Food has been through a lot over the 20th century. One look at a supermarket shelf is all you need to tell you that we’ve come a long way from the days of meat and veg. Drinks, snacks and sweets are all unrecognisable from the sorts of treats that people could look forward to even 40 years ago. The result is that our diets are looking dramatically different.
This has been made clearer than ever by a newly released 2017 report by the US Department of Agriculture. The study, examining how food consumption patterns have changed in America since the late 60s, revealed some dramatic changes in our eating habits.
The headline is perhaps the least surprising aspect of the whole report. American diners are eating far more fats, sugars and grains than they were before 1970, and are eating proportionally far fewer fresh fruits and vegetables. Experts claim that this trend, which is seen in several Westernised economies, is what’s causing waistlines to expand.
However, though the rise of fats may not be much of a surprise, where they come from certainly raises a few eyebrows. While you might think that animal fats such as butter and lard are likely candidates for increased fat intake, the new report reveals that their consumption has actually dropped by around 25%. Vegetable oils and fats, however, have absolutely exploded to more than double the levels in 1970.
There are also some fascinating trends in how we’ve eaten fruit and veg. Though we’re eating less in total, certain fashionable produce has seen their popularity go through the roof. Avocado use, for instance, has surged by 1,342%, whilst mangoes have seen their sales increase by almost 3,200%. The trend was repeated for certain vegetables, with broccoli and mushroom usage going up by 1,146% and 937% respectively.
Though it might have been a golden era for mangoes and mushrooms, other fruit and veg has not been so lucky. Grapefruits, oranges, peaches and plums have all faded from the limelight as American consumers move more towards processed food. This trend has been bad news for America’s more niche farmers as well as its people.
For all the dramatic dietary changes, some things seem to have remained largely the same. Apples, tomatoes, melons and bananas have all remained as the most popular fruits in the country, while potatoes, onions and lettuce are all still the biggest veggie sellers. Though overall consumption may have dropped, the types of produce we buy has remained relatively consistent.
Shockingly perhaps, the study also revealed that sugar consumption has been on the decline since the early 2000s, casting doubt over the idea that sugary diets are to blame for our current health problems. Many experts are concluding that it is our increased consumption of processed oils and fats that poses a bigger health risk than sugars, though everyone agrees that Americans are eating far too much of both.
In many ways, dietary changes are inevitable as cultures and ingredients adapt and shift. But many of the USDA’s findings are so dramatic that it suggests that we may need to do more than simply wait for the natural ebb and flow to right the balance.