For years a statement has been on social media criticizing fast food restaurants for pricing their salads higher than their burgers. The statement implied these restaurants only wanted the wealthy to be healthy; leaving the middle class to fight obesity alone. Initially, I agreed because I compared it to healthcare costs. If a product relates to health at all, it seems the price automatically doubles. I’ll never understand why an electric wheelchair costs $20,000 (And that’s a cheap one!). Using that perspective, I can see the frustration in a healthy salad costing twice as much as a hamburger.
However, I have changed my perspective. I’ve been reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and he brings up many points about the agriculture industry. Of course, in the 1760’s agriculture was the largest industry, so he should focus on it! I think we can still use his points as an argument for today’s higher prices on salads.
By using the individual farmer, Smith compared the overall costs of producing meat and vegetables. The farmer can buy a cow for a higher initial cost, but the cow is put on pasture while growing. The farmer doesn’t have much in raising the cow. Yes, there is a lot of work maintaining cattle farms, but remember we are focusing on an individual farmer, not the major businesses we have today.
If the same farmer produces lettuce instead of raising the cow, he will have lower initial costs as a bag of seed should cost less than a cow. However, his operating costs will be higher. Have you ever tried gardening? It’s hard! Fortunately, we can go to the grocery store if our garden fails, but what if your livelihood depended on that lettuce? You have to make sure it gets enough water, light, and fertilizer while protecting it from disease and animals. When I think about that hard working farmer, I don’t mind paying a little more for a salad.
Jump ahead approximately 250 years and let’s look at McDonald’s. With restaurants all over the world we can assume McDonald’s sets a contract price for beef. The farmer sells his cows, consumers enjoy cheap burgers, and McDonald’s makes a profit. Everyone is happy. Salads could be more expensive because the vegetable harvests may be less than originally forecasted. Plus, vegetable storage is different from storing beef patties. Furthermore, salads are harder to make via the assembly line method used by many fast food restaurants.
You may disagree with this argument, which is fine. I wish healthy food choices were cheaper myself, but I can understand the difference in price. I don’t think we can ever get ahead in life believing in these “Everyone is out to get us” conspiracy statements. If we don’t like these prices, we can cook at home. Studies suggest your food is healthier when you cook at home anyway. Your budget will also appreciate the decrease in spending as well! Cutting unnecessary spending is the first step in pursuing your goals!