U.S. Food System Provides Extra Calories: Policy Implications?

| 4/15/2011 2:29:25 PM

This awesome infographic (below) displays the changes in the amount of available food produced by our food system on a per capita basis since 1970. As can be expected, there is an excess of available calories, one that has grown rapidly since the 1990s. These numbers come from data compiled by the Economic Research Service (ERS), a little-talked-of department within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Charged with researching and compiling economic data that is used to direct agricultural policy, the ERS has a hand in nearly all aspects of our food system, from ensuring a competitive agricultural system to working to maintain a harmonious balance between agriculture and the environment.

Another area the ERS works in heavily is health and nutrition. One measure, the amount of crops and animals produced on a farm that is sent out to become food — known as the farm gate weights and quantities — is used to estimate the level of production and efficiency on farms. These numbers are later translated into loss-adjusted food availability data, which is the amount of food available after accounting for spoilage, waste and other "losses" through food processing, storage and preparation. As documented by Civil Eats, "By calculating such food losses, the USDA data closely approximates the amount of food that actually makes its way from the farm into the average American stomach."

Judging from the numbers presented below, the biggest growth has occurred in the number of available added fats and grains. The total number of daily available calories has jumped more than 500 calories over the last 40 years, resulting in a daily availability of 2,673 calories per person by 2008. Considering our lives have also become more sedentary over the years, and that most people are supposed to eat between 1,800 and 2,200 calories a day, is it possible that the sheer extra number of calories produced by our food system could be partly responsible for the extra number of inches being tacked on to our waistlines? Is it possible that, by directing subsidies to the production of commodity crops used to produce grains and oils, our current agricultural policy is contributing to the obesity epidemic?



This infographic, created by Andrea  Jezovit, is part of an ongoing partnership between Civil Eats and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism News21 course on food reporting. 

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