HIDDEN COSTS

Posted in Rants on August 6th, 2013 by Ed

John Mulaney's new stand-up album has a terrific bit about the New York Post, which is by consensus the worst newspaper in the U.S. if not the world. While Fox News and other right-wing tabloid media outlets have their defenders, they rarely waste any time trying to stick up for the Post. Written at a third-grade level and mostly full of things that aren't true, the Post is written by and for complete idiots with no real pretense of journalistic integrity.

As bad as its "news" is, nothing holds a candle to the Post opinion page. I've college dailies with fewer ass-headed screeds than what is supposedly a major newspaper from America's cultural metropolis. If some braying fratboy can type it, the Post will print it. And that's how we ended up being alternately entertained and horrified last week when they saw fit to publish some "Do you know who my dad is?" tool's love letter to the "greatest food in human history", the McDonald's double.

This is old news by now and most of what can be said about this idiocy has already been said. Two things stuck out to me but haven't attracted much attention.

First, this is loaded to the gunwales with every cheap, tired, cliche "liberal" joke in the right wing arsenal – the only things missing are Jane Fonda, hairy armpits, and "limousine liberals". Since this got past an editor, we can assume that hackneyed, predictable tripe is not a bug in this case but a major feature of the paper. This kind of cheap write-to-the-stereotypes nonsense is precisely what passes for opinion and commentary among college freshmen, and their views only get published when the editor and publisher want to stir up some "controversy" and bask in the attention that follows. The Post prints the same kind of crap just because that's what the Post prints.

Second, the kind of economics on which he bases this claim are inappropriate. We know the price of the sandwich, but do we know if it's a loss leader? McDonald's might very well be selling it below cost just to get people through the door (the real profit maker for most fast food restaurants is the soft drink dispenser, where one cent worth of syrup mixes with one cent worth of water to make a $1.49 regular drink). Does the production of the components of the sandwich benefit from government subsidies? If so, it seems that we would have to account for 1) subsidies and 2) a retailer willing to sell the product below cost before we could make a meaningful comparison between a fast food burger and those frou frou vegetables.

There might be a silver lining to his stupidity, though. This piece has attracted such wide attention that more people might start paying attention to the fundamental problem with our food system: the inverse relationship between cost and calories. Rather than celebrating, we should be alarmed that $5 at a grocery store can buy 3000 calories of complete shit of no nutritional value whatsoever. What the poor can afford barely counts as food in many cases, and the McDouble is a perfect example. Make a hamburger on your grill. Take a bite. Then take a bite of a McDouble. Notice how they taste nothing alike. That's because one is made of ground beef and the other is made of inert gray matter sprayed with beef flavoring, dyed caramel brown, and fried before being enveloped in several variants of processed corn. It may be calories – as are Faygo, potato chips, gummy bears, and the other detritus available for 1000 calories per dollar at your grocery store – but it isn't food. There's a difference, and it would be foolish to expect the crack staff of the New York Post to appreciate it.