No Surprises: US Leads in Processed Food Consumption

photos: New York Times

A brief note buried inside last week’s NY Times business section did not garner too much attention, but is worth spending a few minutes discussing. According to the article:

No country has embraced the movement toward commercialized, prepackaged food as much as the United States.

Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries.

A sizable part of the American diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, and sweet or salty snack foods. read more…

An enlightening graph may be viewed by clicking here. We buy on average 787 pounds of processed food a year compared to only 602 lbs. of  fresh food (produce, meat cuts, eggs, nuts).

What you need to know:

“US consumers prefer convenience over quality”, says USDA Economic Researcher Mark Gehlhar. We are not the only country to eat processed foods, but in Japan for example, the processing of fish products is usually just cleaning and freezing them, whereas here we add chemicals and preservatives. And in Europe, “staples” such as Pop-tarts have failed miserably.

Why is the US so special in its voracious appetite for sub-par food? We certainly know to appreciate quality products and aesthetics. Just think about the amazing iPad that Apple introduced last week.

And we certainly are aware of the connection between processed foods high in sugar/fat/sodium and our increasing jeans size, clogged arteries, and heart attacks.

Yet we still graze like there’s no tomorrow. Perhaps when you are indoctrinated from age zero to consume soda pop, salty snacks, and happy meals, this is the result.

What to do at the supermarket:

If not for yourself, then at least for your children – you must drastically reduce the proportion of processed foods in your shopping cart. Spend more time in the produce aisle, less time in the snack aisles, and if you can pull it off zero time in the beverage aisle. Yes, more work at home, but with the amount of time we spend watching TV and on Facebook, an added hour or two a week in the kitchen is not going to break anybody.

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  • kc

    I think this is largely a problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees. What good is it to work such long hours outside the home to afford college tuition for children that will be so sick by college age that they won’t be able to attend? Most people cite lack of time for the processed food piled in their grocery carts, but the problem is really priorities. Parents should be willing to sacrifice an hour of leisure each day to spend in the kitchen teaching them the most important skill for survival (cooking). If it is thought of as family time instead of kitchen work, everyone should be able to fit dinner preparation into their schedules. Kids today are served nothing but processed foods outside the home so dinner is the only shot they have all day at a wholesome home-cooked meal. Shouldn’t everyone be eating at least one meal each day that isn’t full of chemicals and GMO-derived additives?

  • SL Ellison

    This is a great blog. Thank you so much for promoting food education. Knowledge is definitely power! Simple objectives to healthy eating are summed up well by Michael Pollan’s haiku-like Food Manifesto:
    Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.
    “Real Food” versus “processed food”. The hardest part of this education comes with breaking old habits and deep rooted cynicism. Educating people with easy and yet satisfying meal recipes – providing hope and possibility over the instant doubt is the greatest challenge.