Over at NPR’s The Salt blog, they published an awesome infographic to visualize how much is needed until a typical quarter-pound hamburger (apparently in France they call it a Royale with Cheese ;)) – just the patty – can land on your plate. Head on over to their site for a great overview, or check out the stats below (I converted them into metric amounts for all non-Americans):
For 1 quarter-pound (113g) hamburger, you will need…
- Feed: 6.7 pounds (3.039 kg) of grains and forage
- Water: 52.8 gallons (199.87 litres) for drinking water and irrigation
- Land: 74.5 square feet (6.92 square metres) for grazing and growing feed crops
- Fossil fuel energy: 1,036 Btus for feed production and transport (according to NPR, this is enough to power an average microwave for 18 minutes, just in case you also can’t really place that number).
For additional perspective, keep in mind that Americans alone consume around 48 billion hamburgers a year – multiplying that would give an even more accurate impact assessment of the hamburger industry.
These estimates are drawn from what environmental economists call “Life Cycle Analyses”, where you trace a certain product “from cradle to grave” – from the production of its first inputs to the way that potential waste from its use is discarded – and evaluate its environmental impacts. Such numbers can vary a lot between different analyses because of differences in assumptions – how do you assume the feed is produced? What kind of production system do you analyze? However, you can still make reasonable estimates, especially if you clarify your sources.
Bonus: This video produced by the US Center for Investigative Reporting provides some more infos on “the typical hamburger”, and you can find a transcript with blow-by-blow citations and explanations for their figures on their website – which I found very commendable in terms of transparency.