What America Ate This Year, in Pounds and Gallons

Proceed with utmost caution


It should first be said that thinking of food in terms of “annual pounds consumed” should be outlawed in 2017. Consider this:

3.3 pounds of butter
39.4 pounds of beef
1.2 gallons of  yogurt
122.1 pounds of bread
36 pounds of cooking oil
77.3 pounds of sweetener
47.9 pounds of chicken
21.9 pounds of cheese
12.6 gallons of milk

Combine and serve room temperature with a spork.

Those are the yearly totals of the average American diet according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nutritional data, which Pew Research Center did us the favor/disservice of analyzing. The impetus was to pit today’s numbers against those of the recent past and the results are very 2016-esque. That is to say: a haunting mixture of comical and menacing. Overall, we eat 400 more calories a day on average than our 1970 counterparts. That’s four extra tablespoons of mayonnaise, if you frame your caloric thinking around mayonnaise.

Which, lol, kind of wouldn’t be wrong: “Most of the fats we consume are in the form of vegetable oils: soybean, corn, canola and other oils used as ingredients or in which foods are cooked,” reports Pew. “Such oils contributed 402 calories on their own to our daily diet in 2010.” TOO MUCH OIL OMG.

It’s not all horrible-bad, though, just mixed-bad. “Americans eat more chicken and less beef than they used to,” the report says. “They drink less milk – especially whole milk – and eat less ice cream, but they consume way more cheese. Their diets include less sugar than in prior decades but a lot more corn-derived sweeteners.” I’m personally offended that we eat less ice cream, proud and gratified we eat more cheese and not at all surprised we’re essentially injecting ourselves with corn-derived sweeteners.

Good news is that, in some ways, we’re doing better than we were in the late ’90s, a weird blip I can’t help but armchair-attribute to Y2K paranoia, the impending stock market crash and rhinestone belts. “America’s sweet tooth peaked in 1999, when each person consumed an average of 90.2 pounds of added caloric sweeteners a year, or 26.7 teaspoons a day. In 2014, sweetener use was down to 77.3 pounds per year, or 22.9 teaspoons a day.” Good for us!!!!

Mostly, though, we get poor marks. Meat and dairy are proportionately up, fruits and veggies are proportionately down. But what do we even do with this information?! I mean, aside from eat a palliative kale salad for lunch today followed by 11 chocolate coins that don’t exist if you eat them in secret. Just paying more attention may not be the answer: In Pew’s recent surveys on food and nutrition attitudes, “54% of Americans said people in the U.S. pay more attention to eating healthy foods today compared with 20 years ago – the same percentage who said Americans’ actual eating habits are less healthy today than they were 20 years ago.”

I mean, 2016 did teach us trying does not always equal results. I’m sorry to send you off on such a note before the holidays. I’ll be here for you if/when you need someone to lean on. Right after I emotionally heal from the realization that I might have guzzled 36 pounds of oil in 2016.

Photo by Found Image Holdings/Corbis via Getty Images. 

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  • i take full responsibility for the cheese. i’d also like to see average data for the wine i paired with it.

  • Leandra Medine


  • 3.3 pounds of butter sounds like nothing. that’s like one paula deen cesar salad recipe. but, ugh we’re gross.

  • McKel Hill

    That’s a whole lotta bread…and cooking oil! ><

  • Abby

    I was definitely well below average on beef, bread, milk, and cooking oil. The amounts for yogurt and butter, however, are laughably small.

  • Andrea Raymer

    I definitely consume more milk than that. i eat cereal every day and basically go through a half gallon a week

  • tmm16
  • Where is all the produce! [insert all the new vegetable emojis]