Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Of Canaries & Cattle

While every legitimate media and information source around the world is keeping at least one eye on the events happening in Eastern Ukraine, we've also been keeping a watch out for other terrorist events. This really doesn't surprise anyone in the media, who remember that mid-April includes quite a few anniversaries of terrorist acts, including the Virginia Tech and Columbine mass school shootings, and the Oklahoma City and Boston Marathon bombings.

Our vigilance this month, and that of others in the media, hasn't been an entirely empty one. We began to notice on Sunday an incredibly stupid fake terrorism tweet from a teenager to a U.S. airline, that finally reached major mainstream media outlets late Tuesday. There were also some suspicious bags left near the finish line of the Boston Marathon late Tuesday, that were detonated by Boston police without harm.

These kinds of incidents may seem minor at first, and may even be unrelated. After a major catastrophe, however, like the information about the Tsarnev brothers the Russian government 'forgot' to give U.S. officials, we're reminding you today that seemingly minor details can often end up becoming the proverbial canary in the coal mine.

With that thought in mind, we want to turn your attention to the hamburger you may have eaten recently, and the quiet giant rumbling through the grocery store that somehow you might have missed.

In case you don't keep as close an eye on your grocery receipts as we do, you may not have noticed that beef prices are now hitting record highs, and dairy and produce are also climbing. In fact, beef prices right now are at the highest level they've been since 1987 - and that price increase doesn't look to be stopping anytime soon. Even if you're a vegetarian, when the price of beef goes up, so do the costs of related items like pet foods and grains - meaning you'll feel the extra cost whether or not you eat that porterhouse.

Not surprisingly to us, the reason for the increased cost of beef right now is a nationwide cattle shortage, brought on by last year's massive drought in places like West Texas. The good news for the future is that the weather patterns for this year throughout much of the United States look less favorable for drought and more favorable for a healthy increase in the size of cattle herds.

The fact remains, however, that this temporary sharp increase in the price of beef may not be just a one-time blip on your grocery bill.

As David Sirota - journalist and professional acquaintance of one of our staff members - noted last year at Salon, studies confirm that humankind could reduce the pace of climate change, if we just ate less beef. Dietitians even recommend Americans eat less red meat overall. The larger issue though, as Sirota pointed out, is that the American consumer's voracious appetite for hamburgers only continues to increase the demand for more cattle. More cattle means more CO2 - which means more greenhouse gasses, and inevitably more volatile weather. Of course, more volatile weather means less cattle being available for our tables - and sooner rather than later, hamburgers costing as much as steaks.

So the next time you look at the unusual weather trends outside, and the high price of beef inside the restaurant or grocery store, remember - the costs for that quarter-pounder could be far higher in the long run.

Have a salad today. Save the hamburgers for the future.