Food Availability and Consumption
ERS’s Food Availability data measure annual supplies of several hundred raw and semi-processed food commodities moving through the U.S. marketing system, providing per capita estimates of the types and amounts of food available to U.S. consumers over time and identifying shifts in eating patterns and food demand. A second data series covering 1970 onward—the Loss-Adjusted Food Availability data—adjusts for losses from the farmgate to the fork, including damaged products, spoilage, plate waste, and other losses to more closely approximate per capita consumption.
While people in the United States are consuming more vegetables and fruit than in 1970, the average U.S. diet still falls short of the recommendations in the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for these major food groups. On average, 2018 consumption of meat, eggs, and nuts as well as grains in the United States was higher than the recommended amounts.
In 2021, 68.1 pounds of chicken per person were available for human consumption in the United States (on a boneless, edible basis), compared to 56.2 pounds of beef. The availability of chicken began its upward climb in the 1940s, overtaking pork availability in 1996 and surpassing beef in 2010 to become the meat most available for U.S. consumption. Since 1980, U.S. chicken availability per person has more than doubled. In 2021, 47.5 pounds of pork per person were available for consumption.
In 2021, 35.5 pounds per person of corn products (flour and meal, hominy and grits, and food starch) were available for consumption in the United States, increasing steadily over the last five decades, according to ERS’s food availability data. Wheat flour availability was 129.3 pounds per person in 2021, continuing a downward trend after peaking in the late 1990s.
In 2021, 127.3 pounds per person of caloric sweeteners were available for consumption by U.S. consumers, down from a high of 153.6 pounds in 1999. Availability of total corn sweeteners (high-fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup, and dextrose) fell from 85.7 pounds per person in 1999 to 55.3 pounds in 2021. Meanwhile, refined sugar (cane and beet) availability per person surpassed corn sweeteners in 2011, reaching 69.7 pounds per person in 2021.
Dairy products available for consumption after adjusting for losses totaled 1.5 cup-equivalents per person per day in 2021—half the recommended amount for a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet based on the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While overall quantity is slightly higher when comparing 2021 with 1981, the mix has changed. Loss-adjusted availability of fluid milk has fallen from 0.8 to 0.5 cup per person per day, whereas loss-adjusted cheese availability has doubled and yogurt availability has grown steadily.
The overall amount of vegetables available for consumption in the United States was 382.5 pounds per capita in 2020 – below the 20-year average of 389.8 pounds but increased from 371.6 pounds in 2019. The vegetables food group is composed of five main subgroups: legumes, other vegetables, dark green, red and orange (including tomatoes), and starchy (including potatoes). Some vegetable subgroups have increased in popularity, while others have seen declines. Comparing 2020 with the 20-year average, per capita availability of legumes, dark green vegetables, and red and orange vegetables increased while starchy vegetables and “other vegetables,” a subgroup containing 16 different vegetables, declined. Potatoes and tomatoes are consistently the individual vegetables with the highest per capita availability over the 20-year period.
In 2019, 49.4 pounds of potatoes per person and 31.4 pounds of tomatoes per person were available for consumption after adjusting for losses. Forty-one percent of loss-adjusted potato availability was frozen and 60 percent of loss-adjusted tomato availability was canned, as French fries and pizza sauce contribute to the high consumption of these two vegetables. The third highest vegetable—onions—came in at 9.4 pounds per person.
Apples held the top spot for total fruit available for consumption in 2019 with loss-adjusted apple juice availability at 12.6 pounds (1.4 gallons) per person, fresh apples at roughly 10 pounds per person, and canned, dried, and frozen apples totaling to 3.3 pounds per person. Bananas (13.4 pounds per person) topped the list of most popular fresh fruits, while orange juice (16.7 pounds or 1.9 gallons) remained America’s favorite juice.