Infographic: A Century of Meat Consumption

A 100 years' worth of data reveals a beef decline and a chicken boom, and also raises the great egg debate—are they meat or not?

The New York Times has put together this terrific infographic (view larger) that compares the per capita availability of boneless, trimmed beef, pork, chicken, fish and shellfish, eggs, turkey, and veal over the past 100 years in the United States.

The big story is the explosive chicken boom and the corresponding beef decline. Interestingly, this is reflected in their frequency in the written word, as we discovered in our Google N-gram survey of the American diet back in December. Turkey has also benefited from the white meat craze, while veal and eggs have lost ground, victims of animal welfare and anti-cholesterol campaigns respectively, I suspect.

As a side note, I'm curious about the inclusion of eggs. On one level, it makes sense, because The Times used USDA data to build their chart, and the USDA lumps meat, poultry, and eggs together for the purposes of its food safety inspections, dietary guidelines, and consumer hotline. But are eggs really meat?

A quick survey of online opinion reveals a morass of confusion. Curiously, even the Catholic church has wavered on the subject, classifying eggs as meat in the Middle Ages, before changing their rules on fasting and abstinence. What's more, under Jewish dietary laws, eggs may be eaten with both dairy and meat, meaning that they themselves fall into neither category.

In any case, leaving the vexed question of eggs aside, the chart does show that, overall, Americans eat nearly 150 percent as much meat as our forebears did in 1910. Interestingly, we are not the most carnivorous country in the world—that honor, as we revealed in a 2009 transparency, above, falls to Denmark. Still, given the environmental impact of raising livestock, the growth curve in our century of carnivorous consumption should not be cause for pride.


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