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Americans today are eating more poultry than beef and pork combined.

Fran O'Leary, Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

February 14, 2023

3 Min Read
woman at meat counter
BUYING MEAT: According to USDA, consumers on average ate about 227 pounds of poultry, beef and pork in 2022, despite higher prices for all meat. That’s up from 224.9 pounds of meat in 2021.JackF/GETTY IMAGES

Here’s a little quiz: Which meat did U.S. consumers eat the most of in 2022?

A. beef
B. pork
C. chicken

If you guessed C. chicken, you are right!

According to Brenda Boetel, University of Wisconsin-River Falls livestock and meat professor and Extension commodity marketing specialist who spoke at the annual UW Ag Outlook Forum Jan. 24 in Madison, poultry accounted for a whopping 51% of the meat consumed in the U.S. last year.

That’s easy to believe at my house — we eat a lot of chicken. But I didn’t think most people were as frugal as I am, so that surprised me. I buy more chicken these days because it is cheaper than beef and pork, but also because it’s versatile, and we like it. Chicken helps stretch our food dollar. We eat beef and pork, too, but we’re eating a lot more chicken.

According to USDA, consumers on average ate about 227 pounds of poultry, beef and pork in 2022, despite higher prices for all meat. That’s up from 224.9 pounds of meat in 2021, and up significantly from 1990, when Americans ate 197.5 pounds of meat, and 1960, when U.S. consumers ate only 167.2 pounds of meat annually.

I’m speculating that Americans ate a lot more meals at home in 1960 than they do today, and we ate more main dishes that contained less meat — think casseroles, soups and stews.

Another reason per capita meat consumption was so much less back then may be because there were so many baby boomers, and in 1960, baby boomers were pretty young and didn’t eat as much food as adults. Baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964.

If you look at meat consumption just 10 years later in 1970, Americans were eating an average of 193.3 pounds of meat per year — 26.1 pounds more than in 1960. Most baby boomers were teenagers or young adults by 1970, and they were eating a lot more than they did in 1960.

American diets changed

Breaking it down by meat type, in 2022, Americans ate 59 pounds of beef, 51 pounds of pork and 115 pounds of poultry — 100 pounds of chicken and 14 pounds of turkey. That means as a nation, we are eating more poultry than beef and pork combined!

Chicken may reign supreme today in American diets, but that wasn’t always the case. In 1960, according to USDA, Americans ate an average of 63.3 pounds of beef, 59.1 pounds of pork and only 34.2 pounds of poultry, including 28 pounds of chicken and 6.2 pounds of turkey. We were eating slightly more beef and pork in 1960 than we are today, and only about 25% as much chicken and turkey as we consume today.

My parents raised 50 roosters every year when I was a kid. I remember they butchered, dressed and froze those roosters themselves. I think at our house, we ate way more chicken than the average family back in the 1960s, and probably less beef and pork. Who knew my parents were ahead of their time, but I think a lot of farm families raised roosters to feed their families back then.

It doesn’t look like beef consumption will be increasing anytime soon. Boetel said the drought forced many cattle producers in Western states to liquidate their herds or send heifers to market instead of keeping them as replacements. According to USDA, cattle producers cut their beef cow herds by more than 1 million cows in 2022. That is the biggest decrease in the size of the U.S. beef herd since 1986.

Boetel said beef exports are projected to drop by 13.9% in 2023 due to a lack of availability of beef. If the drought eases in Western states this year, Boetel said more heifers will be kept as replacements, and the number of cattle being slaughtered in 2023 will drop by more than 5%.

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About the Author(s)

Fran O'Leary

Wisconsin Agriculturist Editor

Even though Fran was born and raised on a farm in Illinois, she has spent most of her life in Wisconsin. She moved to the state when she was 18 years old and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

Fran has 25 years of experience writing, editing and taking pictures. Before becoming editor of the Wisconsin Agriculturist in 2003, she worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson as a writer and editor of farm business publications and at the Janesville Gazette in Janesville as farm editor and feature writer. Later, she signed on as a public relations associate at Bader Rutter in Brookfield, and served as managing editor and farm editor at The Reporter, a daily newspaper in Fond du Lac.

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