Social and demographic influences on food preferences

The association of saturated fat consumption with cardiovascular disease and some cancers has led to changes in dietary recommendations of both the types and amounts of specific foods consumed. That recommendations have translated to actual changes in consumption in the United States is clearly evident in per capita consumption of selected food items over a nearly 30-year period (Table 8.4). From 1970 to 1997, the most prominent changes have included a 91 percent increase in poultry consumption and a 155 percent increase in cheese consumption. Fresh fruit and vegetable consumption increased by 32 percent and 22 percent respectively, and seafood by 25 percent. Target commodities for saturated fat have had declines in their annual per capita consumption, with decreases of 67 percent for whole milk, 16 percent for red meat, and 23 percent for eggs.

Table 8.4 Changes in food consumption in the United States, 1970 and 1997

Food commodity

Per capita consumption (pounds)

Table 8.4 Changes in food consumption in the United States, 1970 and 1997

Food commodity

Per capita consumption (pounds)

1970

1997

Change (%)

Red meat

132

111

-16

Poultry

34

65

+91

Fish

12

15

+25

Dairy products

• Milk - whole

219

73

-67

• Milk - low fat or skim

50

134

+ 168

• Cheese

11

28

+ 155

• Yogurt

0.8

5.1

+ 190

• Eggs (no.)

309

239

-23

• Fresh fruit

101

133

+32

• Fresh vegetables

153

186

+22

• Flour, cereal products

136

200

+47

• Caloric sweeteners

122

154

+26

Data from Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.

Data from Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture.

These shifts in consumption patterns have driven changes in food retailing and agriculture. The average grocery store today is often a supermarket stocked with 25,000-50,000 items from all over the world. Stores are often designed so that the produce department is the first area encountered upon entering the store, and, depending on the season of the year in the United States, as much as 80 percent of a produce item may be imported (for example, cucumbers and green onions in January-March). Seafood counters contain fresh fish flown in almost daily. Even without seasonality, economics plays its own role. The North American Free Trade Agreement enacted in 1994 has altered the dynamics of importation of agricultural products among the United States, Mexico, and Canada, which now represent one market. Livestock for meat production often have been raised in at least two of these countries before slaughter. Food consumption patterns in the industrialized world have shifted in their commodity type, amount, and source -more frequently including exotic or ethnic foods, more chicken, fish, cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, and with different production sources for items that previously were domestically produced. The grocery store essentially has been transformed into a locally accessible but globally representative marketplace.

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