After looking at this graphic, I imagine most viewers come away thinking that fast food is more expensive than cooking at home, which was the intention of the accompanying opinion piece by Mark Bittman. The graphic succeeds in conveying visually just exactly the point that the article made using words.
The photographs are vibrant and catchy, bordering on food porn.
The sidebars feature the calorie counts for these meals in addition to the large price tags. The nutritional information graphs are useful for Bittman’s response to existing critics of the ‘cooking at home is better’ movement who have tried to argue that though fast food may be more expensive on a per meal basis, it is actually cheaper on a per calorie basis because fast food is so calorie dense (if a bit too heavily reliant on nutritionally vacuous fats and sugars). Bittman uses the nutritional information graphs to refute this claim and I applaud the graphic designer for including the rebuff of the critics in the graphic. It would have been easy enough to simply run the photos of the meals with their price tags.
What needs work
The photos take up too much space. This almost looks like an advertisement for McDonald’s, chicken, and beans.
The nutritional information bar graphs are potentially confusing. They do not measure absolutes so much as they show how each of the home-cooked meals stack up against McDonald’s. Since people are not used to thinking of their meals in comparison to what they would have eaten had they eaten at McDonald’s, I’m not sure the comparative nutritional graphs work as well as one graph that used absolute data and had all three meals on it. I am almost positive the graphic designer probably tried making just exactly that graph – if they are out there reading this I invite them to send me what that looked like to prove that my hunch to use a unified graph on this one would have been ugly, confusing, or just plain wrong.
Bittman, Mark. (24 September 2011) Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? New York Times, Sunday Review. Op-ed column.
Bittman, Mark. (20 September 2011) Cooking Solves Everything: How Time in the Kitchen Can Save Your Health, Your Budget, and Even the Planet [e-book] published by Byliner.
Clabik — September 29, 2011
You are discounting time it takes to make these foods. Part of the reason people like eating out is because they spend more time doing what they want. So how much is your time worth? also how good of a cook are you?
paul — September 29, 2011
foregetting to add in the cost of fuel-gas or electric. then the water used to wash dishes..dishsoap...it is cheaper to eat fast food than to eat at home
Uncle B — September 29, 2011
Retired now, no car, little pension, less appetite than before. Bought a big smoked ham, bone in, carved it up, packets for two for breakfast were frozen in freezer. Bone with still some meat on it, and all the fatty trimmings will go into the oven with cheaper cooking onions, some molasses, and other condiments to make a huge pot of 'Bostom Baked Beans' on a cold day in the fall or early winter, gas stove serves as home heater those days, we consider cooking/heating costs combined - like a two for one sale on the gas costs! Pea soup was made from the smaller trimmongs. scraps from the carving process too. Expect to pick up a turkey, 'Utility grade, cook it on a cooler day, carve it freeze it in packets sized for two also. Bones will be stewed for soup, used to brown the bones after, in the oven, then stew them agian for bullion, but got lazy lately, maybe this next bird. Picked huge bags of mis-shapen, discolored apples this year - they make great pies, strudels. sauce, jams (flavored with grape Kool-Aid), cost? nearly nothing! Butter-nut squash allin a row under the bed, washed with Javex, left to air dry without touching, ever! Carrots in cold room with the big bag of oinions form the farmer's market - real bargain there! Used to pressure can a huge home garden, stroke spoiled that! Will hve to visit food bank for salt, pepper. Buy my eggs from local farmer - regular customers get better price! Free ranging chickens give better eggs, sometines we go wothout, when chiclkens can't fill the orders, sometimes we get extra when chickens do better. Love 'Rolled Oats' with ground flax seed in place of sugar, takes a bit of salt, and time to get used to but very good on the tummy! Got lots of peppers at farmers market, all mis-shapen, some blemishes, nearly free! Cleaned them up, carved them up, forze them into packets for two - will have "Chinese chicken, peppers, onions, and rice all winter long! Very economical, fills the tummy too! make Beer! home-made beer, labor intensive, requires skills gained through praqctise - mine is better than store-bought and from the grain, so cheap it puts bottled water to shame! Wind too! Don't forget the wines - Same story, skill form practice and extensive study, bottle of eine cheaper at my house than even my beer! Dandelion wine, Rhubarb wine, plum wine - Hell! Any fruit bargain you can find can go in! lots of work, lots of time , lots of careful sterile practices, and bingo! Very drinkable wines! get a stewing chicken, make soup, dumplings too!Good stuff on a cold day! Spice to taste. Polenta easy to make, tastes great fried, even replaces large slabs of meat in the common American diet in a healthy way. Don't forget potatoes! Endless variations, all good! Search the web! millions of ways to make potatoes into gourmet food! Cabbages cheap? learn to saurkraut them! I do! Fresh tangy saurkraut all winter long - goes great with greasy pork sausages, mug of beer! love the stuff! An aquired taste? for some folks I guess. pickles, do up pickles! Cuecumbers are very seasonal often bargain basement prices in fall, Do up as many as possible, they keep well and taste great! I make garlic dill pickles every chance I get! Sewwt and sour , too, also bread and butter pickles can so be made, stored, even traded with neighbors. Carrots, peppers can be picked even oinions of the right variety but are a little harder to do. Dried foods? Well worth investigating, study on net, then go ahead! I even made dried scalloped potatoes, they stored in jars for over three years and were still very good!Try storing potatoes that long!Dried spices even oinions carrots, all work out well make great soups for colder days.America breaking away from the American Dream, entering a new reality, but not foreign to our ancestors! The books form the 'Thirties' and before offer astounding good advice, and are grat fun to explore.
stop cheating — September 29, 2011
Use the dollar menu and this article no longer makes any sense.
tony — October 4, 2011
The graphic is deceptive because is leaves out the issue of scale. There is an increasing value to cooking at home the more people you cook for. So, it would be incredibly cost-saving to make beans and rice for 12 people rather than order 12 big macs. Duh.
But what of the situation when you're talking 1-2 people. It's not scalable in the same way.
I call this deceptive graph-making.
KimberlyGA — October 12, 2011
On a basis that is strictly cost for food and macronutrients, these graphs are useful and straightforward. I especially like having the rice and beans option, to illustrate the low end of the scale, in addition to the more mid-range chicken meal.
However, I think without factoring in time for the meals, this graphic fails to address the real arguments relating to fast food vs cooking at home. Time is the premium. Add in time to shop, prepare, and clean up the home-cooked meals, and the fast food trip is far more appealing. And, rather than monetize that time, as some scholars do, I would simply report the time in the graph. It is another type of cost. Assume that the consumption time is the same for each type of meal, and that driving to a grocery store takes the same amount of time as driving to a fast food place, you'd still have dramatic time cost differences for each meal. Roasting a whole chicken or cooking a batch of beans takes about 2 hours. It isn't necessarily 2 hours of constant activity, but it's still 2 hours and that is a significant time cost.
There are three answers to that time cost: 1) eating out, 2) cooking convenience foods at home, 3) cooking higher quality foods at home. All three of these options are more expensive than the modest chicken or rice & beans dinners. Comparing dollar cost AND time cost, the contest is a draw.
m — October 14, 2011
woww you guys dont know how to buy fast food. first off, buy value menu things. did you know that a mcdouble has the same amount of meat and cheese as a big mac? the difference is the third bun and lettuce/sesame seed/mac sauce. but heres the big difference: 1 big mac = 3 mcdoubles in price. never buy soda or combos at a fast food place. huge markup. skip on french fries for value. how much does one potato cost? how much does xl fries cost? instead of buying fries buy more value menu items such as mc chicken. you can get soda cheaper at 7 eleven after youre done purchasing your food. anyways its not the best variety but if you stick with dollar menu items, hell i could nearly triple your order size.