(Post also published on medium.com!)
Vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, etc. diets seem much more mainstream in the media these days, and meat substitutes are no longer just a bad joke, and yet the typical American eater is the greatest carnivore in all the world, with Americans consuming more meat and other animal products (per capita) than any other country. And meat consumption continues to climb, reaching record highs every year for the last five years, though this year the coronavirus may yet put a small dent in this trend.
So, just how much meat does the average American consume? Fortunately, the USDA provides plenty of data on carcass, retail, and boneless meat supply for over 100 years. Figures 1 and 2 summarize the trends from 1909 through 2017 (excluding seafood), and we can summarize things as follows:
- Since World War II, a revolution in livestock, and especially poultry production, has kept per capita meat consumption high, which is now over 220 lbs of retail meat per person per year.
- Chicken has overtaken beef as the number one meat consumed in America, with an astronomical number of chickens now raised to slaughter yearly in confinement systems.
- The veal and lamb markets have largely collapsed in recent decades.
- Not shown here, Americans also each eat about 16 pounds of seafood, with shrimp the biggest component at over 4 pounds. This represents on the order of several ten billion fish and shellfish.