Mighty Cheeseburger Meets Lowly Cabbage

Plant and industrially-processed hamburger set into soil (Artists: Vero Alanis, Patrick Lydon | photo: Patrick Lydon)

Plant and industrially-processed hamburger set into soil (Artists: Vero Alanis, Patrick Lydon)

The mighty, juicy, cheeseburger meets the lowly leafy green… or is it the other way around? Having a curiosity about the energy required to produce different foods, Vero Alanis and I put the Cheeseburger to the energy-efficiency test, pitting it against the cabbage.

Obviously, ‘growing’ a McDonald’s 1/4 pounder with cheese presents a bit more of a challenge than growing a cabbage, but we were interested in just how much more of a challenge it is, energy-wise.

Not to be taken literally, our question for the burger was this: how much more energy is required to create a single cheeseburger, vs creating a single serving of cabbage, carrot, or other vegetable?

A graph showing the number of food servings that can be created with 20 megajoules of energy (2012, Vero Alanis and Patrick Lydon)

Our findings — illustrated in the info graphic at right — are more than a bit surprising.

It takes 20 megajoules of energy to produce a single McDonalds 1/4 pounder — roughly the equivalent of powering the average American house for 4 hours.

By comparison, farmed salmon is twice as efficient to create vs the burger, boiled potatoes are twenty times more efficient, and most fruit will bring forty more servings for the same amount of production energy.

But the winner is the cabbage — may we call it mighty now? Given the amount of energy needed to produce, deliver and cook a McDonalds 1/4 pounder, you could grow, deliver, and cook 100 servings of cabbage.

That information, while starling,  is not exactly going to make most of us sign up to eat kimchi for the rest of our lives — here at sociecity, a few of us are fans of a good burger now and then.

But it does give a little bit of context to our diets and the effect that food choices have on the planet and its all-too-scarce natural resources. A little less burger, a little more veg, we think. Or perhaps there’s a good kimchi burger out there somewhere?

Project Team: Patrick Lydon and Vero Alanis


U.S. Energy Information Administration — Residential Energy Consumption
Elsevier — Ecological Economics: Identifying Critical Natural Capital


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