“When was the last time I had meat?”

So the 4th of July is coming up, and Americans everywhere will be throwing chunks of cow, pig, chicken, and otherwise on the grill before lighting off the fireworks and, if there’s time, thinking about what the day symbolizes. But before you tuck in to burgers and brats, I’d like to share with you a little anecdote.

Because this a low-risk, low-return, stagnant economy, I work part-time. I have Thursdays off and I use them to tidy up around my house. As I was scrubbing the bathroom, I started to get a little hungry and started thinking about what I might have for lunch. I ran down what leftovers were in the fridge, what was in the cabinet, and so on, and I found myself asking the question, “when was the last time I had meat?”

And then I stopped, and had to think about it. And then I started thinking about exactly why I had to think about it. It wasn’t necessarily a choice, to be healthier or to protest labor conditions or anything like that, but it was a decision I’ve made because, often, I have no choice.

I just can’t afford to eat meat every day.

I’m college educated: I hold several different certifications and training in everything from forklifts to food preparation to pumping toilets to teaching. And yet, even while turning in six or seven W2’s every year at part-time gigs across a 50 mile radius, I still don’t make enough to get by, especially in the summer when substitute teaching is almost nonexistent.

So you start cutting things. Years ago, it was cable TV. Then the clothing budget. Then car trips. Then grocery trips. Then trips out to eat. Finally, you start to cut into what groceries you do allow yourself to get, and you start to realize you can get by without meat. You don’t want to, of course, but you have to. After a while, with everything getting more expensive and wages refusing to keep up, it just has to be done. According to the most recent statistics, My family is considered “middle class.”

So now, being middle class in America means you can’t afford meat.

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