Kristine Lofgren

The True Cost of a Cheeseburger Will Blow Your Mind

by , 07/20/14

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Here at Inhabitat, we’ve written about the devastating true costs of fast fashion, but what about the cost of fast food? Recently, Mark Bittman wrote a piece at the New York Times calculating the true cost of a cheeseburger. By looking at carbon footprint, disease costs and even injury rates at slaughterhouses, Bittman shows just how much America’s love affair with fast food costs - and the numbers may make you rethink your next meal choice.

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According to Bittman’s research, the average cheeseburger costs $4.49. But once you factor in all of the externalities – the costly factors that aren’t represented by the actual price of an item – a cheeseburger actually starts to cost anywhere from 68 cents to $2.90 more than the original price. And that price is just for the things that we can actually put a number on. There are plenty of other externalities that are hard to put a price on.

Related: You’ll Never Look at Fast Food Vegetables the Same Way After Reading This

Some of the biggest contributors to a cheeseburger’s true cost are carbon footprint and consumer health. Dealing with this carbon output costs about 53 cents per burger and obesity, with all its related costs, is about 48 cents. And that rate is for fast food burgers alone. If you factor in gourmet and sit-down restaurant cheeseburgers, the price goes up.

There are plenty of other costs that are a bit more difficult to calculate, however, like nitrate levels in water sources, the cost of food stamps to help make up the gap between a fast-food worker wage and the cost of living, dealing with antibiotic resistance and corn subsidies, to name a few. It’s hard to pin a number on these things, but each one accounts for even more cost. And even if you don’t eat cheeseburgers, Bittman’s report shows that the problem isn’t just the burger, but an entire food system that is artificially cheap up front, but extraordinarily unsustainable overall.

Via The New York Times

Lead image via Shutterstock, image via Steven Damron

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2 Comments

  1. Michael Fairbanks July 20, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I understand this article does not include his entire study, but it should compare it to alternatives for us to assign any significance to his findings. For example, what is the cost of a fast food burger versus one made at home from fresh ingredients. Also, if we stopped eating fast food burgers, versus eating an alternative food, say, a turkey burger or vegetarian meal. Those have costs too and it is not like we can just stop eating to avoid the costs of a fast food burger.

  2. adriano July 19, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Somehow I’m a skeptic and doubt the maths that is involved. Don’t get me wrong, I hate Maccas, to me it’s like they defecate in your food and then sell it to you, but I think he is loving to hate on it.

    One of my main issues is this, a burger costs say $2.00. It prob costs 20c to produce, so a corporation again is sucking a huge amount of revenue of a small product, in accordance to Darwinian capitalism. However maccas are cheapskates, they would cut every corner possible to put out that burger with as little effort and cost as possible. And here is where our economic system goes wrong, it might be shit food, maccas might be ripping us off, but the process of putting out a crappy burger is designed to involve almost as little effort as possible, something that other area of economics could learn from, ie. excess work is bad, why make things hard for ourselves.

    So in the end, yeah cheeseburgers are crap and expensive and have hidden externalities. But it’s a hell of a lot easier producing them than organic, locally produced, *some expensive natural product*. So yeah, they suck, but I still reckon they have their place as an quick, easy, relatively effortless food fix.

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