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Less green for the red, white and blue: Costs down for July 4th picnics

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WASHINGTON – This Fourth of July, Americans will be able to savor the cost of their traditional holiday cookout along with the taste.

A survey by the American Farm Bureau reports the average cost of a Fourth of July picnic for 10 will be less than $6 per person this year.

The cost is even lower in Arizona, one of 20 states included in the bureau’s survey. The national average was $57.20 for picnic fixings, but just $56.45 in Arizona.

“The trend right now is that everything is down,” said Julie Murphree, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Farm Bureau. “This is good news for families.”

Murphree said Arizona is doing well compared to other regions, where drought and ethanol mandates have caused a sharp increase in prices.

But not everything is cheaper in Arizona. The “Fourth of July picnic basket” for the state has prices that are higher for meat and dairy products – including hot dogs, American cheese and pork spare ribs – than the national basket.

“Most of the time, processed food items such as hot dogs and cheese have higher inputs, such as energy costs and labor just to get them to Arizona,” said Peggy Jo Goodfellow, another Arizona Farm Bureau spokeswoman. “The spare ribs show a modest increase over national due to an increase in the cost of feed.”

Meat products were the biggest-ticket items in the picnic basket, making up more than half the total cost in Arizona at an estimated $29.25. Nationally, they amounted to an estimated $24.08, about 40 percent of the total picnic basket price tag.

Vegetarians won’t necessarily pay less for their holiday cookouts, because of the cost of meat substitutes, said Freya Dinshah, president of the American Vegan Society. But she said vegetarians and vegans will be celebrating right along with everybody else.

“They have a lot of things that we love too,” Dinshah said of traditional cookout fare. “There’s a lot of things that we eat the same.”

Bean-based chili is a popular item, she said, as well as many other alternatives that are healthier than meat. She advises Americans to take better care of their health by choosing meat substitutes like veggie burgers – but she does not expect them to go cold turkey on their meat habit.

“We don’t expect people to jump in and go 100 percent all at once,” Dinshah said. “The more they do (try vegetarian food), the more they incorporate it into their diet.”

At The Meat Shop, a butcher’s shop in Phoenix, the meat habit has been on full display this week. Beth Wilson, who owns the shop with her husband, Tim, said sales have double in the past week as people prepare for Fourth of July festivities.

Wilson believes there’s a reason for Americans’ fondness for meat during Independence Day parties that goes far beyond dietary choices.

“It’s fun (and) an experience to try different rubs and cuts,” she said. “It’s part of the whole event, to get the grill out and try something different.”

No matter the reason for the holiday’s high-protein content, millions of Americans will be out Thursday manning the grill.

And Goodfellow expects the low picnic costs to be that much more appealing, since prices will be “lower than what Americans pay for most value meals.”

“This will be a great Fourth of July,” she said.