I was fascinated by this story in the NY Times about how the demand for Spam has risen as the economy gets worse. What it tells me is that there's a lot of people who consider meat — even in the form of highly processed parts — essential to their diet.
Even if I ate pork, I can't imagine ever buying Spam. If I don't have the money for regular meat, I'd rather eat vegetarian meals than Spam. (Yes, I do occasionally eat beef hot dogs, which are only marginally closer to the "real meat" side of the spectrum.)
As I've said before, I think that my willingness to do without meat is a large part of the reason that we didn't have trouble doing the Thrifty Food Plan experiment. The market basket that the plan is based on includes allowances for a reasonable amount of meat — for an adult male, they assume 0.63 pounds of beef/pork/lamb and 2.55 pounds of poultry per week. (The equivalent numbers are actually slightly higher for adult women.) When we were following the TFP budget, we were eating significantly less meat than that.
The TFP is overall an interesting construct. It's designed to be low-budget, to meet all the RDIs for nutrients, and to follow the food pyramid, but it's also based on what low-income people actually eat. It's not a fully artificial construct of "how little could one spend and still have a nutritionally adequate diet." So, no, they don't expect you to eat oatmeal, eggs and lentils day after day. And it includes a fair amount of convenience foods. (Although they do note that they were unable as a result to get down to the recommended levels of sodium consumption, even assuming no added salt at the table.)
So what about you? If you're not a vegetarian, do you feel deprived without meat? What substitutes are acceptable and what are not?