How Much Does A Hamburger Cost? That Depends | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

How Much Does A Hamburger Cost? That Depends

Lucas Richarz: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lricharz/6111428188/

A few decades ago, a hamburger was just a yummy sandwich.

Recently though, the hamburger has been increasingly used as a symbol of America's meat consumption and the associated environmental costs. This video, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, is one of the latest and most complete representations of a patty's global impact.

We commend the reporters at the CIR for their diligence; compiling consistent information in this field is no easy task, and we should know. The Salt learned these data challenges firsthand when we made our own infographic in June.

However, if you compare the video with our infographic, you'll notice that some of the numbers don't quite add up. So which numbers are 100 percent accurate?

None of them. There are literally hundreds of publications that have calculated the amount of water, grain and land it takes to raise cattle. Similarly, hundreds of publications have quantified the amount of methane, manure, carbon and nitrogen that result from cattle.

And all of those calculations of what goes into and, ahem, what comes out of a cow, are based on estimates, so variability is unavoidable. A cow raised in New Mexico will probably consume more water than a cow raised in North Dakota, just as a cow raised on a family farm will take up more land than a cow in a commercial feedlot.

The same variability factors into numbers involving greenhouse gas emissions and total carbon footprint. If the input and output of a single cow is highly variable, that variability is compounded when you average data from millions of cows.

Also, when calculating these numbers, be aware of the source. If you're trying to show the negative environmental impacts of beef, you might calculate all of the water that goes into a hamburger from raising and feeding a baby cow to making beef. If you want to say that beef is not that bad, "total water consumption" might mean the amount of water a cow drinks in a lifetime.

Despite the inconsistencies, these estimations and graphics help raise awareness of global food issues. In the end, a hamburger is probably more than just a patty between two buns.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

After A Ho-Hum Summer, Hollywood Ramps Up For Fall

Until Guardians of the Galaxy came along, this year's box office figures were the worst in years. But critic Bob Mondello says there are bound to be some fall films that get pulses pounding again.
NPR

These 5 Crops Are Still Hand-Harvested, And It's Hard Work

Saffron, vanilla, palm oil, cacao and cottonseed oil are still picked by hand in some parts of the world. Sometimes that manual labor shows up in the price of the food; sometimes it doesn't.
NPR

Obama Fires Opening Salvo In Fall Congressional Campaign

At a Labor Day picnic in Milwaukee, the president accused the GOP of blocking economic initiatives. He urged the sympathetic union audience to turn their frustration into political action in November.
NPR

Why Do We Blindly Sign Terms Of Service Agreements?

Audie Cornish talks with University of Chicago Law School professor Omri Ben-Shahar about terms of service agreements for software and websites.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.