Last week, I put up a post show the trend in share of consumers' at-home food dollar allocated to meat, dairy, and poultry items. I had a couple inquiries asking about fruits and vegetables. Using the same data source, I calculated the share of at-home food dollars going toward fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, processed fruits and vegetables, and the total going toward all three from 1959-2013.
During the 1960s and 70s, consumers allocated a smaller share of their food budget to fresh fruits and vegetables, and more toward processed. The overall trend in share of expenditures spend on F&V was down from 1950 to about 1992.
However, starting in the early 1990s, there has been a slow up-tick in share of expenditures allocated to total F&V, from about 10% of total at-home food expenditures to about 12%. Over time, there was a precipitous decline in the share of food dollar allocated to processed F&V, but this was more than compensated for by an increase in the share of the at-home food dollar allocated to fresh vegetables.
Expenditure shares can sometimes be misleading if there are big price changes, so it is also useful to look at actual consumption. Here is data from the USDA-ERS (see table 2 in the "general" spreadsheet) on per-capita consumption of fresh vegetables since 1980.
Americans are today eating about 56lbs more fresh vegetables than they did in 1980, a 50% increase. These data exclude potato consumption, so the upward trend is not some kind of french-fry effect.
It is a bit ironic that the upward trend in fresh vegetable consumption, and the recent leveling off, mirrors the change in obesity rates over time. Tells us that obesity is a complicated problem.
Overall, these data would seem to suggest we're eating a little better (not worse) than we did 20 to 30 years ago.