Research Rathole: Three Hamburgers a Week?!

The cover story in the latest issue of STANFORD Magazine, “Flipping Burgers,” talks about the search for plant-based meat alternatives. And the first paragraph throws out some statistics to establish why this is important:

https://stanfordmag.org/contents/flipping-burgers/

I had two immediate reactions upon reading that…

  1. Who the hell out there is eating three OR MORE hamburgers every damn week?
  2. Where did that very specific statistic come from, and is it actually true?

Spoiler alert: Nope, it’s just an estimate, based on aggregate overall beef consumption in the United States. Read on for primary sources!

An internet search on the phrase “Americans three hamburgers a week” led me to this video, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) in 2012:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ut3URdEzlKQ

The video description says there’s an annotated transcript with sources, but the CIR web site changed its name a few years ago. So the old link to http://cironline.org/reports/hidden-costs-hamburgers-3701 doesn’t work anymore, and the new page at https://revealnews.org/article/the-hidden-costs-of-hamburgers/ doesn’t include the source annotations. Boo!

Fortunately, we have the Wayback Machine. Behold, a window into the past! August 9, 2012, to be precise:

https://web.archive.org/web/20120809224746/http://cironline.org/reports/hidden-costs-hamburgers-3701

Using that information, I found the original USDA report from October of 2005, “Factors Affecting U.S. Beef Consumption” by Christopher G. Davis and Biing-Hwan Lin:

https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/37388/29633_ldpm13502_002.pdf?v=0

Sadly, there was not actually a survey that asked people specifically how many and what kinds of meat products they ate. The statistic is purely based on actual beef “disappearance” by consumers, how much ground beef the average American eats in a year, and the amount of ground beef used in an average hamburger. Here’s a link to the USDA’s current Statistics & Information on cattle & beef, if you want to check the math.

And that’s why I didn’t do more writing today. 😛

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