our production and distribution systems to be healthy and sustainable without also changing our consumption habits. Obviously this means eating less meat, but it also means eating all of the animal. So, if you haven't yet, head down to your butcher and buy some oxtail or beef cheeks, pig trotters or lamb shanks. Don't be scared, ask the butcher how to cook it, or look a recipe up on the internet. It will be a whole lot cheaper than the filet mignon and it might just taste a whole lot better.