Executive Briefings

If You Are What You Eat, America Tastes Like Chicken

U.S. eating habits have undergone a slow transformation since the 1970s, as shown through annual consumption data tracked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And it's not a simple story of expanding waistlines and new ways to pig out. By looking at when different foods found peak favor and comparing their rises and falls, key moments can be isolated in the story of American eating.

If You Are What You Eat, America Tastes Like Chicken

In some ways, U.S. diets are richer in fresh produce and variety than ever, reflecting improved supply chains and technology that keeps food from spoiling. Greater food diversity has reflected greater population diversity, with avocados and mangoes going from almost unheard-of delicacies to mainstream choices. Price has inevitably played a role: See how chicken and beef intersected as their relative costs shifted. Even marketing has had a measurable impact. Some American dietary habits never die, but in general, we're eating healthier, fresher and more food.

Chicken and Beef

Americans for generations were steak-eating stalwarts. But starting in the mid-1970s, beef was less in favor, while consumption of chicken, the number-three choice after beef and pork, started to accelerate. Their lines crossed in the 1990s, and today the chicken is reaching new heights. So what’s all the clucking about? By the mid-1970s, worries about health risks associated with red meat were entering the public consciousness, with government guidelines suggesting Americans watch their consumption. Meanwhile, chicken production was industrialized. An average broiler hen took 56 days to grow to a market weight of 3.62 pounds in 1970; in 2015, it took 48 days to reach 6.24 pounds, according to the National Chicken Council. That drove down its cost relative to beef, and consumers took notice.

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In some ways, U.S. diets are richer in fresh produce and variety than ever, reflecting improved supply chains and technology that keeps food from spoiling. Greater food diversity has reflected greater population diversity, with avocados and mangoes going from almost unheard-of delicacies to mainstream choices. Price has inevitably played a role: See how chicken and beef intersected as their relative costs shifted. Even marketing has had a measurable impact. Some American dietary habits never die, but in general, we're eating healthier, fresher and more food.

Chicken and Beef

Americans for generations were steak-eating stalwarts. But starting in the mid-1970s, beef was less in favor, while consumption of chicken, the number-three choice after beef and pork, started to accelerate. Their lines crossed in the 1990s, and today the chicken is reaching new heights. So what’s all the clucking about? By the mid-1970s, worries about health risks associated with red meat were entering the public consciousness, with government guidelines suggesting Americans watch their consumption. Meanwhile, chicken production was industrialized. An average broiler hen took 56 days to grow to a market weight of 3.62 pounds in 1970; in 2015, it took 48 days to reach 6.24 pounds, according to the National Chicken Council. That drove down its cost relative to beef, and consumers took notice.

Read Full Article

If You Are What You Eat, America Tastes Like Chicken