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.
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.
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.