Veggie burgers aren’t expensive, meat just seems really really cheap. The absurd dichotomy comes from government subsidies as well as a short-term, amortized cost analysis. Factors that play into the hidden costs of meat include taxes as well as environmental and health ramifications.
US taxpayers spend $38 billion dollars each year on meat subsidies but only pay $17 million on fruits and veggies. Due to rampant government subsidies, the price of 1lb of chicken has dropped from $5.07 in 1935 (adjusted for inflation) to only $1.34 in 2011. The unrealistically low prices has artificially shifted the American diet and now the US per-capita consumption of chicken and other meat is three times the world average. Coincidentally (or maybe not?) US incidences of cancer is also three times that of the world average. Unfortunately, cancer isn’t the only health ramification. One third of the cancer, diabetes and heart disease issues in the US are related to meat and dairy consumption. The cost to treat these cases amounts to 314 billion dollars every year. This corresponds to ⅗ of the annual medicare spending.
The costs associated with meat consumption are not all purely monetary. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. Up to 91% of Amazon destruction is due to animal agriculture. Rainforest deforestation is double devastating because carbon-soaking trees are replaced with methan-producing bovine. Methane is a devastating greenhouse gas that is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 but if we were to reduce methane emissions, we would see tangible benefits almost immediately. Unfortunately most of the world’s attention is focused on transportation industry and reducing it’s associated carbon emissions. This is problematic because transportation exhaust is responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gases whereas animal agriculture accounts for 18%, and the gases produced are both more destructive and easier to clean up!
In the short term, you’ll save yourself a dollar or two, but at what cost? Time is money, and if we continue at our current rate, we’re going to be running out of one, and no amount of the other is going to fix things.