Societal Externalities

Externalities are those things we think about when we actively choose to pay extra to support local or tip our server well.

They are the destruction of small businesses we see when looking at cookie cutter shopping centers, or a person living in poverty even though they work multiple jobs.

This page gives an overview of how Fast Food influences our communities, some of the negative externalities that come along with this reality, and a more sustainable path forward.

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Fast Food and our Communities

Chicken or the Egg?

Health disparities disproportionately affect those with greater social and economic hardships.

Not knowing where, what or when your next meal will come from (food insecurity) changes your values from; “is this good for me” and “how will it impact my health”, to “what will feed my whole family”?

So is Fast Food the chicken giving struggling communities a more affordable alternative, or is it the egg bringing on a whole new world of struggle?

Fast Food and our Communities

In the late 1800s, the transportation technology of the day was horse and carriage. There were so many horses that the resulting manure led to mass hysteria as urbanites felt doomed to be covered in manure within 50 years.

Fast forward a few years and you have Henry Ford’s Model T. Boom, the problem disappeared! But as we’re increasingly aware, along came another, carbon emissions.

So, is Fast Food the innovation destined to solve a communities food insecurity, or is the catalyst to further social divide?

External Costs

Nestled between the cost of that 10 for 10 family pack and it’s externalities are the root issues behind consumption, External Costs. These are costs avoided by a producer or consumer and instead externalized onto someone — or thing — else.

It looks like this: Internal Costs + External Costs = True Social Cost

Internal Costs would be things like the labor, food costs, and marketing.
External Costs would be things like a local family’s wages lost to a lower cost chain restaurant, or the benefit of a park that would have been, but was outbid by a Fast Food restaurant.

Imagine it costs $1 more for a burger at a local burger shop than a national chain. If the local shop sold 1,000 burgers, $1,000 would have been distributed amongst the local community.

External Cost -> Externality

When these costs are externalized, we see the resulting externality. That looks like this:

Internal Costs = Price at Register
↳ Externalized Cost → Externality

This $1,000 could have paid for a family’s utility bill for a month, a week’s worth of fresh groceries, and a movie night at the local theatre.

Instead, the $1,000 was sent to a franchise owner from across the country. The workers were paid a minimum wage and forced to grab dinner as they left work that day, sending more money to the wealthy franchise owner.

The burger may have looked $1 cheaper on the menu as these costs were initially “covered” by the individuals in a community, but eventually society pays for these costs in things like unhealthy food options (from a low cost food desert) and working multiple jobs (from unlivable wages).

*This is where the “Don’t tread on me” philosophy breaks down. Nearly everything we buy has an unpaid external cost that “treads on” someone — or thing — else.

Here are some common External Costs avoided in our agricultural system and their resulting Externalities



External Costs

• Transportation to Locations with Fresh Food
• Money Not Staying in Community
• Lack of Good Paying Jobs



External Costs

• High Quality Food
• Healthcare Budget
• Treatment



External Costs

• Public Program Costs (food stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit, etc)
• Workforce w/out Funds for Education
• Large Debts

If you’d like to learn more about Externalities and External Costs, check out the following link

the theory of externalities

Rethinking Consumption

In the 1990’s McD’s ran their ad, “Calvin Got A Job“.

The ad shows a kid working his way out of a bad situation at the only place in town that would take a chance on him, a minimum wage Fast Food restaurant.

How can we tell if it’s a genuine attempt to give a community a stepping stone, or a sleek illusion to build the faith of a community in their chain…and a few more chains in their community?

Tying It All Together

So how can someone with little money or political influence make an impact on a system run by the almighty dollar?

Let’s tie it all together.


“#FeelYourWay” – was it BK’s way of selling more soda, or a genuine attempt to empower customers to feel their feels? 

What is for certain is that the massive growth and use of these terms means that our conscious consumption and “voting with our dollar” works.

Here are a few campaigns truly looking to better the community.

• Green ribbon campaign
• #B4stage4


When it’s impossible to tell the difference between legit and fluff, you’d expect the government to help out.

Here are some of the organizations holding our government accountable.

• Children’s Hunger Alliance
• Fight for $15
• Mental Health America


It’s in a corporations best interest to avoid all the external costs they can. More money for them, and more “affordable” products for us.

But as we’ve just learned, these costs don’t just dissapear, rather, they are externalized onto someone (or thing) else.

That’s where it’s our governments job to step in. With proper regulation, they can encourage these companies to pay for the externalities they produce.

Here are a few ways our government does that.

• Mental Health and Addiction Parity and Equity Act
• Affordable Care Act


Imagine a world in which you send your spare change from a meal you had at a restaurant running a Green ribbon campaign to Mental Health America.

Mental Health America uses your spare change to advocate in government for more fair mental health coverage for the mentally ill.

A bill then gets passed requiring additional assistance for those with mental illness.

Now, the next time you eat at that restaurant, you can be sure that the workers are being supported at work and in their community. You are purchasing a product in which the external costs are paid for and the externalities you care about most are mitigated.

Imagine, Econus!


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