Boomers Ate Less Meat … Until They Didn’t

This post, like most Mister Boomer posts, began with a memory. Mister B was thinking about the current food trend of people trying to eat less meat — especially red meat. The first thing that came to his mind was, in his memory, boomers had to have eaten less meat than what people eat today. It was a simple premise that divulged some surprising results when he investigated.

What triggered Mister B’s memory was that it is now the Lenten season, the forty days in the Christian calendar that precedes Easter. During that time, several Christian denominations, most notably Catholics and Methodists, declared Fast Friday once a week. Rather than a movie sequel to Tumultuous Thursday, it was about fasting one day a week. It was ordained to be a meatless day, not necessarily a day of consuming a minimal amount of food and drink.

This was a practice kept in Mister Boomer’s household, but it was not restricted to Lent. His family regularly had at least one day a week that was meatless. It was, for his family, not only a religious practice but a financially necessary alternative for a growing family of limited means.

At that point in time, fish was not considered “meat,” which is why there are so many church-run Friday Fish Frys still out there today. In Mister B’s case, lake perch were plentiful and inexpensive, so it was a staple in his household. The usual method of cooking it for Mister B’s mom was to bread the fish and fry it in vegetable oil using her cast iron pan. Paired with mashed or boiled potatoes and some canned green beans, the family was fed for far less than would be believed today. A serving of two small filets, about the length of an average finger, and not much wider, was the usual serving. If Mister B was to hazard a guess, he would say the fish portion was less than 8 ounces, which appears to be about half the portion size many restaurants might dish out now. Is that speculation on Mister B’s part?

Fact: Boomers in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s (what Mister B considers the prime boomer coming-of-age years) ate less meat (including beef, pork, poultry and seafood) than people do today. This is backed up by U.S. Department of Agriculture data. The consumption of meat has been steadily rising every year since the Great Depression, tapering off its upward trajectory only in the Great Recession of 2008. It makes sense, of course. The parents of boomers lived in a time of shortages and income challenges. Soup was a meal that could feed a hungry family with little or no meat, or perhaps with just bones used for flavoring. Mister B recalls being sent by his mother to get free bones from the butcher at a corner store for just such a purpose, and that was three decades after the Depression.

The Depression of the 1930s was followed by World War II, which saw the government rationing food, so once again, the parents of boomers had to tighten their belts.

When the war ended, it’s no wonder the parents of the Baby Boom held, for the first time in their lives, an optimism for better days and desire to enjoy life right away. One way they did this was to increase the amount of meat their family ate, which has been an indicator of how well-off a family was for centuries. In the 19th century, terms such as “fat cat” were used to describe rich businessmen — especially those who used their money to support corrupt politicians. They were pictured in editorial cartoons as having large, protruding bellies.

But wait, there’s more! Fact: Government data states that in 1961 the average American ate 250 grams of meat per person, per day. By 2003, that had jumped to 350 grams per person. That is roughly a change of a quarter of a pound of meat increase per person, per day. Multiply that by 365 days in a year and you can see possible reasons why so many of today’s Americans struggle with weight gain.

Fact: Fish consumption in 1960 was at approximately 10 lbs. per person per year. Currently that figure has jumped to nearly 15 lbs. per person. Even more so with chicken and poultry. The average American consumed 34 lbs. per person, per year, but that has nearly tripled as of 2016 data, to 110 lbs. per person.

Plain and simple, we eat more food of all types now than we did fifty years ago, including meat.

However, one surprising blip in the graph of consumption comes with beef. Beef was, as with other meats, continually on the rise throughout the boomer years. In 1937, Americans ate on average 56 lbs. of beef per year, but in 1964, that figure jumped to 100 lbs. It ultimately peaked in the 1970s, due at least partially to the government’s release of reports that pinpointed red meat as a main contributor to heart disease and other ailments. Today we see that beef consumption has dropped to approximately the level it was in the 1960s. In Mister B’s estimation, that reduction is due to four main causes, at least for boomers: cost, convenience, health and environment.

As in our boomer days, beef and red meat was more expensive than poultry, fish or pork. Nonetheless, the cost of a steak now is unaffordable for many families, so cheaper cuts are being substituted or replaced by other meats — or no meats — altogether.

Convenience wasn’t a word boomers might have used much for food preparation in their days. Today, convenience means from freezer to table in one hour or less. Maybe boomers had their fill of frozen beef dinners when they were growing up?

Many aging boomers have now cut back their consumption of red meat on the advise of doctors, or adhere to the popular belief that it is less healthy than other types of meat.

Likewise, boomers who rallied around the creation of a day that celebrated our natural surroundings, are now reawakened to the amount of damage being done to the environment by growing animals for meat, especially cows for beef.

The related trend we see to attempt to cut back on meat consumption is by consuming meat substitutes that reportedly taste enough like meat to fool the average bear. Mister Boomer has not tasted an Impossible Burger or Beyond Meat himself, because his diet already consists of mostly vegetables, and frankly, he does not need his plant-based products to taste like meat; he likes the taste of vegetables. That opinion being set out, Mister B wholeheartedly agrees that it is time for aging boomers to eat less meat.

While we are thinking about getting back to the garden, we may want to reduce the portions we consume as well. Wouldn’t it be amazing to know that boomers’ food consumption, ten years from now, could be on par with what they ate in the 1960s? Maybe this is a health plan all boomers should support.

How about it, boomers? Are you eating less meat these days, or less food overall, or would you rather say, ‘Scuse me while I kiss this pie?