We should probably talk about how much food we eat


It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Americans eat a lot of food. Well, many Americans. There is a stark difference between those who view food as purely a means of survival, and those who view dining out as an activity, something fun, brunch with friends, trying out the hot, new restaurant in the North Loop.

And, around the holidays (we know we’re publishing this the day after the biggest food holiday of the year, Thanksgiving, based entirely around eating too much together), it’s easy to forget, willingly or not, how much food we actually consume.

And it’s easy to forget that eating a lot of food, or eating whenever we want, is in fact a luxury afforded to those only with enough money and time to do so.

So how much food do Americans eat? The most recent numbers come from 2011, based on this study from the United States Department of Agriculture: On average, the American adult eats 1,996 pounds of food in a given year (73,646 pounds of food over the average 78.8 year American lifetime). What makes up those 1,996 pounds?

  • 31 pounds of cheese
  • 85 pounds of fat/oil
  • 185 pounds of meat/poultry
  • 273 pounds of fruits
  • 415 pounds of vegetables

And a grand total average of 3,663 kilocalories, per person, per day (= 1,336,995 calories a year; 105,355,206 calories over the average 78.8 year lifespan).

nom nom

Which, according to the National Health Service, is considerably higher than what we need. The NHS recommends (specific factors notwithstanding), 2,700 calories a day for men, and 2,000 calories a day for women.

How is Minnesota doing?

Well, we’re certainly doing our part: Obesity rates rose in 2016, according the Minnesota Department of Health, “The state’s adult obesity rate in 2016 was 27.8 percent, up from 26.1 percent in 2015 and 27.6 percent in 2014.” And we spend $2.8 billion (most recent numbers from 2009) a year on medical expenses related to obesity.

And then there’s diabetes: World Diabetes Day 2017: What you need to know

To learn about Minnesota’s Stateside Health Improvement Initiatives: Preventing Chronic Disease Before it Starts

Though this is considerably lower than the national average of 32.2% obesity rates for men and 35.5% for women.

Culture, of course, plays a major role in this, i.e. those with a tradition of high-calorie meals will find it much harder to eat fewer calories. A culture of State Fair cheese curds, onion rings, and biscuits and gravy year round of course makes 3,500 calories a more than feasible daily intake.

And winter often leads to weight gain as well. Fresh fruits and vegetables are less available during winter months (not a whole lot grows besides tubers and roots), and they’re also less appealing in subzero temperatures; Minnesotans tend to eat more “comfort foods” come cold weather.

But this is not to demonize our traditional eats. Home-cooking traditions are an important piece of the cultural milieu and food heritage is certainly not the sole issue when discussing extreme weight gain. The notion that we can still enjoy the foods we grew up with and have come to love, just simply eat less of them or not quite as often, is a real one.

Especially around family-and-food-based holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, simply staying conscious of how much of these foods we’re eating, rather than saying you can’t partake at all, becomes most important.