In a time during which depression's on everyone's lips, it's interesting to see some numbers going up. Of course, it all depends on how you read them. In a fit of end-of-year assessment fever, Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore compiled a bunch of USDA and other statistics on the state of American food. All of the numbers go up, but I've put the bad news first and the good news second.
Between 1986 and 2006, the market share in the hands of conventional supermarket chains decreased by 8% and that held by small neighborhood groceries went down by 11%. Where did everyone go? To Wal-Mart, apparently. In 1986, 0.4% of shoppers headed for the supercenter; in 2006, 17.9% of American food shopping happened there. Inflation on food went up 6%, in comparison to general inflation, which increased only by 1.1%.
GMOs are on the way up, to no one's surprise, and given Obama's recent pick for Secretary of Agriculture, it won't be to anyone's surprise if that trend continues. To be specific, GMO soybeans went from representing 54% of the U.S. crop in 2000 to a blistering 92% in 2008; GMO corn went from making up 25% of the crop in 2000 to 80% of the crop last year.
The obesity stats always shock the hell out of me. Between 20 and 30% of the country is overly fat, with Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee at the top of the charts (at just over 30%) and Colorado the only state under 20%, with 18.7%, which isn't negligible.
Okay, now for the good news. CSAs, though still a drop in the bucket, have increased exponentially in the last twenty years: from 60 in 1990 to 1150 in 2007. In a similar period, farmers markets went from 1,500 to over 4,500.
Organic food has surged in popularity, too. In 1990, it was a $1 billion industry; today, it's over $20 billion. In the last ten years it has enjoyed double-digit growth every year (between 14 and 21% growth year-on-year), with steadily increasing penetration; 2006 saw the biggest impact of all, with a hungry 2.8% creep into the market.
The bad news is worse than the good, but at least the good haven't been beaten down. I'm hoping that consumers of organic foods are committed to continue prioritizing good food even if it's more expensive. Some figures predict disaster for organics in the current economic climate; others, just slower growth. Me? I'm gardening.
This story originally appeared in Plenty magazine in January 2009. Copyright Environ Press 2009