The True Cost of a Burger

In 2005, the House of Representatives passed an act that forbade consumers to sue fast-food operators over weight gain. “The Cheeseburger Bill” (formally, “The Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act”) attempted to legislate the message that the costs of fast food are personal, not social, and certainly not a consequence of selling harmful food at addictively low prices.

The reality is different, as we begin to understand the extent of the financial and economic costs wrought on our society from years of eating dangerously. That’s a different kind of cheeseburger bill; the butcher’s bill, if you like: The real cost.

What you pay for a cheeseburger is the price, but price isn’t cost. It isn’t the cost to the producers or the marketers and it certainly isn’t the sum of the costs to the world; those true costs are much greater than the price.

This is an attempt to describe and quantify some of those costs. (I have been working on this for nearly a year, with a student intern, David Prentice.) It’s necessarily compromised — the kinds of studies required to accurately address this question are so daunting that they haven’t been performed — but by using available sources and connecting the dots, we can gain insight.

Read the rest of this article here.

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  1. Neha Sampath said...

    Mark, while I wholeheartedly agree with reforming the American food industry to be both kind to animals and the environment, and of creating a cultural shift towards consuming more produce over meat, I am struck by your lack of discussion about barriers for a large majority of Americans that prevent them from eating what they already know is good for them on a regular basis. The workaholic and bottom line oriented American economy places little value on nutrition for its employees. Take away Google and tech giants that provide high quality subsidized food for their employees (again because they want those said employees to work longer hours) , and you mostly have 1/2 hour lunches caught on the go and harried dinners provided to children by overworked parents. This becomes even more of an issue for those on the low income scale of the spectrum.
    I am a vegetarian and was brought up as one, yet as a working mom of two, I can see how hard it is to try to source all your meals in a non processed , home cooked manner. It takes tremendous effort and planning. You want to advocate for better eating habits, well then, we also need to have a discussion about the need for good quality subsidized child care, flexible working hours for parents, the need for high quality food to become available in more convenient and inexpensive locations than Whole Foods. In the end, this all comes down to American society’s priorities, which are about material goods and consumption rather than quality of life and relationships.

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