What Does that MacDonald’s Burger Really Cost, and Compared To What?

First came the New York Times Article which basically detailed that a home-cooked meal cost half as much as a McDonald’s meal for four, and gave better food to boot – and that people were being lazy in not making the effort to do the cooking (no thanks to the fast food industry, who made every effort to encourage our laziness).

Then came the Mother Jones Article which stated that the total cost of that home-cooked meal was much more than originally calculated, more indeed than a McDonald’s meal. Granted, again McDonald’s worked to skew the effort – this time by having the food-making as cheap as possible by automating the cooking in the store.

If you ask me, both people miss the point.

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First, the calculations for cooking time are a bit off, by both writers.

If you wanted to put cost numbers to people’s cooking times, you can start by being a bit more accurate. While the Mother Jones article calculates the earning power of the average American as $16.27/hour, I don’t know that many people whom I run into regularly who earn that much per hour. Indeed, the people I know who work earn much closer to $8.25/hour, which would make the home-cooked meal’s cost closer to $30/hour – close to the $28 which the McDonald’s “meal” costs.

Of course, that’s assuming that the time which could be used cooking could easily be used working – a false assumption, given that people are either already working or in a situation where the time used CANNOT be replaced by work time. In short, that time is worth nothing (and if you want to know why economics is messed up and is in bed with the 1% leaching off the rest of people, you can start there).

So what is cooking competing against? Here are some answers I came up with.

  • Recreational activities, such as videogame playing, television watching or exercise.
  • The Internet
  • Sleep
  • Looking for better work (or more work, as the case may be).
  • Not knowing how to cook.
  • Wanting to get out of a gloomy house, or just get out for a while.
  • Being a single man (I still stand by my belief that home cooking only makes sense for families, or at least relationships)
  • Seeking out someone who knows how to cook (separate from the above, let’s not forget the idea of knowing your weaknesses and seeking to balance them out).
  • a few others I haven’t come up with, none of them necessarily derogatory towards the person choosing to eat out (stated to momentarily shut down the holier-than-thous who live at home).

So it appears that to actually get into cooking, one has to WANT to cook. And not necessarily wanting as in ideological want, one should actually have an interest in cooking.

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Second, there’s the issue of the forces forcing people away from the kitchen and towards the restaurant table (or drive-through, as the case may be).

Think of it: as the working day grows longer and longer and women are now an integrated part of the work force, supper at the dinner table becomes a more costly. Rest, relaxation and distraction suddenly take on an importance that was missing back in the forty-hour workweek/mother at home holding down the fort era of the fifties, sixties and early seventies. People need time, not for Xbox but to try and salvage what’s left of their identity.

We’re already at the point of people going without sleep…not excess sleep, but sleep period. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that this obesity epidemic can be directly linked to the dropoff in the amount of sleep gotten by people over the years. We’re also losing other things – I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that one of the reasons Borders finally went under was that people were giving up reading time (not book reading time for internet reading time, but reading time PERIOD) to keep up with things.

And everyone expects people to toss aside two hours of their day to prepare food, serve up supper and clean up after the meal?

And further, how many people are going to be willing to do what it takes to dedicate themselves to this, day after day? There’s probably a gaggle of girls who’d howl in pain upon learning that they might want to learn how to cook, clean and keep up a house.

Remember, Sunday used to be the day that Mommy worked her butt off (literally) to cook a Sunday meal worth the holiest of days. McDonald’s advertised the hell out of the idea of Sunday as Mommy’s day off, and succeeded.

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Trust me, the McDonald’s burger is expensive. But with all the changes that American Society (USA) has gone through, that McDonald’s burger is probably the cheapest thing you can buy, even at inflated prices.

And to get things back to where people would want to get back to cooking instead of eating out would involve large costs that society isn’t ready to pay. Not yet, maybe not ever.