The cost of protein

Sometimes there is more to your grocery basket than meets the eye.

Today I will be talking about agriculture and why it sometimes makes sense to review your dietary choices.

You might or might not know this, but I’m what mainstream would label ‘flexitarian’. This means that I live on predominately plant-based diet, but occasionally I do eat animal products and animal flesh. I used to be more of an omnivore, but over the years my preference has changed. Here are some of my personal considerations, the mathematical ones.

The base cost

Animal products and animal flesh are expensive. Not just to buy, but also to produce and rear respectively. I had a great chat with my parents recently around the costs of non-commercial/small scale farming of pigs. And the story goes that purchasing two piglets which can be reared organically or otherwise will cost around 500 PLN (circa £100). You will need around 300kg of feed per piglet to rear it to say, 130kg in weight. The feed should contain decent quality grains mix for them to remain healthy and will cost, give or take, 600 PLN (£125 approx.) per tonne. For our two piglets we’d therefore spend around £75 on just the dry feed.

They would also need a provision of clean water, bedding and roof over their heads. It’s worth pointing out that pigs are one of the cleanest farm animals and it’s important for their welfare to allow them space to move and clean bedding, otherwise they can be prone to fungal and bacterial infections. Such infections could result in a need to use antibiotics, at a cost to your pocket and your dinner’s quality.

Let’s say our piglets will be allowed space and clean conditions and they will remain healthy – this reduces the costs of vet care to say two visits – neutering and vaccination and sign-off before they are slaughtered. Conservatively, our cost will be circa £50 for all that for both. We are now at a total of £225 for 260kg of live pork. Assume that only around 70% of our piglets post-slaughter will be usable with another 5% lost before it reaches the dinner table. This final 65% is called take-home meat in farming terms.

So in reality it costs £225 to produce 169kg of pork. Our base cost would be right around £1.33 per kg. I haven’t even considered the time investment of the farmer to rear them.

If we were to sell our two piglets for profit, we’d make mere £32 or so, with a significant cost to our time and an output of around 5kg of manure per day per pig. PER DAY. That’s a lot of manure and only some of it can be used to fertilise the fields which are used to produce that 600kg of grain.

Current price paid to said farmer is at £1.52 per kg at a sale point. That’s £0.19 per kilo profit, excluding their actual time and physical effort. Expensive and not very profitable, which explains why most of the pork available to consumer is commercially grown in craped conditions and on poor quality feed.

You might ask why my parents were considering growing pigs for their own meat and the answer is…as qualified farmers with awareness of the commercial industry practices they refuse to buy commercially grown meat. If they don’t rear it themselves, they won’t eat it unless they know the source of the meat.

The concept of secondary protein

This is a little controversial, but speaking from a standpoint of common sense, there is no need for us to eat flesh as often as we do. There is plenty of protein and other necessary nutrients available in plants. I don’t feel the need to source my protein by eating something that needed to eat protein to form protein.

Sounds convoluted? Let’s take our piglet again.

1kg of pork loin provides a whopping 270g of protein (only 12% of our pig is the loin, but let’s leave that for another day).

1 kg of wheat only provides 137g of protein. However, it only costs around £135 per tonne (1000kg) to grow. Like for like, this means that 100g of animal protein costs us £0.49 to rear, 100g of wheat protein costs us £0.01 to grow. A penny.

My piglet needs to eat 41kg of wheat protein (i.e. 300kg of wheat) to produce roughly 18.6kg of animal protein in its body mass (84.5kg of take-home meat at an average of 220g of protein per kilo). Protein is protein, so it seems kind of pointless to pour 41kg of the stuff into something that only gives me less than half of it back at the end of the process, plus sewage.

Protein is protein and we only need around 0.8g of protein per 1kg of body mass as adults. So the humble me, a 59kg female only needs 47.2g of protein per day to be healthy and well. That’s around one loaf of bread and I am set. And I don’t just eat bread during the day.

On the flip side, meat does not contain any fibre which we need to thrive. Wheat bran contains 43g of fibre. A loaf of white bread contains around 20g. make it brown and it’s around 40g. Average adult does well with around 30g of fibre in their diet – a lot of us don’t get that.

The point is? I see no sense in eating meat for protein or any other ingredients – I might just as well go to the source and eat that plant protein with a bonus side of fibre. Cheaper and does not involve excrement. I won’t tell you to stop eating meat if you like it, but I am telling you that if you are saying you are eating meat for protein, you are doing it wrong.

And on that note, what’s on the menu for the weekend?


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