How long would you work to buy a pound of beef?
Beef and other widely-eaten meats aren't particularly cheap — in dollars — in the United States. But they're a relative bargain in time worked to buy them.
That's the conclusion of a global food affordability study from Caterwings, a British catering company. It measured beef, chicken, fish, pork and lamb prices in 52 countries and evaluated them against the minimum wage in each of the countries. The goal was to provide insight into the affordability of meat, not just its price tag.
U.S. consumers pay 8.2 percent more than the global average for beef, so the meat isn't cheap in dollar terms, according to the study.
But U.S. consumers earning minimum wage work just 2.6 hours to buy a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of beef, or a little more than an hour to buy a pound, much less than consumers in many other countries in the survey.
India provides an excellent example of the disparity between the price that consumers pay for beef and the amount of time they work to buy it. The cost of beef in India is 60.3 percent below the global average, but a consumer earning minimum wage there works a whopping 22.8 hours to buy a kilogram of beef. So, an Indian consumer earning minimum wage needs to work roughly 10 times longer than a U.S. minimum-wage worker to buy beef, even though the monetary price is much lower in India.
At the other extreme, Swiss consumers pay 149.3 percent more than the global average for beef, but — thanks to relatively high earning power — work a fairly modest 3.1 hours to buy a kilogram of it.
Indonesian consumers work the longest (23.6 minimum-wage hours) to buy a kilogram of beef, while Denmark minimum-wage earners work just an hour.
Keep in mind, of course, that the hourly minimum wage varies from country to country and is only one measure of earning power in a country. And Caterwings notes that some of the surveyed countries (including Denmark) don't have a minimum wage; for those countries, "an average salary for a job in general or unskilled labor" was used.
The study found comparable results for chicken, fish, pork and lamb in the United States. Though not particularly cheap by global standards strictly in dollar terms, the other meats also require relatively few minimum-wage work hours to buy in America, according to the study.
Danish workers also need the least amount of minimum-wage labor to buy other meats in the survey.
At the other extreme, Indian workers need to work 10.5 minimum-wage hours to buy a kilogram of chicken, 32 minimum-wage hours to buy a kilogram of lamb and 39.4 minimum-wage hours to buy a kilogram of pork, the most in those categories in the surveyed countries.
Egyptian workers need to work 44.2 minimum-wage hours to buy a kilogram of fish, the most of the surveyed countries.
The study, which examined non-organic meat, focused on the world's biggest meat-producing and consuming countries and was based on meat prices in each country's biggest cities, according to Caterwings.
Reasons for the disparity in meat prices around the world weren't examined in the study.
A chart with results of the 2017 Caterwings study — which contains many numbers — can be seen at www.caterwings.co.uk/caterers/meat-price-index-usd/.