by Marion Nestle
Jan 9 2011

Census Bureau releases food statistics

Thanks to the New York Times for telling us about the Census Bureau’s release of the 2011 Statistical Abstract of the U.S.  This is lots of fun and the Times’ account picked out a few highlights of what has changed since 2000:

  • The meat industry is contracting? Red meat consumption is 108.3 pounds per capita, down 5.4 pounds.
  • Nutritionists!  Uh oh: Vegetable consumption is 392.7 pounds per capita, down a shocking 30 pounds.
  • The wine industry must be happy: Wine consumption is 2.5 gallons per capita, up by half a gallon.
  • The establishment of organic standards in 2002 is working: Organic farmland covers 4.8 million acres, a 170% increase.
  • Hold your nose: Five states—Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Carolina, and South Dakota—have more pigs than people.

You can pick out your own favorite food and nutrition factoids by taking a look at the health and nutrition and the Agriculture statistical tables.  Fisheries has a section of its own.  Enjoy!

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  • 2.5 gallons per… what? Statistics like this are meaningless without a timeframe.

  • Michael Bulger

    @Chris: Per American, per year.

  • Very well said. It’s true. The San Francisco ordinance certainly isn’t stopping parents from buying their kids junk. And to say politicians shouldn’t have a say in what parents feed their kids is absolutely absurd. You hit this issue right on. Politicians have SO MUCH say in what kids are eating. Until very recently, milk was the mandated drink in school lunches. A kid wants water with his/her lunch? Too bad, unless you’re willing to pay for it or remember to bring your own…highly unlikely. And milk isn’t mandated in the interest of childhood nutrition. (Calcium is much more readily absorbed in other forms…and read the China Study, and you’ll see milk really doesn’t have anything going for it.) Rather, it’s mandated in the interest of the agriculture/dairy sector. So isn’t this 100% an example of politicians swaying what kids eat? Why not use political power to look out for the interest of our nation’s health for once.

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  • Pete

    Looks to me like we now eat LESS red meat, LESS eggs, LESS whole milk…and…. MORE white flour, MORE corn products, MORE rice products and MORE corn sweeteners. And obesity rates are doing what exactly?

  • Daniel K

    The Total Dairy consumption is UP by SIXTY POUNDS per person per year since 1980! This seems like a huge increase, especially since there are millions more vegans and dairy-milk free people now, spreading that consumption amongst and even smaller group of people. Yikes.
    @ Pete. Yes it seems the more more more categories are in areas that are not doing us any good, but the Less eggs/red meat/whole milk is a positive trend away from so much animal fat and animal based protein. Hmm. How to increase consumption of WHOLE corn, wheat, rice grains and vegetables and fruits?

  • Pete

    Daniel – so you discount the fact that people eating less fat seems to have little (if not the opposite of the interned) impact on obesity and heart disease? Just remember if you never ate another grain in your life you would survive… the same can’t be said for fat and protein.

  • I was struck by the salad and cooking oil increase. In 1970 it was 21 lbs/person/year. In 2008, it was 54 — that’s a 250% increase and a lot of calories. Most of the increase in recent years has been a shift from shortening use to cooking oils, but shortening use has declined to the same levels as 1980 — 18 lbs.

    A soybean promotion site ( cites the 2005 Census that 78% of US consumption is soybean, so this is mostly for frying and processed foods, right?

    Some back of the envelope calculations —

    33 lbs = 15000g = 1000 Tbl = 3 Tbl/day

    Is this correct? Are we actually eating 3 Tbl more a day in added cooking oils? That is actually a lot of oil. Are the numbers right?

    Now I am usually one to demonize sugar and refined flour intake, but this seems like a bigger deal. Total added sugars increased 1.5 Tbl/day with 3 Tbl/day increase in corn syrup offset by a 1.5 Tbl/day decrease in sugar. Given the difference in calories between sugars and oils, that means that added sugars are contributing about a quarter of the new calories that added oils are contributing.

    It would be interesting to see sample diets from the people in the 1980’s vs 2008 to get a sense of where all of this is coming from.

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