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Food costs, eating out and class warfare

Gallup poll
reports American families are spending an
average of $151 on food every week.

That is a bit more than in 1943 when, according to Gallup,
families spent an average of $15 per week on food. By 1987
that had jumped to $106.

Those numbers may make it sound like food is more
expensive than in the past, but the picture changes when
Gallup adjusts the figures for inflation. In 2012 dollars,
American families are actually spending less money on food
these days, according to Gallup: “The average $151
Americans report spending each week on food today is down
from the inflation-adjusted $157 to $214 range Gallup
found throughout the mid- to late 1980s, the last time it
regularly asked the question.

“Adjusting the historical data to 2012 dollars also
reveals that Americans’ weekly spending on food began to
decline in the 1970s, after rising to a high of $234 in
1966 and 1967.”

Gallup warns, however, that although food spending may be
down, “this may change quickly if food prices spike in
reaction to the worsening drought in the Midwest, which is
adversely affecting crops such as corn and soybeans. Food
prices may rise by up to 3.5 percent this year and another
3 percent to 4 percent in 2013, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.”

The economy seems to have affected eating out as well.

According to
the Economic Research Service of the United States
Department of Agriculture
, there was a reduction in
household food expenditures during the recession —
but it wasn’t groceries: “Annual reductions in food-away-
from-home spending, such as at fast-food places and sit-
down restaurants, were largely responsible for the
decrease in household food expenditures during the
recession. Real away-from-home spending declined 11.5
percent between 2006 and 2009. Spending in the grocery
aisle (food at home) increased from 2007 to 2008, as
consumers replaced restaurant meals with at-home eating.
In 2009, however, real at-home food spending dropped, as
consumers economized further on their grocery bills.”

A July survey by Rasmussen
found that 41 percent of American adults say
they are dining out at restaurants less often than they
were six months ago. “Only 5 percent say they are going
out to eat more often,” Rasmussen reported, “while a
majority (53 percent) is dining out about the same as they
were six months ago.”

Americans, accor
ding to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
, spent an
annual average of $2,505 on food away from home.

The National Restaurant Association’s 2012
industry overview
says the typical amount of money
spent on restaurants each day is $1.7 billion.

The 2010 U.S. Census found
that 49.3 percent of Americans dined out in 2010. The
majority did not. It was, however, the most popular of all
the leisure activities tracked by the census. (For
example, 3 percent of Americans played chess, 3.6 percent
sang karaoke, 37.9 percent read a book, 2.4 percent read a
comic book, 12.3 percent went to a zoo and 34.7 percent

Eichler at the Huffington Post
sees class struggles
behind the rates of people eating out: “Still, the Census
results indicate that more than half of all Americans,
whether out of necessity or by choice, aren’t indulging in
a luxury that the financially comfortable take for granted
— findings that track with what is already known
about the growing gap between rich and poor in the United
States, and the grim financial situations in which
millions of people find themselves as the economy
continues to founder.”

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