Describing the McDonald’s double cheeseburger as “the cheapest, most nutritious, and bountiful food that has ever existed in human history” might seem beyond fanciful, but according to the author of Freakonomics, it is not as absurd a suggestion as it appears.
Stephen Dubner, who co-authored the best-selling book, hosted a debate on his blog after a reader suggested the McDouble packed a better nutritional punch for the penny than is often assumed.
The double cheeseburger provides 390 calories, 23 grams of protein – half a daily serving – seven per cent of daily fibre, 19 grams of fat and 20 per cent of daily calcium, all for between $1 and $2, or 65p and £1.30, The Times reported.
Kyle Smith, a New York Post columnist, threw his support behind the McDouble’s nutritional value for money.
“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”, Mr Smith wrote.
“Facts are facts – where else but McDonald’s can poor people obtain so many calories per dollar?”
Mr Dubner added: “The more I thought about the question, whether the McDouble is the cheapest, most bountiful, and nutritious food ever, the more I realised how you answer that question says a lot about how you see the world, not only our food system and the economics of it, but even social justice.”
A 2007 University of Washington survey found that while junk food costs as little as $1.76 per 1,000 calories, fresh vegetables and healthier foods can cost more than 10 times as much.
In the online debate, some farmers suggested the McDonalds burger deserved more credit for feeding the poor cheaply.
Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said: “The biggest unreported story in the past three quarters of a century [is] this increase in availability of food for the common person.”
But Tom Philpott, a campaigning organic farmer from North Carolina, said there were many more nutritious ways of feeding people cheaply.
“You can get a pound of organic brown rice and a pound of red lentils for about £1.30 each”, Mr Philpott said.
“A serving of each of those things would be around 48 pence.
“In order to present to us all that burger, you’re talking about a vast army of working poor people.”