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I’d be vegetarian if it were cheaper

As a firm believer in economic incentives to improve the health of the environment and stave off climate change, signs like the one above always exasperate me.

I would find this funny if it weren’t so prevalent. It just seems odd that the vegetarian option is only ten cents less than the chicken, and forty cents less than the beef/pork option. Yes, you get guacamole with the veggie burrito. But the difference between avocados and meat in terms of climate change is significant. (I live in California, so it is not unreasonable to assume that both the chicken and the avocados were grown locally.)

This is why a climate bill that will price carbon into the economy is necessary (bumper sticker idea: “Internalize externalities”). I simply can’t believe that, given a full carbon accounting, the vegetarian burrito — which is otherwise exactly the same as the meat burrito — is only ten cents cheaper. Judging by the amount of meat they ladle onto each burrito, that ten cents buys you about half a bird.

The small price differential is especially surprising in light of the fact that this particular restaurant goes to lengths to source its meat more ethically than most. I can’t help but suspect that the pricing was set with consumer psychology in mind more than any underlying cost differences. After all, if you’re a vegetarian, what other options on the menu do you have?

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