Food Policy

A Bun, A Slice of Cheese, and Two Burger Patties, All For a Buck: The Greatest Food in Human History?


credit: theotherway / Foter / CC BY

New York Post movie critic Kyle Smith may have discovered the "greatest food in human history": the McDonald's McDouble, available on value menus near you for as little as a buck. His case, which riffs on a comment at the Freakonomics blog, is worth a read:

What is "the cheapest, most nutritious and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history" Hint: It has 390 calories. It contains 23g, or half a daily serving, of protein, plus 7% of daily fiber, 20% of daily calcium and so on.

Also, you can get it in 14,000 locations in the US and it usually costs $1. Presenting one of the unsung wonders of modern life, the McDonald's McDouble cheeseburger.

Smith's column (Mc)doubles as a value-driven retort to fast-food scolds:

For the average poor person, it isn't a great option to take a trip to the farmers market to puzzle over esoteric lefty-foodie codes. (Is sustainable better than organic? What if I have to choose between fair trade and cruelty-free?) Produce may seem cheap to environmentally aware blond moms who spend $300 on their highlights every month, but if your object is to fill your belly, it is hugely expensive per calorie.

Junk food costs as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories, whereas fresh veggies and the like cost more than 10 times as much, found a 2007 University of Washington survey for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. A 2,000-calorie day of meals would, if you stuck strictly to the good-for-you stuff, cost $36.32, said the study's lead author, Adam Drewnowski.

"Not only are the empty calories cheaper," he reported, "but the healthy foods are becoming more and more expensive. Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods." Where else but McDonald's can poor people obtain so many calories per dollar?

In terms of sheer low-brow culinary enjoyment, I'd probably rank pizza ahead of fast-food burgers. But in terms of convenience, cost, and overall satisfaction, it's hard to beat the burger. 


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  1. Mmmmm.

    Also – the $1 McChicken. One of each is Almanian’s ‘Cheap Lunch for Two Bucks’ special.

    1. There’s a McDonald’s right in downtown Moscow! Think of teh gayz before you buy that chiken!

      1. I’ll…I’ll be sure to check my privilege more closely…

        *walks away with head down*

        1. I checked my privilege last night. It was working fine.

          1. If someone else needs to check my privilege, could one of the environmentally conscious blonde moms that spend $300 a month on highlights drop by?

            I have organic, locally grown greens.

            1. I’m pretty sure its not supposed to be green. You may want to have that checked.

    2. That’s my standard order if I go to McD’s as well.


    3. Better choice as the fucktards continue to fail @ taking pickle off the burger.

      1. I bet if you paid them $15 an hour they’d be able to manage it.

      2. They are fucking with you, making you the fucktard. Douchebags request special instructions deviating from the base product.

    4. Put the entire mcchicken between the patties of the mcdouble and you got yourself a mcgangbang. Ask for bigmac sauce on the mcdouble.

  2. I wonder what would happen if you removed all the subsidies from the picture. Given the ubiquity of corn as animal feed I suspect the cost of the burger would go up quite a bit.

    1. But if you got rid of the corn ethanol subsidy, corn prices would probably plummet, making the burger even cheaper.

    2. Brewers would have a profitable time disposing of their spent grains 🙂

      1. What fraction of calories are left after lautering?

        1. Couldn’t find any info, but I know the local dairy i use uses about 25% brewers waste in the feed, but I didn’t ask about caloric content, I’d guess it would be mostly protein and fiber. THe cattle do seem to like it though. I’ll ask when I go for my produce and milk next week.

        2. protein and fiber. the cows don’t need the starch or sugar.

    3. I had the same thought. The agriculture department really changes the market.

    4. I wonder what would happen if you removed all the subsidies from the picture.

      The price would be even lower.

  3. I love me some Checker’s/Rally’s on occasion. Cheap tasty food that is terrible for you but delicious as hell.

  4. So how many calories and what foods do they eat in those countries where we hear “the average person lives on only $2 per day?”

    1. Calories, somewhere just under 2000/day.

      Foods, a shit ton of rice and beans with maybe some leafy veggies or fruit and if they are lucky a couple of ozs a day of meat or fish.

      Basically, 300 calories of McDonalds Hamburger costs $1, 300 calories of rice and beans costs about $0.20.

      The downside is convienence, you can acquire the burger and eat it in a couple of minutes, the rice and beans takes quite a bit longer.

      1. That’s sick. According to photo #13, that British family eats a small dog per week. Even more disturbing: one of their favorite foods is “mayonnaise sandwich.”

        1. Yeah and it’s not even artisinal mayo.

          Did ya notice the quantity of candy they bought too?

          That and the only family with significant quantities of alcohol on the table were the Germans, which does not surprise me one bit.

          1. Booze seemed a little, er, underappreciated to me.

            1. I was thinking the same thing. I guarantee the Russian or Uzbek families real table would have copious amounts of vodka bottles on it.

  5. Sorry the McDonald’s cheese burger has been superceded by the Mounty Python Snake Snack attack burger.

    I wonder how this compares to the White Castle hamburger.

    As to the expensive fruits and vegtable I blame Obama’s crackdown on illegal aliens. Need more poor swarthy people.

    1. I imagine White Castle is expensive by comparison. Yeah, a cheeseburger only costs $0.56, but I have to eat three of them to be filled up as much as one McDouble.

  6. I’ll take the cheese and two meat patties; hold the bun. yum.

  7. I like the double hamburger better, but it’s like $2. so I get a McDouble with no cheese.

  8. This sounded familiar.…..oodcaloric

  9. Double cheese burger or double post?

  10. A 2,000-calorie day of meals would, if you stuck strictly to the good-for-you stuff, cost $36.32, said the study’s lead author, Adam Drewnowski.

    WTF? Even shopping at Whole Foods and buying only organic can’t cost $12 per meal. You can buy their prepared food for less than that.

    1. Wow, I’ve eaten at fast food restaurants for three meals a day and only spent $15-20.

      On the other hand – “good-for-you stuff” is code for really, really expensive types of fruit and veg (in the large quantities needed as most are fairly low calorie compared to grains).

    2. WTF? Even shopping at Whole Foods and buying only organic can’t cost $12 per meal. You can buy their prepared food for less than that.

      Except that you can’t hit 2k calories on most “meals” at whole foods under $12 a meal.

      1. They sell things like lasagna and roast chicken and bean salad, and even in SF I should think $12 could easily get you 700 calories worth.

    3. The article makes some valid points but the fast food vs whole foods bit is just a false dilemma (or ‘choice’ for the obama lovers). Yes, farmers market and/or whole foods produce can be expensive but perhaps you don’t need the fancy arugula or swiss chard. Grab the celery, onions, sweet potatoes and throw them in a crock pot with a cheap 5 lb pork roast and you’ve got reasonably priced, healthy food for days. This is where the food desert debate gets off the rails, it’s not one extreme or the other.

  11. What if I have to choose between fair trade and cruelty-free?

    I love this line. If you doubt such a conundrum exists and dismiss this as hyperbole, then you probably haven’t paid much attention to all the varieties of fancy, top-shelf egg cartons in your grocer’s cooler. There are probably about three of four, cost about three times as much as the ones in the icky Styrofoam cartons and yes, I actually have seen people agonize over which one they should purchase. Free range or antibiotic free? Why can’t it be both??? WHY???

    1. Eggs are nothing more than rooster cum and cow shit anyway. You’re eating a chicken placenta, how fucking choosey must you be?

      1. Every carbon atom in your body has been eaten and shit out thousands of times by every kind of creature imaginable.

        We are star-stuff indeed as Dr. Sagan said, but shit-stuff far more often and more recently.

        1. And your water is purified by flowing thru dirt?literal dirt!

    2. Our local HEB sells “vegetarian eggs.” No, I wasn’t interested enough to look past the label.

  12. In terms of sheer low-brow culinary enjoyment, I’d probably rank pizza ahead of fast-food burgers.

    Pizza is the McCardle klan’s idea of “slumming”.

  13. McDoubles would be a wonder food for third world peasants who work themselves to the bone to survive.

    Not so much for ghetto dwellers whose most demanding activity is texting on their Obamaphones during the Judge Judy commercial breaks.

  14. Figures in the article strike me as exaggerated or not fairly representative, but I have noticed of late an increasing divergence along those lines. It’s tempting to just load up on white rice and chicken legs.

    However, some foods have bucked the trend. Baked goods have gone thru the roof, and breakfast cereal’s just ridiculous now. Yet they’re on the calorically dense side.

    1. I seriously don’t understand buying fruit and veggies when you can get a three month supply of multivitamins for under $10.

      1. Cheap multivitamins lack a lot of nutrients. Even high-end ones probably aren’t complete.

      2. ‘Cause a bowl full of multivitamins tastes like shit no matter how much dressing you use.

  15. Fruit used to be cheap dessert, but now even apples & oranges are damn expensive, and many other fruits are practically in gourmet class. True to form qua the article, the remaining fruit that’s a good buy is bananas. Cheap Polish chocolate beats the others.

    1. Funny how chocolate used to be a garnish on fruit, but now berries etc. would be the garnish on chocolate. Dammit, this is NY, the apples grow on trees (and grapes on vines)!

      A doctor I was studying with/under 35 yrs. ago said poor people had trouble losing weight because hypocaloric foods were expensive. I thought his case was marginal then, applying to just a few food comparisons, and for decades thereafter. Now he’d definitely be right. The change seems to have come about in the past decade or so. The ads for food “stamps” (SNAP) have a point that they can be used to encourage consumption of more “eat right” produce by the poor.

      Even odder, the great majority of non-fruit vegetables are not subject to price supports or quotas, yet they’ve become near-luxury goods. Salad is conspicuous consumption. Carrots held the line for a while, no more.

    2. Dude, apples are $0.68/lb at Walmart. How is that in any way expensive?

      Fuck, I got bananas, kiwis, grapes, peaches, and apples for the whole week for like $15.

      1. That’s pretty good. The place I go to for the best deals around here (Lydig Pick & Pack), last I looked the cheapest apple variety was $.99 . Admittedly the season will start soon, so that should come down. Where are you?

        When I visited my friend Nancy in Mich. a decade ago, Wal-Mart had what I considered to be expensive produce, but similar to what the hypermarkets and even many supermarkets around here charge?yet of slightly lower quality. So I’m surprised to learn of a good produce deal at Wal-Mart, unless you were just singling apples out?could’ve been a loss leader.

        The hypermarkets suck you in with 1-stop convenience and a few loss leaders that’ll differ each time.

        1. Texas. Which, admittedly, probably helps a lot when it comes to food prices since we can grow or import just about anything for pretty cheap.

  16. And America gets fatter by the day lol.

  17. “. . .Vegetables and fruits are rapidly becoming luxury goods.”

    Uh, in what country? Certainly not in the US.

    1. What do you consider luxury goods? I can make a good case for them, in the same sense luxury cars compare to ordinary ones. If you’re shopping for “food”, and some kinds are clearly “premium”, with enough of a price deterrent that you may hardly ever buy them, they’re what I’d consider “luxury”. The frequency with which I buy celery or lettuce is much less than it used to be; I just don’t stock it routinely the way I used to. I still might if I weren’t poor now.

      The celery I see tends to be of lower quality now too, on avg. I think the cheaper green grocers just aren’t stocking the good stuff, knowing customers there won’t want to pay for it.

      1. Celery and lettuce? Luxury goods?

        And it’s ‘greengrocer’–one word, my brother having been one.

        You’re either one of the locavore/foodie nuts or a troll.

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