Thanks to Climate Change, Your Fourth of July Barbecue Will Cost More Than Ever

Looking to chow down on a burger? Beef may break your cookout budget.

(Photo: Cavan Images/Getty Images)

Jul 4, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

If you experienced a bit of sticker shock at the grocery store while shopping for your July 4 cookout, you’re not alone. This year Americans eager to chow down on potato salad, watermelon, and burgers will pony up more than ever before for groceries. And we can thank climate change for that.

According to the latest survey from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the price of the food needed to prepare the typical summer barbecue has jumped 5.4 percent since last year. A huge part of that increase is the price of beef. Two pounds of ground beef is now a national average of $8.91. That’s a whopping 13.4 percent higher than last year.

Why the sharp increase? “Retail meat prices are higher compared to a year ago because the nation’s cattle herd is now at a historically small level,” wrote John Anderson, the group’s deputy chief economist.

It turns out that thanks to four years of drought, ranchers in Texas and Oklahoma, the largest cattle producing states in the nation, are cutting back the size of their herds. There’s simply nothing for the animals to graze on because the land is too dry for grass to grow.

As a result, when the 83 volunteers from the farming advocacy group visited grocery stores in 25 states, they found the soaring prices you probably know all too well. The survey found that barbecuing for 10 people this year is set to cost a national average of $58.72.

If that sounds like way less than what you just spent, keep this in mind: A healthy kale coleslaw wasn’t on the farming advocacy group’s menu. They checked prices on foods such as a pound of (likely processed) American cheese, hot dog buns, baked beans, corn chips, ketchup, and mustard. The potato salad they priced out isn’t the homemade kind, either. The group opted for the grocery store deli variety. (Be careful; don’t leave it sitting out.)

Of course, while the jump in cost may give you pause, the time with friends and family is always priceless. But unless America gets serious about climate change, and if the price of beef keeps going up, hamburgers might one day be off the typical July 4 menu.