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From bacon to greens: what you’re eating today

We all have to eat. The concept is simple and the necessity inarguable.

Of course, what we eat and exactly how we eat it in America is undergoing constant change. One example: For about three decades, each of us, on average, has eaten more than 200 lbs. of meat annually, but the makeup of the protein mix has undergone considerable change. Whereas in the 1970s we were downing about 90 lbs. of beef each year, in 2014 it probably will be in the mid-50s. At the same time, chicken consumption has soared, more than doubling to about 85 lbs. per person.

Another data point: In 1980, McDonald's opened its 6,000th restaurant. At the end of last September there were almost 35,000 locations worldwide. Change indeed.

GFX by Siemond Chan


We're now at a time in which our dining habits are constant grist for headlines, either to inform or mock — or both. You know the drill. We're not eating enough vegetables. We're eating too much sugar. We're all overweight. Meanwhile, farming practices and genetically modified crops are ceaselessly debated, and as some of us are aiming to eat healthier than ever, others are looking for the next zany burger or complicated flavor mash-up.

There are infinite ways to dissect everything there is to know about our eating, but we aimed here to capture a few interesting trends by way of the graphic below. This is merely a glimpse of the size and scope of the food universe – for instance, we don't get into the more than $600 billion in restaurant spending we now do in the U.S. or the fact that more than 40% of our food dollars are spent outside the home.

What we hope to do is give you a broad sense of how much of what we're eating every year. See if you find elements of yourself here. Are you eating more than 80 lbs. of chicken annually, or how about 112 lbs. of potatoes? Or maybe you are in the 5% or so of us who opt for the vegetarian lifestyle. How about spending — are you putting in excess of $4,000 every year toward food, or do you even track it closely enough to know? And how much of it do you think you spend at the roughly 1 million restaurants we have coast to coast?