According to data provided over email by research firm Technomic, the average fast food cheeseburger costs $4.02, but that price tag doesn’t take into account a number of invisible external costs, also known as “externalities.” These include poisonous methane emissions from cows that accelerate climate change and higher health care costs associated with unhealthy diets, which are ultimately paid for by society.
In hopes of offsetting the external environmental and health costs of meat, federal agencies and councils in Denmark, Germany, and Sweden — as well as a member of parliament in England — are calling for a meat tax.
It just might work.
In the U.S., cigarette taxes have incentivized smoking cessation, and taxes on sugary beverages have nudged Americans to drink more water and less soda, leading to improved public health.
Curbing our meat consumption could do the same, which is why organizations like the American Institute for Cancer Research and the American College of Cardiology advise centering our plates on plants to reduce risk of chronic illnesses. According to researchers at the University of Oxford, if Americans switched to vegetarianism en masse, we could reduce our health care costs by up to $223.6bn each year by 2050, as vegetarians typically have lower rates of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.
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