The Perfect Food Source?

QUESTION: Have you heard about claims that the ‘perfect delivery method’ for food has been developed in the form of a hamburger? – Sarah from Topeka, USA

ANSWERThe Freakonomics blog recently queried whether McDonalds’ double cheeseburger was the ‘cheapest most nutritious food ever produced in the history of humankind’. It is a fascinating assertion which cuts to the heart of the subject of efficiency in food production. We at Deep Blue are much more interested in fins than hooves, but efficiency is as fundamental to seafood production as to any other food industry segment.

As flighty as the assertion seems, it can’t be dismissed too easily; there are a lot of people to feed now – 7 billion of us, each requiring a certain number of calories a day to survive and prosper. Production is of paramount importance, and as these 7 billion are spread around willy-nilly (with over 50% living in urban environments) logistics come into play. Quickly complexity sets in: fertilisers, water, labour, transport and energy. In a market-based economy the forces of supply and demand are ever-present, but ethical pressures are more and more part of the process. But the population figures and calorie requirements remain.

This burger, which is said to supply 1/3 of that daily calorie requirement, sells for around a US dollar (in the US, mind – things are different in other parts of the world where that burger could cost an average week’s wage) perhaps could be considered a modern marvel. Heck, it should be, like Concorde or man landing on the moon, its existence to a degree verifies itself.

But let’s not kid ourselves, there is a lot going into those meat patties, cheese slices, rolls and sliced pickles. The cow was fed and medicated and required a certain amount of space to grow and mature. It also breathed air and consumed water (either from a public source or from the aquifer, etc. ), it produced waste and it belched out methane. The meat from the cow was transported along road and rail and water using petrochemicals as fuel. Energy was used to cool the meat and cook it….and the list goes on and on. Some of these things are factored into the price of the burger – which is the marvel of it all – that efficiency has made this possible, but some of these things are not. In other words the producers are benefiting from at least a degree of public subsidy.

But how does this relate to seafood? First and foremost we must remember that like the burger, the fillet of fish we see on a restaurant plate is more than it seems. Many resources and processes went into getting it there. Too, we must always remember that it is very difficult to compare pricing in regards to competing food items – there is no telling the level of public subsidy each has benefited from.

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