(NaturalNews) Many people delight when they go to the meat department of their local grocery store and find that the ground beef they plan to buy is under $3.00 a pound, and if their premium-cut steaks are less than $10.00 a pound, they are also thrilled. That's why those same people might be surprised to find that beef costs a lot more than the price on the tag - not only literally but also in its cost to one's health and the environment.
What that beef really costs: While many consumers just don't know it, most American farmers are subsidized by the government. In fact, more than half of an American farmer's earnings come from the United States government: 62 percent to be exact. Suddenly, a consumer might realize that the $10 per pound steak should more accurately be well over $20 a pound, and that's just actual, tangible costs. What other hidden costs are there?
Water subsidies are one. Again, more than half of the water in the United States is used in the production of beef, and if this water wasn't subsidized with taxpayer dollars, the cost of beef would rise astronomically. It would be unaffordable to all but the wealthiest Americans.
Cost to the environment and society: The environmental cost of eating meat (beef in particular) has been well documented over the years. Not only does producing meat drain vital resources (grains, water, and petroleum), but it also contributes to global warming (in the form of methane created by waste) and deforestation.
But there are other costs, and those are to people. For instance, Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing: How to Reshape Market Society and Redefine Democracy argues that the cost to society is high as well because workers behind the food industry aren't paid what they're worth. And what of the global food shortage? Experts say that the earth could easily support billions more people if they led vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. In fact, there's no reason why the world's hungry couldn't be fully fed today.
Cost to health: T. Colin Campbell, co-author of The China Study, urges readers to make the switch to a vegan diet. Why? Because decades of his research led him to believe that animal-based diets lead to so-called diseases of affluence: heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, to name a few. Many would agree that good health is priceless. Eating meat, though, can likely decrease quality and quantity of life.
Patel has said that the real cost of a hamburger should be about $200. When the costs to the environment and one's health are also considered, how much would a person be willing to pay for that hamburger? And - no matter the cost - could it ever be worth it?
Cindy Jones-Shoeman is the author of Last Sunset and a Feature Writer for Academic Writing at Suite101. Some of Cindy's interests include environmental issues, vegetarian and sustainable lifestyles, music, and reading.