In spite of recent spikes in food prices, the average American’s spending on groceries continues to decline in proportion to total spending.
A report from NPR this week, using figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compares prices and spending on individual foods and groceries overall, between 1982 and 2012. In 1982, about 14 percent of an average American’s spending went toward groceries. By 2012, that percentage dropped to below 9 percent.
Back in 1982, meat accounted for the largest share of grocery spending at 31.3 percent. Today, spending on meat has declined to 21.5 percent of the total, with processed foods and sweets moving into the top spot at 22.9 percent.
One might think the changes in overall grocery spending is due to people eating more meals away from home, or that the reduction in spending on meat reflects a drop-off in meat consumption, but the figures suggest the real reason is that prices simply are lower.
In inflation-adjusted dollars, prices in almost all major food categories have declined significantly since 1982. Looking at meats, the price of pork chops has dropped by 37.9 percent, chicken legs by 35.2 percent, steak by 30 percent, ground beef by 19.9 percent and bacon by 12.9 percent.
Prices for many fruits, vegetables and other foods also have dropped significantly since 1982. Some exceptions include prices for flour and bread, which have increased by 0.2 and 12.2 percent respectively. Among vegetables, the price of peppers increased by 34 percent, likely reflecting the growing popularity of spicy Hispanic-styled food in the United States over the last 30 years.
Of course, some of the food elitists who oppose modern agricultural methods will denounce these figures, arguing we need to return to smaller-scale, less efficient production systems of the past, and accept the higher food prices that inevitably would result. Their arguments ignore the benefits of efficiency-enhancing practices and technologies that boost food production while reducing resource consumption and environmental impact. Check out our webinar with Dr. Frank Mitloehner from the University of California and Dr. Jude Capper from Washington State University to learn how modern agriculture produces more food with less land, less water and reduced emissions of greenhouse gasses.