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Discussion: (12 comments)

  1. Robert Lacey

    Disgusting junk food swimming in animal fats, apples that taste like cotton wool, tomatoes that taste like nothing at all thanks to the quantities of water forced into them to make them bigger (ditto strawberries), force-fed beef, bland, featureless chicken, bread that tastes like cardboard. It may be affordable, but you can have my share!

    1. It’s possible that you suffer from a medical condition. Have you seen a doctor about your taste problem?

    2. Sprewell

      Interesting perspective, Robert, are you able to get the good stuff anywhere? Or is it all lost to a mythical age when men were men and the grass was green? ;) More seriously, why do you think the much more tasty food you prefer isn’t sold much, at Whole Foods or somewhere, assuming it can still be bought someplace?

  2. I think people often forget the greater variety of fresh food available now than 40 years ago. 40 years ago fruits for example had a season (depending on weather) and were available for a limited time. An example I recall were that strawberries where a spring fruit. My mother recalled that when she was growing up an orange went into a christmas stocking. (All be it they became available at a price to anyone in the us in the 1880s once the railroads reached LA (the second one so the price of shipping fell, at that time La county was orange land).
    Typically in the winter you had canned fruit and vegetables along with fruits and vegetables that would keep in a root cellar such as apples and potatoes. So today it is the much greater time frame when fresh is available, plus in addition the availability of frozen fruits and vegetables. (That sort of came post WWII).

  3. Benjamin Cole

    What is cost of home eating once you add in taxes paid to subsidize farmers?

    1. Steven Hales

      Straw man holding a red herring.

  4. Sprewell

    As others have pointed out on these posts, the titles of the post and chart are misleading, as you are only counting food spending at home, but the titles give the impression you’re talking about all food eaten, including eating out. I suspect it wouldn’t be so affordable once you include restaurant food, as Americans eat out a lot and it isn’t cheap.

    1. morganovich

      that’s the same point i was going to make.

      eating out is a substitute for eating at home (and one people choose more frequently as wealth goes up).

      eating out is a luxury good.

      thus, we should expect americans to eat out far more than, say, Brazilians or Turks.

      further, if the trend toward eating out more has increased over time (and it likely has, many who work eat out 2 meals a day at least) then this trend may not be measuring affordability at all, just a change in eating habits. when i lived in sf, i had breakfast and lunch at work every work day and then ate out maybe 4 nights a week and often for brunch or lunch on weekends.

      that’s over 2/3 of meals eaten away from home, and that was hardly an uncommon urban eating plan. (though it was likely far less common in 1950)

      this metric may not mean what is being claimed.

      over the last 10 years, food price inflation has been considerably higher than CPI and growth in income levels, and based on big jumps in the prices of many meats right now, looks poised to continue this trend.

      i am not arguing that the us does not have plentiful, affordable food, but to ignore the fact that food prices have been increasing sharply for decade seems to miss an important aspect of this market, and given the drops in income over the last 5 years, the effects of these price hikes are magnified relative to income.

      1. morganovich


        “Consumption of food prepared away from home plays an increasingly large role in the American diet. In 1970, 25.9 percent of all food spending was on food away from home; by 2012, that share rose to its highest level of 43.1 percent.”

        this is a HUGE jump in food away from home. it rose (as a % of food eaten) by 2/3 since 1970.

        leaving that out of the overall food spending number is going to give you a very incomplete picture.

    2. Sprewell and Morganovich: I’ve added a new, second chart showing spending on all food (at home and away from home) as a share of disposable personal income using a different USDA dataset. USDA doesn’t have historical data on all food spending as a share of consumer expenditures, and neither does the BEA. Therefore, I’m showing a different measure of spending on food that includes food away from home as a share of disposable personal income, with the same downward trend.

      As a share of disposable personal income, spending on all food (at home and away from home) has gone from 21% in the early 1950s to less than below 10% in ever year since 2000.

      1. morganovich


        i think those are far better metrics to use.

        they capture the full cost of food and eliminate potential issues from substitution and i think that DPI is a better income metric to use than just overall consumption is one is looking at affordability.

        i think your new chart provides for more rigorous proof of your point, though, i suppose one could say that gains have more or less stopped over the last 10-15 years, but that is not necessarily a sign things have stopped getting better.

        it may just mean we are consuming more (and more expensive” meals out and achieving higher utility or that we are eating different foods and that 10% is just a point we tend not to move beneath, choosing to eat better (or just more expensive) foods as substitutes.

      2. Sprewell

        I think this update clears things up, Mark.

        Although, looking at the new USDA data, they claim that the breakdown of food at home versus outside is 57% to 43%: that sounds pretty high for home to me. Maybe my perspective is skewed since I’ve always lived in towns and don’t cook, so I ate out a lot at various times in my life, but I do wonder how accurate that split is.

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