A new meme has been circulating online, asking that writers “please don’t write another article on obesity in America until until you explain why salads are $7 and a burger is $1.” The meme became popular enough to be shared by Chris Rock on Twitter, where it spawned thousands of retweets and likes.
So, as responsible writers, we’re going to do exactly as asked; because, while relative pricing in America is a very complex subject, the answer here is pretty simple: they aren’t. More importantly, it probably wouldn’t matter a whole lot if they did.
The meme provides no context or sources for its assertions, so let’s start by looking at the most obvious culprit: McDonald’s. According to Secret Menus, which tracks pricing at the most common fast food franchises in America, the most popular McDonald’s burgers are more in the neighborhood of $4 to $5. McDonald’s meal-sized salads, while slightly more expensive, run around $4.60-$5.40.
Sure, you can get a basic burger for a little over a dollar. But you can get a side salad for a dollar even, so that’s essentially meaningless.
For the sake of argument, though, let’s pretend that the salad was significantly more expensive — and ask, instead, if that’s affecting America’s health, using information from McDonald’s and SelfNutritionData.
A Big Mac costs $3.99 and weighs 219g. It contains 540 calories, 28g of fat, 25g of protein, and 46g of carbohydrates. Okay, it’s not exactly a nutrition overload.
Let’s compare that to the Southwest Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Salad. It costs $4.79, weighs a whopping 342g (yes, almost double what the Big Mac does,) and contains 520 calories, 25g of fat, 28g of protein, and 46g of carbohydrates.
In other words? It’s pretty much identical to the Big Mac nutritionally — at least when you aren’t accounting for the additional weight. Of course, not too many people order their burger without fries. Which add another 230 calories, and another dollar or more.
In the interest of fairness, let’s compare our two low-cost items as well. A basic McDonald’s hamburger — no cheese, no fries, no bacon — costs $1.29, weighs 105g, and contains 250 calories, 8g of fat, 12g of protein, and 32g of carbohydrates.
The side salad costs $1, weighs 87g, and — with ranch dressing — has 210 calories, 17g of fat, 3g of protein, and 14g of carbohydrates.
Personally, I think I’ll take the burger.
But that’s McDonald’s. It’s the ubiquitous fast food. We all expect them to find a way to make everything unhealthy, right? So let’s head next to Applebee’s and look at a more mid-range option. At Applebee’s, we’re going to order the “American Standard” burger and the fiesta chicken chopped salad.
We can’t tell you what each weighs in this case, but we can tell you that the burger is $9.99 and the salad is $10.49, so again, we’re not exactly breaking the bank by choosing the “expensive” salad over the “cheap” burger.
The “American Standard” clocks in at 1030 calories, 71g of fat, 50g of protein, and 48g of carbohydrates. Yikes! The chicken salad actually does a lot better this time, at 340 calories, 17g of fat, 24g of protein, and 24g of carbohydrates. So we do have to hand it that. But it’s hardly as if it costs much more than the burger; certainly not 700 percent.
All of this isn’t to say that there isn’t an essential price break between “cheap” and “healthy” foods in America; there absolutely is, and it absolutely needs to be addressed. We could talk about food subsidies, basic marketing, public perception, political lobbies, and so much more connected with this; we could even talk about the fact that preparing edible healthy food at home requires a lot more time, effort, and skill. It’s a very complex issue.
But it doesn’t seem as if restaurants and “$1 burgers, $7 salads” are in any way culpable here, due to their essential non-existence, and we’d be a lot better off focusing on the things that do.
[Featured Image by teimurazart/iStock]