Everyone Should Be Able to Afford Vegetables

Written by Katherine Martinko

In an article called “The greatest food in human history,” Kyle Smith argues that the McDonald’s cheeseburger is “one of the unsung wonders of modern life.” With its 390 calories, 23 grams of protein, 7 percent of daily fiber, and 20 percent of daily calcium, available at 14,000 U.S. locations for $1, Smith argues that the cheeseburger is a boon for the American poor, who would never be able to afford the same number of calories if forced to buy vegetables instead. He criticizes the “usual coalition of class snobs, locavore foodies, and militant anti-corporate types” for heartlessly hiking up food prices through their activism.

What Smith does not seem to grasp is that wanting and encouraging the poorer members of society to eat a well-balanced, fresh-food diet is not a question of elitism, though that word is frequently used to criticize the revolutionary work of food activists such as Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. Rather, this is a question of justice. Access to healthy, fresh food should be a basic human right. No one should have to fill their bellies with empty calories in order to stave off hunger pains.

There is something very wrong with the entire national system if, in 2014, a country’s lower-income citizens can only afford McDonald’s burgers, and never vegetables. In the same way that clean water and education are basic rights, so should daily access to healthy, fresh food be a top priority of governments. Children in particular deserve no less.

But this would require a revamp of the entire food production system, including re-allotments of the subsidies that make it possible for a burger to sell for $1. We take that price tag for granted, and yet one pound of beef requires far more infrastructure, maintenance, feed, and water to produce than one pound of potatoes. This cheap, meat-centric, fast food diet is enabled by what meat and corn industry lobbyists are allowed to accomplish.

Vegetable farmers don’t have the same political clout, so they don’t receive gigantic federal subsidies. They sell their kale and cabbages for several dollars more than a cheeseburger, despite the fact that the latter should, and actually does, cost far more than the former.

What the final price of a McDonald’s cheeseburger fails to take into account are the enormous impending health care costs incurred by people whose diets are based on fast food, as well as the environmental price tag of producing meat on such a massive, streamlined scale.

Smith claims, “If the macrobiotic Marxists had their way, there’d be no McDonald’s, Walmart, or Exxon, because they have visions of an ideal world in which everybody bikes to work with a handwoven backpack from Etsy that contains a lunch grown in the neighborhood collective.” I think he’s on to something. Even better would be to start decent school lunch programs, where cooks prepare ample meals made with community-grown produce. Paid for by the government, such a program would alleviate financial stress on parents and guarantee one good meal a day.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but throwing up one’s hands at the futility of the current system and claiming there’s nothing to be done for the poor, who are doomed to eat McDonald’s cheeseburgers forever, is far more elitist than working for change.

This post was originally published in TreeHugger

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven11 months ago

thanks for the article.

Oleg Kobetz
Oleg Kobetz3 years ago

Thank you.

Ellie K.
Ellie K3 years ago


A F.
Athena F3 years ago

Also, the problem of poor people eating things like McDonald's isn't just a single issue easily labelled. It comes down to a lot of things. Yes, some people WILL eat McDonalds even if they can afford/have the time/energy to make healthy food. But for a lot of folks, it's just not so black and white.

You can't compare one family or person to another. Everyone deals with stress/pressures differently. You'd have to look at how many kids they have, how much stress? Locations of good grocery stores in relationship to where they live. Is there a McDonald's around the corner and is Whole Foods a 45 minute drive? Can they afford the gas to get to their local supermarket on a regular basis?

Sure, it's easier for some people who are poor and temporarily getting unemployment to cook their own meals while looking for work, but if you have 4 kids and are working 3 jobs and trying to go to school? You may not have the energy to whip up healthy meals all the time.

A F.
Athena F3 years ago

we should be allowed to grow veggies like grass on our front lawns without it being called an eyesore. that would fix a lot of issues, not just cost, but our imprint on the earth too

Dale O.

The so-called 'cheese' on the mcburgers isn't even real cheese, it is processed cardboard.

A lot if the veggies sold by places like Walmart are GMO. Unfortunately not everyone has access to their own veggie gardens or community gardens.

It often seems that the less chemicals or pesticides that are on foods, the more they cost, the same goes for meat that isn't factory farmed. Junk food costs far less at times that nutritious foods. Often poorer people purchase pasta made from highly refined white flour instead of whole grains.

Vasu M, feeding herbivores grain is not natural, cattle pasture fed are natural and healthy.

Beba H states that 'everyone should be vegan.' Why, there are many options, not every one wishes to be vegan, there is a mix of being omnivore, vegetarian or vegan. It depends on the individual.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton3 years ago

Fake food is more inexpensive than healthy food.

JoAnn Paris
JoAnn P3 years ago

Thank you - very interesting.

Rhonda Bird
Rhonda B3 years ago


John S.
Past Member 3 years ago

It might be a human right, but that doesn't mean you should criticize people who have obviously made it there choice. But I also think you fail to realize how McDonald's has done to ensure they provide the most cost effective meal possible.