Meat Shortages Go Mainstream with Rations and Menu Changes: How to Keep Meat on Your Table

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Author of The Blackout Book and the online course Bloom Where You’re Planted

Chalk it up to a side effect nobody ever expected from the pandemic: meat is becoming difficult to get. Who would have expected this to result in grocery stores across the country rationing meat purchases? Who would have ever thought the COVID-19 virus would mean that places like Wendy’s would stop selling burgers altogether and that McDonald’s would cut its menu to only a handful of offerings?

Workers at meat packaging plants have been especially hard hit with the coronavirus. Almost 60% of the employees at one Tyson plant in Iowa have tested positive for COVID. Plants everywhere are shutting down for the safety of their employees and despite President Trump’s invocation of the Defense Production Act to force them to reopen, many workers have refused to return to the plants. Factory farms have culled millions of cows, hogs, and chickens because they cannot be to plants that are either closed or reducing the amount of meat they’re able to process while practicing social distancing.

Historically, the centralization of food has always ended in disaster. Unfortunately, giant CAFO operations and USDA approval have centralized our own food supply, and here we are.

Do the meat shortages mean that you have to become a vegetarian? While that is one option, here are some other ways to keep meat on the table at your house.

Buy in bulk locally

One of the best ways to acquire meat is to purchase in bulk and to do so locally. You can buy a quarter or a half of a pig or cow and have it processed into your favorite cuts. As well, you are locking in your meat price by purchasing it all at once. This way, you won’t be as strongly affected by meat inflation until next season.

Here are a few tips for bulk purchases of meat

  • If that is more meat than your family can use or more money than you can spend right now, consider going in with another family and splitting the purchase.
  • You need a deep freezer in order to make the most of such a large purchase.
  • I also like to can meat so that I am not as dependent on the electrical grid.  Look into canning entire roasts, meatballs, or chili. You can also check out my canning cookbook for more canning recipes.
  • Have the poorer cuts turned into stew meat or ground meat.
  • Slow cooking a lower quality cut can turn something tough into something that melts in your mouth.

Here’s a thorough guide to buying a side of beef.

Eat leftovers

You’re more likely in the future to get meat in cuts to which you are unaccustomed, so, for example, whole chickens instead of a styrofoam tray of boneless skinless chicken breasts.  You will be more likely to cook a stew or a roast. Have a plan for what you can do with those leftovers to extend them through another meal. Here are a few quick ideas:

  • Make gravy. If you have a serving of meat too small to go around for all of your family members, consider making gravy and serving it over mashed potatoes. Add some onion and mushrooms to the gravy to extend it even further.
  • Make a soup or stew. This is another way to extend a serving that isn’t quite big enough to go around
  • Mix it with beans and add Mexican seasoning to make burritos or to serve over rice.
  • When you make a large roast, thinly slice the meat for sandwiches and salads throughout the work and school week.
  • Cover leftover stew with pie crust or biscuit dough for a delicious potpie
  • Look for recipes specifically written to use up leftovers.
  • If you have more leftovers than you can use before they spoil, sometimes they can be canned – check out the instructions here for some examples.

You can find more ideas for repurposing leftovers HERE. This PDF guide has lots of recipes that use less meat and leftovers to make tasty meals.

Don’t waste anything

Use up the things that most people throw away.  When preparing the meat, if you are cutting away some fat or bone, place it in a bowl and put it in the freezer. When you have enough like scraps of meat, it’s time to make broth from it.  You can make hearty broth from ham, turkey, chicken, beef, or pork – virtually any kind of meat.  Use the inedible parts and cook it down for hours to get a rich and delicious broth. You can then use this broth as a base for soup or to cook your rice in to add a hit of nutrition.

Here are directions on how to make and can poultry broth and ham broth. There are some great ideas for not letting any meat go to waste in this article.

Do you have such a tiny amount of leftovers that it won’t equal a full serving? Start a container in your freezer for those leftovers and create “leftover soup”.  Sometimes it’s fantastic, sometimes it isn’t so great, but those odds and ends can combine to make meals that I consider to be basically “freebies.”  We always have a large Tupperware container in the freezer that contains little bits of vegetables or meat. Add a jar of homemade broth and a handful of rice, barley, or pasta, and you’ve created “leftover soup.” It will be different every single time, based on your family’s leftovers.

Raise your own.

If you live in a place where this is possible, it may be time to start raising your own meat. If you are in suburbia, rabbits could be your best option, since they’re quiet and unobtrusive. Even cities that allow you to have some laying hens tend to frown upon residents butchering those hens in the backyard.

If you live more rurally, the choice is yours: goats, chickens, turkeys, and pigs are all reasonable ways to get started raising your own meat. If you are worried about the slaughter, you may be able to work out a barter with someone who is skilled at butchering meat in exchange for some of the harvest.

Hunt and fish

This answer isn’t for everyone. Some folks prefer to forget that the meat on the styrofoam trays at the grocery store didn’t originate on those trays. Others have gotten locked into a more narrow definition of “meat”, believing that the options are fish, pork, beef, and chicken, and that nothing else exists.  However, if you aren’t bothered by the concept of hunting, there is an abundance of meat walking, swimming, and flying around. Invest in a good game cookbook to best prepare meats that may not be familiar to you.

You don’t have to hunt, yourself.  In the past, I had some friends and neighbors who hunt. In exchange for some of the bounty, I’ve bartered my skills at canning things like venison chili or moose meatballs in spaghetti sauce.

If you fish, that can put an instant meal on the table.  Learning to quickly and efficiently clean fish is a great skill and can gently prepare you for butchering other types of meat.

Perhaps with the sharp uptick in meat prices and the rations, it’s time to brush up on these skills and learn to harvest what is naturally abundant in your area.

Use less meat in your recipes.

If you can’t get around the rations, then you’ll have to adjust to using less meat. Instead of making meat the star of the show, try using less of it in your meals.

  • Use it as a condiment. Throw in a small piece of ham or a couple of slices of bacon when making bean soup. Crumble crisp bacon on top of casseroles or potato dishes.
  • Mix meat with another protein source. This is less noticeable in meals with strong spices. In your chili, use more beans and only half a pound of beef.
  • If you eat soy products, try mixing soaked texturized vegetable protein half and a half with ground beef in recipes that call for it.
  • Cooked lentils can also be mixed with ground beef in stews, soups, and casseroles.
  • Stir-fries can make a little bit of meat go a long way while still providing a tasty, nutritious meal for your family.

While your meat and potatoes family members may not be delighted, there may not be an option for some families other than to reduce their meat consumption.

Any suggestions?

If you found this article useful, be sure to sign up for our newsletter. How do you get meat if you’re facing rations? What is the meat situation at your local stores? Do you think these shortages will continue long-term? Share your thoughts in the comments.

About Daisy

Daisy Luther writes about current events, preparedness, frugality, voluntaryism, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, The Organic Prepper. She is widely republished across alternative media and she curates all the most important news links on her aggregate site, Daisy is the best-selling author of 4 books and runs a small digital publishing company. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

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  • Intermittent fasting will improve your health and reduce overall food consumption. It should be the go-to prepper diet.

  • Sheep are also easy to raise on a relatively small amount of land. The biggest issue for us is that all the small local butchers have closed; we will now have to process our own. We have found it easier to raise meat than produce. I have a black thumb, but we have neighbors who are great gardeners. There will likely be some bartering in the future to augment our garden, which has been greatly expanded.

  • As a child, when I would not eat my veggies, my Mom, (Who grew up in the slums of Chicago, during the Great Depression) , would say to me, ” When you are hungry enough, you’ll eat anything”.

    During WW 2 , the women of Berlin fed their families on feral cats. They called them ” Roof Rabbits”.

    I guess Mom was right, ” When you’re Hungry enough?”.

  • All good advice but it is getting harder to raise your own or buy locally as, at least where I live, the local butchers are booked almost solid for the rest of 2020 and are taking orders for steers and hogs into 2021. I just booked one of my steers this morning and I felt lucky to get a slot the week of Thanksgiving.

  • I found a minor error under “Eat Leftovers”:

    “[You’re] more likely in the future to get meat in cuts to which you are unaccustomed, [such as], for example, whole chickens instead of a Styrofoam tray of boneless skinless chicken breasts.

  • I saw the food shortages last year coming. I canned in Dec & Jan 100 lbs of stew meat. I brought 1/2 a steer which is in the freezer. I also have my own chickens, ducks and turkeys. Several are going to be butchered this month. Those will most likely be canned also. I have been supplementing my 9 dogs with duck eggs and bone broth. They are barely touching the two month supply of dried dog food. My butcher sells 20 lbs/case of raw bones for $6. I freeze some for bone broth and give some raw bones for my dogs to chew. I also can some of the bones for beef broth for us.

    I don’t hunt, but we do have deer, rabbits and quail on my property. There are no wild hogs or wild turkeys in my area. There are some further north of here. I have 6 new baby turkeys and 12 new chicks. Meat is not my problem. I will cull due to the difficulty of getting feed.

        • I have been canning Turkey, chicken and beef for 15 years. As long as it is processed correctly in a pressure canner, it lasts way longer. I’ve been eating Turkey and beef from 2017 this winter. Tastes great. It might not be as nutrional, but what I’ve eaten has been safe.

          • For liability reasons, since I have a canning book, I have to recommend the national guidelines. However, I’m certain the meat you’ve canned has been perfectly fine and also delicious. (I love home canned meat so much!)

    • Sounds wonderful. Any suggestions for meal in a jar? That has been on my list, and think it’s the best thing going, especially if there is an issue with power outages. Soups (lentil/ham), stews, pot pie fillings, check. Still working out the spaghetti – that’s a great comfort food.

  • Dear Daisy,

    Wonderful article. Indeed all of this advices are useful and we have adopted in our family since a long time ago. We found that ground meat, heavily seasoned will take a long way into a big bowl of rice and beans. And shredded zucchini, cooked with meat will extend its volume and absorb much of the juices when cooked together, making it look like there is a lot of meat.

  • For the newbie preppers who don’t own Livestock, or know how to pressure can, canned Spam/Ham/Tuna/Chicken. Maybe some canned sardines and salmon. Velveeta cheese will keep for awhile and makes a tasty grilled cheese. If y’all want cheap and easy, smoked sausage, Brats, and the great American Hot Dog will fill stomachs too. Jerky can be made out of many meats, including gator tail. (Tastes like chicken, what doesn’t?)

    • To much red meat will actually clog the arteries. Blood must reach the lower extremities in order to prevent blood clots and erectile dysfunction in men. Circulating blood is very necessary when sitting for a long time on a flight also…Last night I had a nice big ambrosia Apple with some block cheddar cheese and some Triscuits crackers for supper with a glass of ice tea…(half black tea and half green tea) mixed together (yummy)…SO there are ways of making supper without having to add meat. I do have cans of tuna as well as chicken for when that time comes that there is no real meat to be found. That day may not come but just in case. Better to be safe than sorry and of course being prepared is always “smart”. We should eat meat in moderation. Eggs, pancakes, or eggs and toast, eggs and homefries are all good substitutes for a meal with meat. Spaghetti sauce with spices, can tomatoes, cut up onion and green pepper with NO MEAT added can provide a spaghetti and tomato sauce supper. Sandwiches are good such as can chicken makes a good chicken salad sandwich, tuna will do the same thing and boiled eggs make a good egg salad sandwich…Macaroni salad as well as potato salad is very filling and can be eaten with whatever meat you have in a can. Potato and broccoli soup is great and doesn’t need meat either…I am sure there is more, but those were the ones on top of my hat haha.

  • Daisy, you might want to mention that people can not just hunt when ever and where ever they choose. There are hunting seasons for almost every animal and bird.
    People also need permits to hunt.

    Shooting a deer that wanders onto your property is not legal in most states and if many people hunted that way it could permanently devastate deer and other animal populations. Baiting deer and other animals to shoot them isn’t legal and is a deplorable practice.
    If you are found to have killed an animal without a permit, out of season or you have baited to lure them in, you can incur huge fines and the confiscation of your hunting rifles.
    In the past people hunted as they chose and is why some entire mountain ranges have almost no deer.

    Daisy, Please keep these facts in mind when you say,
    “However, if you aren’t bothered by the concept of hunting, there is an abundance of meat walking, swimming, and flying around.”

    You are held as an expert in your field and people follow your advice. You put in disclaimers when you write about natural healing etc and I think you should have one here in your article so people aren’t running out and shooting animals when it’s not currently necessary or legal.

    Thanks Daisy.

    • There are some species that have year round seasons because of their destructive nature on fencing and agricultural crops. Feral hog come to mind. Many farmers will really appreciate your effort to help them. Rooting hogs will do a root plowing tractor proud.

      I killed a sow last year for deer season opener. About 180 live weight. We chilled out the meat in an ice filled cooler for a week, removing as much blood as possible before packaging in the freezer. When all done and boned out, about 60 lbs of meat.

      So Good ! We cook in a crock pot and make pulled pork, adding cubed potatoes and carrots and celery. Also great in spaghetti or other pasta dishes. It was well worth the effort. We keep a small chest freezer in our utility room. It has approximately 150 pounds of deer, fish and the hog. Great way to stretch a budget, well worth the effort.

  • If u have a small amount of leftover that will not feed 1 person but was a family favourite add water, blend and use as a base for sauce or gravy. That way everyobe gets to enjoy it again. If u make something too spicy, freeze in small portions and add to the next similar dish a portion at a time in leiu of the normal spices.

  • The problem with buying in bulk in Florida is when it is close to Hurricane Season. I try to empty my freezer and fridge as much as possible by June and then only buy a little at a time. I got tired of losing so much each year.
    During the winter times it is great though. Buy a ham, cut it up and freeze in different size packages. I even wrap some of the fat up. It is great for seasoning things like cabbage. Use the ham bone to make soups and put in jars in the freezer and I even save some of the broth to make gravy with.
    No wasting at all!

    • Lifelong FL resident and after the 2004 hurricanes & resulting power outages we got a travel trailer powered by propane & portable generator(s). I would still get terrible anxiety when hurricane season came around. So, in 2012 we invested in a whole house propane generator. Now, we are completely prepared. Fridge/freezer remain working and many creature comforts too for approx. 2 weeks on 1 tank. We can stay in our home & have the camper on standby or loan to friends or family who need it. Hurricane season starts June 1st.

  • Thankfully I’ve got my cow and pig already ordered for the year; our local girl was even able to scare up an extra side of beef and pig for my married son and DIL who had put it off…again. ???? They got less than I’m comfortable with, but I mostly include them in my planning so it’s just a minor bump.

    Here in PA, chicken is soon going to be worth more than a days wages in the cities and burbs. All meat in the stores is on Limit 1 per item as of the other day. Farmers are dumping milk due to lack of being able to send it to the Dairy for processing and distribution. Chicken farmers are being told to cull their flocks…some are being allowed to find other outlets for the 10s of 1000s of dozens of eggs they produce each week. Butchers are booked out for months now; so even if you are growing your own, you’d better be comfortable butchering your own or have made advance arrangements.

    I am gonna be short on breast meat. I had canned some up for the son & DIL back in November when our local store ran their end of the year chicken sale. I figured I’d refill mine when March’s sale came. March came…no chicken. So, we went down to another farm store and stocked up on whole chicken, thighs, and some smoked breasts that were on special. Same? No, but we’ve lived “short” enough times that it’s an annoyance, not a problem. And not the best meat ever, but there’s still canned meat on the shelves in some stores. Perfect for chicken salad for lunches or add in for soups. Now I’m beginning to appreciate what my mother and grandparents must have gone through during the Depression and war years! ????

  • We have purchased a quarter beef from a local producer each of the past two years. Together with the deer I have processed its more than enough meat for us for the year if I also take advantage of sales on meat and pick up a little extra at those times. I recently purchased half a beef and sixty pounds of pork from a farmer friend. I have had to also purchase an additional freezer. If you have attempted to buy a freezer lately you know by now they are about as rare as rattlesnake hips! I think I hit pay dirt in ordering one that is scheduled to be delivered later this month. I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

    Anyone considering raising their own might want to stick with rabbits and chickens. Anything else gets expensive quick and is not as easy and some think. Fencing, shelters, feed, vets, transporting, processing, and storing all can be very large hurtles to a newby.

    Same goes for anyone now thinking about just going out and hunting for meat. Most people don’t even have a place to hunt nor the equipment. Considering who might decide next season to give it a try, I doubt I would want to be in the same woods with them!

  • Creamed chicken on biscuits is great. Just boil a chicken breast for about an hour, add onions and celery, thicken it a little after you shred the chicken, and serve over biscuits. Can serve up to 4 people.

    Serve eggs more. I know they have gone up in price, but they are worth it.

    I add leftover taco meat to a can of beans, put dumpling dough on the top, heat on low/medium in a saucepan covered, and serve when the biscuits are done. Kids love this.

    Also look at portion size. Often we eat more than one serving of meat which is not necessary. Prepare less. Eat less.

  • My ranch neighbor bought lots of chicks and Turkey babes. We have already agreed to barter my ground beef, cut and wrapped for an 18 pound Turkey, slaughtered and dressed. I’m so grateful to live in a rural area with a neighbor I trust.

  • Just filled my freezer with beef and pork from a local meat market that processes their own meat. I always buy in bulk from them. The prices were definitely high but we’re set for the year. In fact so high that I got a call from them to make sure I knew the cost I should expecting. So meat is still out there if you’re willing to spend the money. (Not something everybody can do, but we are very fortunate to have an emergency fund, and meat will be off the grocery list later just like our prepped canned goods.) Look local. I figured it was worth having my mind at ease that we are prepared and can share with family if needed.

    I was at the grocery store (our second trip since March 6th!) and noticed that they had a ton of chicken but it was all thighs and drumsticks. Not one package of breasts. Luckily they had whole chickens and I was allowed to get two. I also grabbed 2 turkey breasts. I have family members that are raising meat birds and laying hens. But everyone around here is doing that so it’s very hard to get a spot to get them butchered.

    I also noticed at the grocery that the flour shelves were full. I think that people are tired of making their own bread and buying ready made since quarantine is over in several states. I’m curious about how much people have learned from this experience. Will we have a second wave? The Spanish flu had three. Prepping is not over.

  • I’ve been saving and freezing chicken necks and all the other things that come in whole chickens for years. Not that I have a decades worth…LOL After a short time, I pull out the saved things and make something out them. Save the necks separately from the livers, etc. The necks can be used to make broth and then add your fave vegges to make soup. Livers, hearts and gizzards can be made into pate sorts of spreads using similar seasonings. Or toss them in the soup as well. Add some lentils and the whole thing is tasty and quite filling.
    Remember that canned chicken, tuna, and other meats are still on the shelf while most are looking for fresh meats. So, no, you won’t have that drumstick but a good casserole with these is pretty good.

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