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The Bright Side of In-N-Out's Price Hike

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Let's start this off by throwing all sorts of numbers at you. So, hope you had your morning coffee!

In 2002, the cost of a Double-Double burger from In-N-Out was $2.50. In 2013, that price had jumped all the way up to $3.20, a 70-cent increase over an 11-year period. This difference just so happens to be perfectly aligned with the expected rise in cost due to inflation. (In-N-Out actually was charging a tad less than they should be according to what inflation would dictate.) So far, so good.

But last week, In-N-Out made the announcement that they're raising the price of their Double-Double 15 cents all the way up to $3.45. This is 11 cents above what standard inflation-based hikes would suggest. And while this jump is still easily handled by simply digging a bit deeper into your couch cushions, what it suggests is more troubling.

Chipotle recently made a similar proclamation, announcing they're raising the price of their steak burritos between 32 and 48 cents a pop. And what do both of these price hikes have in common? They're coming about because of the ongoing California drought.

To understand why is another basic math problem, this one involving our old friends supply and demand. Because of the drastic lack of rain that's fallen on the state -- 80 percent of California is considered to be in "extreme" drought conditions, and unfortunately that's not expected to be mitigated even with the likely development of El Niño later in the year -- there's less water. And less water means a higher demand for California farmers to bring in outside water to grow their crops. And higher demand and lower supply is a recipe for skyrocketing prices.

As such:

The USDA projects that the price of beef and veal will rise 5.5 to 6.5 percent this year and that poultry prices will increase 3 to 4 percent. Dairy products will likewise see a 3 to 4 percent jump, with egg prices rising 5 to 6 percent. Fresh fruit and vegetable prices are expected to increase 3 to 4 percent, the agency said.

Increase in prices at the point of production means an increase of prices at the point of sale.

And Chipotle and In-N-Out aren't the only two places raising their prices. McDonald's is expecting an across-the-board three percent hike, enough to rebrand their "Dollar Menu" into the more vaguely-named "Dollar Menu and More." Starbucks is expecting to raise the prices of their drinks between five and 20 cents. Subway's bumping up the price of their turkey and tuna subs by a quarter. And so on and so forth. From here on out, if you're heading into a fast food place looking for a dirt cheap meal, well, you're still going to get it, but it's going to cost you a little more dirt.

But maybe this news isn't all bad. Maybe it's time we're all forced to curb our meat consumption a bit.

Nearly every month a new study re-confirms that our global meat consumption is dramatically increasing our CO2 emissions, which are in turn leading to dramatic climate change. Eighteen percent of the world's greenhouse gases are sent into the atmosphere due to the raising of animals for food. And if you're looking at meat-eating on a micro level, a new study shows that vegetarians (or even, as the study puts it, "semi-vegetarians") live 20 percent longer than omnivores.

Which is to say: Rising prices for fast food is troubling, but we really shouldn't be eating factory-farmed meat from fast food places anyway. If it takes lightened wallets to force us to change our habits, well, that's the sliver of a silver lining in this drought.

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