By combining several sets of data, including food availability, food loss (through wastage, moisture loss and spoilage) and nutrient availability, the USDA’s Food Availability Data System is the only source of long-term US food consumption data, dating back to 1909.
One of the economists who maintains the database, run through the department’s Economic Research Service, Jean Buzby said: "Food availability is a popular proxy for per capita food consumption. Looking at 100 years of American eating, we can see a reflection of social, economic, and technological developments - including health concerns."
Health concerns are part of the reason behind a steep increase in chicken consumption, Buzby said.
“Beef is still Americans’ favorite meat, but chicken is growing,” she said.
As well as consumer health concerns favoring poultry and advances in mass production, the ERS cites “new brand-name value-added products available for consumers’ convenience” as another driver behind the five-fold increase in chicken availability over the past century.
Although milk consumption has plummeted, cheese consumption has skyrocketed from 11.4 pounds per person in 1970 to 31.4 pounds in 2008.
“We consume over well over half of our cheese in convenient manufactured foods for both at home and food service use,” Buzby said.
In addition, increasing carbonated soft drink consumption has corresponded to decreasing milk consumption, with lower fat and skim milk consumption climbing steadily between 1960 and 1990,but declining from 1996 “as Americans increasingly chose soft drinks.”
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said: “At a time when the alarm has been clearly sounded on the epidemic of obesity in America, particularly among our children, the ability to track dietary trends is a crucial element of efforts to combat obesity and prevent its adverse health outcomes."
The Food Availability Data System is available to the public online here.