General Question

Ltryptophan's avatar

How much does the average global food calorie cost in USD?

Asked by Ltryptophan (10898points) May 15th, 2011

If you had to put a figure on a single calorie, what would it be?

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6 Answers

WasCy's avatar

I think the scale would be too hard to measure at a single-calorie level, but I don’t think it’s an invalid question. In fact, it’s interesting, I think. If we measure it at a kilo-calorie level then I think that we could measure it in dollars and cents.

And finding an “average” or mean cost could be done, I suppose, but since there’s going to be such an incredibly wide range of values, this won’t be a normal bell curve of values. It’s a curve with a constraint at zero, since you’re unlikely to find any food costing less than nothing (where you’d be paid for consumption, that is), but you can find foods with priced values in the thousand-dollar-per-kilocalorie range, I expect. But not so many of those. So: a curve with a long tail to the right representing a lot of dollars per kilocalorie, and a big hump to the left, closer to zero, representing the cheaper calories that most of the world consumes in the form of rice, sorghum and other grains.

When you find the average price, be sure to pay attention to the other measures of central tendency: the median and mode. Those will tell you more, I think, about “what the world actually spends” on its food calories. I’ll be interested to see the values.

You’ll want to differentiate, too, I think, between human and domesticated animal feeds. (As well as bacteria, insects, worms, arachnids, wild animals, birds and fishes, who get their calories ‘for free’, but… a calorie is a calorie.)

XOIIO's avatar

A calorie is a unit of heat, so you can’t really put a price on it.

LuckyGuy's avatar

OK, I’m an engineer. I’ll take stab at it.

I’ll let’s figure the average calorie content per day. There are active (and obese) people who eat 4400 cal /day. There are extremely thin and young children who get by on 1200/day. I will call the average 2000 calories per day.

Next, let’s figure out how much Americans spend on food per day. It can be high or low. I’ll pick an average of $20. So, I get 1 cent ($0.01) per calorie for an American – industrialized country.

There are people in developing countries who survive on $2 per day. I will assume most of that goes to food. So I will say their calories cost 0.1 cents ($0.001) per calorie. Their diet consists of mostly grain.

Note: I am using the US version of calorie. The international unit would be kCal.

flutherother's avatar

Let’s take a Big Mac and assume it costs $4:00 and contains 540kC. Each kCal will cost $0.007.

XOIIO's avatar

Great comparison to how someone with an enginerring deree and someone who knows mcdonalds can come up with simmilar hypothesis

incendiary_dan's avatar

This is all confounded by the fact that many people get large amounts of their diet completely independent of market economies, even some of us in industrialized nations.

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