Changing tastes: U.S. Department of Agriculture releases report on a century’s worth of food trends

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Boy, how Americans’ eating habits have changed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a fascinating, and quite detailed, report on food availability and per-capita food trends over the last century. The report, as well as a searchable interactive map titled Your Food Environment Atlas, helps consumers see what’s happening in their own backyards (and in their grocery baskets).

The data were collected from producers and food distributors or estimated by government agencies using sampling methodology, the USDA said. And the result is some delicious snapshots of how people eat: Whole milk and beef consumption have generally declined since the mid-1940s, with the end of World War II, while that of nonfat milk, cheese and chicken have steadily grown. Fruit juice consumption slumped nationwide to 93 gallons per person a year in 2008 – when the recession began being really felt – down from 106.3 gallons a year earlier.

Locally, the data are also interesting: In Southern California, San Bernardino County has the highest adult obesity rate, while Los Angeles County has at least four times as many grocery stores as any other county.

The report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service “provides a unique window into how the U.S. food supply responds to political, social and economic forces, along with ever-evolving technological advancements,” according to a statement by the report’s authors. “By measuring the flow of raw and semi-processed commodities through the U.S. marketing system, ERS’s food availability data reveal the types and amounts of food commodities available for consumption.”


To feed your curiosity about what’s happening in your backyard, check out the USDA’s interactive map here.

-- P.J. Huffstutter