Thursday, March 31, 2011

America's Food Evolution; The Past 40 Years

Back in January the Washington Post published a photo article all about the History of the food pyramid. If only nutrition was still as simple as it was back then! I mean, I do love that our latest pyramid allows us to figure out our own personal recommendations, but for some individuals I think it causes more stress than it's worth, and it takes a "simple" concept and makes it somewhat confusing and overwhelming. Anyway, I digress, speaking of changes that have occurred in the last half century, The Center For Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published an article about some of the other food changes that have occurred since 1971, which was the "birth year" of CSPI. Here are some that I thought were worth sharing;

1) Microwaves
: Back in 1971, less than 1/100th of American households have a microwave. Today, only 5 out of every 100 families do not own a microwave....and we are certainly not one of those families! I won't lie, I could never live without our microwave. It's perfect for reheating food and of course making two of my favorite staples; oatmeal and egg whites.

2) Eating Out Became In
: Back in the early 1970s American families spent 1/3rd of their food money on meals eaten outside of the home, but today they spend half of their food money on food eaten out (and this does not include already prepared frozen dinners!).

Source: iStockPhoto

3) Dietary Supplements Became Popular: In 1995, for some very strange reason, Congress passed one of the most ridiculous laws, which gave companies the ability to make non- evidence-based claims about a variety of nutrients, herbs, botanicals, hormones, and other chemicals, and then to sell them without any proof of safety or effectiveness. Perhaps this made sense back then (although I really can't imagine how this would have ever made sense) but today supplements are a $25 billion per year industry, and of course recalls are a daily occurrence. Buyer beware!

Source: iStockPhoto

4) Supermarkets Became SUPERmarkets
: Did you know that in 1971 the typical supermarket carried just under 8,000 items?? (Source: CSPI) Can you guess how many items were in a typical supermarket in 2009? More than 48,000! And of course supermarkets also now have banks, pharmacies, and full service restaurants. Some people love them, others hate them, obviously I'm a fan!

5) We're Eating More Calories: According to CSPI, in 1970 there were 1,675 pounds of food available for every person in the US. In 2003 that number was up to 1950 (an extra 500 calories per day). Needless to say, we are overweight, and our weight isn't decreasing.

6) Nutrition Labels "Rescued" Us: In 1971 there were no food labels. In 1993 there was a food label on all packaged foods. I wish I could say this was a great move by our government, and it positively affected our food choices, but instead I believe the current labels (which sadly haven't even changed since 1993) are so confusing that many people ignore them.

Source: iStockPhoto

7) Organic Foods Became Popular: In 1971 I don't think we even had to worry much about pesticides and herbicides in our food, mainly because we didn't eat as many processed foods....right? We had more gardens and ate more fresh foods. Today, with so many people not trusting the foods that are sold everywhere, organic foods are a $25 billion per year industry. Does this mean organic foods are more "Safe"? Not necessarily, but it makes many people feel better anyway.

8) Imported Foods Soared
: Back in 1970 the most common type of imported food were foods such as olive oil and Spanish olives. According to CSPI the average American eats about 260 pounds of imported foods each year. Imported foods are imbedded on shelves throughout every store.

9) Food Advertising Became More Popular Than Eat-Healthy Messages
: McDonald's, Coco-Cola and so many other major food and drink companies are now spending billions and billions more dollars on advertising campaigns, compared to 1971. I was startled to read that for every dollar spent on ads urging us to eat at least five fruits and veggies a day, the food and beverage industries spend $1000 enticing us to buy more unhealthy products (Source: CSPI).

10) No More Trans Fats!
In the 70s we believed it was best to switch to margarine, which unlike butter has less saturated fat and is cholesterol free. In the 90s we discovered that trans fat, which was created when the oils were partially hydrogenated to make margarine, was wreaking havoc on our cholesterol levels! Thankfully, according to CSPI, about 2/3rds of the trans fat in America's diets have been eliminated.

QUESTION: Can you think of any other major changes in our food system or our eating habits since the 70s?


  1. All of these seem to help our quality of life. But unfortunately these didn't make us to eat better and make better choices.

  2. Great post, Gina! I think another think that has changed drastically is the sanctity of "family dinners". No one seems to sit at the table as a family anymore. We seem to be an "eat on the go, whenever you have time" nation (Canadian & American). I don't think this does any family unit a favour and really pulls into the "eating out became in" and all the convenience foods out there.

  3. i can honesly say that i haven't used a microwave in over 3 years. i eat my leftovers cold (they were cooked right the first time, why would i overcook them?) we have a microwave in our house, but i think the rest of the family only uses it for popcorn.
    we live in Vermont, and I don't like how we can have SO MUCH 'fresh' fruits available to us. i mean, apples are a fall food, and we have them in the springtime. so.....they travelled FAAR to get here, and presumably ripened on the way.
    I have been noticing that Red Delicious apples aren't so....delicious anymore....
    same with tomatoes. what is up with the lack of color inside? no thanks.

  4. Great post! I wish we would go back to 1970 in many aspects when it comes to the food we eat - whole, unprocessed foods eaten mostly at home!

  5. crazy how much our food system has changed. i think a huge one is how big factory farming has become...crazy!

  6. Wow, it's amazing to think of all the changes and a little scary to think of what things will be like in another 40 years!

  7. This was such a great post gina! I always love coming here!

  8. for some weird reason bbqing came straight to my head hahaha i know so random but was the bbq hot back then? i feel like not but it probably was haha

  9. I'm reading the 100 year diet right now, which is a really interesting look at our country's history with dieting. It's so interesting, and if you like this food history info, you'll love the book!

  10. Great post! I'd say one of them would be the high protein/low carb diet fads aka the Atkins diet. Maybe not all of us joined in on this but lots of people definitely did!

  11. Thanks for sharing that valuable information. Food evolution can have an effect on our health. We should always find ways to improve our lifestyle.

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  13. The woman's role has shifted from housewife to employed. More and more women are gaining employment, while still raising a family, taking care of the house, and on top of that, trying to prepare delicious, healthy meals that the whole family can enjoy. If that was my situation, I would probably opt for quick and easy convenient meals (take opt, frozen boxed foods, etc).