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how much meat we eat

graph of per capita consumption of meats

* Boneless, trimmed equivalent
Source: Economic Research Service, USDA

While the average American diet consists of a great deal more meat than it used to, beef accounts for a smaller fraction of all meat consumed. In 1910, fully 41 percent of the meat consumed by Americans was beef. By the year 2000, beef accounted for only one-third of the total meat consumed by Americans, which includes poultry and other sources of red meat.

Americans' consumption of beef peaked in 1976, roughly the same time that the nation's cattle supply peaked as well. That year, the per-capita consumption of beef in the U.S. reached an all-time high of nearly 89 pounds. But given Americans' concerns about cholesterol and saturated fat, along with their complaints about quality and the lack of convenience in preparing beef, there was a precipitous drop in consumer demand starting in the late 1970s. Beef consumption steadily declined and, by the year 2000, Americans consumed only 64 pounds per year on the average, 25 pounds less than the all-time high.

While beef consumption was declining, the consumption of chicken was greatly increasing. In 1976, the year that beef consumption peaked, the average American ate 29 pounds of chicken. By 2000, that number stood at nearly 50, an increase of more than 70 percent. In fact, between 1910 and 2000, per-capita consumption of poultry (which includes turkey) increased 450 percent, jumping from 12 pounds per person to 67. Meanwhile, per-capita consumption of red meat -- which includes beef, veal, pork, and lamb -- increased only 19 percent, from 96 pounds to 114.

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