Fast food offers a cheap and calorie-rich option to fill your stomach, but can it be considered the “most bountiful food” of all time? The Freakonomics authors and radio broadcasters are asking just that question after receiving a comment from a reader named Ralph Thomas. He asserts that a McDonald’s double burger is, “at 390 Calories, 23g (half a daily serving) of protein, 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and iron, etc., is the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history.” The statement so intrigued the Freakonomics team, that they put the subject up for debate on their website.
While it is clear that a McDonald’s hamburger packs a lot of energy into a small package, long term health, social, and environmental factors must be considered before crowning it as a superfood. Senior nutritionist for MSN Aloysa Hourigan tells the Huffington Post that even though the sandwich offers some nutrients, it is also high in fat and salt. When eaten as part of a meal including fries and soda, the massive amounts of sugar and other preservatives can take a toll on overall health.
Recent strikes by the workers in the fast food industry highlight the low wages and conditions that lead to poverty and economic inequality, despite the massive profits made by the parent company. The infrastructure surrounding the cultivation of cheap beef and vegetables also poses a risk for the safety of those laboring in factory processing plants, and stresses the environmental resources on which communities need to survive. Fast food tends to be a contributing factor to obesity and diabetes, primarily in lower income communities that experience food deserts.
As far as the environment is concerned, an enormous amount of land, water, grain, and petrochemicals are required to produce the amount of animal protein in numbers that keep the price of fast food low. Waste from factory farms as well as pesticide runoff contribute to waterway pollution, algae growth, and marine dead zones. Trash from food packaging and to-go meals not only clutters landfills but makes its way into the ecosystem, burdening wildlife and natural systems. When factoring the true cost and benefits of fast food, the health of the environment must be seen as an important extension of human health. How can a hamburger represent bounty when the finished product damages the vital systems humans depend upon for survival?