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April 22, 2012
Tasty Propaganda

I recently watched a 2008 documentary, Killer at Large: Why Obesity is Americaís Greatest Threat, and was struck by one sequence. It happens about 32 minutes into the movie, and involves a graphic that shows how U.S. meat consumption per capita has increased over the years.

In 1950, meat consumption was around 147 lbs. per person, the graphic shows, and by 2006, it had climbed to around 219 lbs.

Damn, we are eating a lot more meat than we used to eat! But what kind of meat?

Before Killer at Large displays the graphic, it shows images taken from a Burger King commercial that celebrates the Texas Double Whopper, including several close-ups of some hefty double-burgers.

Then, the imagery switches to a still shot of a supermarket display case filled with dozens of packages of meat. Itís possible there's some white meat at the top, but if you ask me, the overall image reads "red":

Finally, after the graphic disappears, we see a clip of a child eating a burger. Whatís wrong with these pictures? Itís true that U.S. meat consumption per capita has risen a lot over the years.

But U.S. consumption of red meat? Not so much. While per capita consumption of beef rose from the 1950s through the 1970s, it has dropped substantially over the last three decades. In 2008, the year Killer at Large was released, U.S. beef consumption had dropped to levels not seen since the late 1950s. Since then, it has continued to drop. In 2011, per capita beef consumption in the U.S. was 57.4 lbs., its lowest level in more than 50 years!

Virtually all of the increase in meat consumption over the last six decades comes from increased consumption of white meat. So how come Killer at Large primarily used images of beef to illustrate this increase? Was it too chicken to tell the truth?

(Bonus factoid: Through 1970 - 1979, the average annual meat consumption per capita was 177.2 lbs. By 2000, that had risen to 195.2 lbs., for a total gain of 18 lbs. per year in average per capita meat consumption. Over the same period of time, the increase in average per capita consumption of fresh and processed fruits and vegetables was a whopping 120.2 lbs.)

Posted by Greg Beato at 11:08 AM