The rise and fall of America's favorite foods

fruit stand
CC BY 2.0 James Ian L.A.

Some preferences have fluctuated greatly from the 1970s till now, while others have stayed the same.

If someone walked out of the 1970s into a modern grocery store, they'd be overwhelmed by the products available. Supermarkets these days are full of foods that were not widely available four decades ago. Foods that were popular then, while still available, feature less prominently now.

Every year the U.S. Department of Agriculture releases a consumption data report. Over time, this information reveals the interesting ways in which tastes are shaped by everything from feed prices and trade agreements, to health warnings and refrigeration technology, as well as key political or advertising events.

Bloomberg has put together graphs tracking popular foods from the '70s to present day, titled 'If you are what you eat, America tastes like chicken.' You might be surprised to learn which tastes have stayed the same, changed, and fallen from favor. Here's what it says about our food habits.

More popular

Chicken has grown exponentially, with consumption rising 142 percent since 1970, from 36 lbs eaten per capita annually to 88.4 lbs. Birds are bred bigger as production has become more industrialized, driving down the cost per pound relative to beef, which was once America's darling. (Beef has dropped 36 percent.)

"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."

Fresh spinach has become a staple (green smoothies, anyone?), growing an enormous 479 percent since 1970; whereas, canned has dwindled and frozen has stayed the same. (I didn't even know canned spinach was a thing.)

Tropical fruits like avocados, mangos, and limes have increased between 176 and 189 percent. These are fruits that were unknown to many North American shoppers even more recently than 1970; as a millennial, I think I ate my avocado in my early teens, which wasn't too long ago!

Less popular

Coffee, believe it or not, has never returned to its 1970 peak. People drank 13.6 lbs on average annually, but that's dropped to 10.3 lbs today. Interestingly, the reason for the decline is attributed to the way in which coffee is prepared. Now, cups tend to be made individually, which conserves coffee, whereas in the past a pot of drip coffee would often get dumped down the drain at the end of the day: “In the old days, the kitchen sink was one of the biggest consumers of coffee," said Ric Rhinehart of the Specialty Coffee Association.

Raisins were once a go-to snack, with hungry people chowing down on 2.1 pounds per capita in the late 1980s. This was thanks to a clever marketing campaign from the California Raisin Advisory Board that got everyone excited about dried grapes. It seems the enthusiasm waned, because consumption has dropped to 1.4 pounds.

Stayed the same

Pineapple is more or less the same (7.1 to 7.2 pounds), although people now prefer fresh to canned. Shoppers are more confident cutting up the prickly fruit or they purchase it pre-peeled at the supermarket. Pineapples tend to be sweeter these days, too, ever since Del Monte introduced its Gold Extra Sweet Variety in 1997.

Peanut butter, despite increasing numbers of allergies, remains a popular food, as do other kitchen staples including canned tomatoes, celery, apples, and tea. Some things never change.

The rise and fall of America's favorite foods
Some preferences have fluctuated greatly from the 1970s till now, while others have stayed the same.

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