The great recession in the U.S. started in December 2007 and officially ended in June 2009. However, it left such damage in its wake that hard times lingered for millions of people long after the recession officially ended. If 2009 was too early to call the great recession over, when did it really end? Perhaps it ended when the involuntary drop in the consumption of meat associated with the recession finally ran its course.

A period of falling per capita meat consumption could be called a meat recession. When meat consumption is falling, it is almost sure to be a period of deteriorating economic conditions. On the other hand, rising meat consumption is generally a sign of an improving real economy. In contrast to the official end of the economic recession in the U.S. economy in 2009, the meat recession ended in 2012. During the meat recession, U.S. per capita red meat and poultry consumption dropped nearly 20 pounds or 10 percent. It was the biggest such recession since the 1930s.  

Meat consumption’s link to median income  

Over the same period, U.S. median income dropped $5,000 per household. The link between meat use and median income is unsurprising. With less money to spend, Americans ate less meat.

What is median income and why use it? Median income is the income in the middle. In the case of the U.S. with 120 million households, the median household income would be the income of that one single household which happens to be 60 million down from the richest household and 60 million up from the poorest household. Median is a better number to use than average because average income is distorted by billionaires.

Meat consumption more closely rises and falls with median income than average income.

To be sure, the recent drop in meat consumption had more than one cause. High grain prices increased the cost and ultimately the retail price of meat thereby reducing consumption. In addition, the success of U.S. meat exports also played a role in reducing the amount of domestic consumption. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, income remains the most important variable.  

Meat consumption now on the way up  

Household income appears to have reached a bottom in 2012, the last yearly number available. Indications are that median income showed little movement either up or down between 2012 and 2014. A more substantial increase is projected beginning in 2015.

Similarly, overall meat consumption leveled off since 2012 and is preparing for a period of rising consumption. By 2015, the production and domestic consumption of chicken, beef and pork can all be expected to be increasing robustly. Lower grain prices will help reinforce this upward movement in the next few years.