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Food for Thought: Consumption Patterns from Around the World

March 29, 2010 —
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One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating,” said Luciano Pavarotti. Let’s stop whatever we’re doing now to devote our attention to data on eating, as a kind of food for thought.

Wolfram|Alpha now has food supply estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, covering more than fifty foods spanning over forty years for countries all over the world. Let’s visit three countries to see what we can find.

First stop, the Caribbean. Type in “cuba wheat” and you’ll see a dramatic downturn in the early 1990s, following the demise of the Soviet Union (Cuba’s most important trading partner).
Food consumption data for Cuba

Now let’s go over to the Korean peninsula. Let’s check out South Korea’s coffee versus tea consumption.You’ll see that coffee intake has increased by several factors since 1970, as the country has become increasingly westernized, while tea consumption has gone up just a little:
Comparing per capita coffee and tea consumption in South Korea

Final stop, North America. In contrast to South Korea, we can see a slow decline in per capita coffee consumption in the United States; according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), increased availability of carbonated soft drinks may be one cause of the downturn.

Per capita consumption of coffee in the United States

You can also explore consumption in particular regions of the world, compare food consumption in different countries, or compare several foods in one country.

Although these estimates do not directly measure actual quantities consumed, but rather amounts of food available for human consumption, they still provide a reliable means of examining and comparing food consumption worldwide. We’ll be adding more food and agriculture data in the future—including food production, import and exports, and prices—so keep checking back for new additions to this dataset.


Re: Food for Thought: Consumption Patterns from Around the World March 29, 2010

This is great start, thank you, thank you!

Please add crop production data. I tried “Africa maize production vs millet consumption” but didn’t get an answer.
Please add price data, too. I tried “Africa maize price vs maize consumption”, no answer.
Please add a history plot for per capita comparison data: “Africa maize vs whey” shows the history, but “Africa maize per capita vs whey per capita” doesn’t.

On a minor point (not so minor for inexperienced users), when I type “meat in Europe” I get a summary table only (beef, mutton, etc.) then if I type “beef in Europe” I get very comprehensive information. It would be nice if somehow the results of the first query hinted that drilling down the “meat” category components returnes a lot more information.

I was a bit disappointed to not get an answer for “Africa maize per capita vs USA maize per capita”. But I understand this is just the beginning.

An ambitious future goal would be to allow people to correlate food consumption data with average body size, and major illness/death causes. For instance, I’m thinking of:
“USA sugar per capita vs body weight in teenagers”
“Europe meat consumption vs heart condition”.

Thank you again, your work makes a difference

Posted by Stefano Piccardi March 30, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Interestingly, “maize per capita in Nigeria and USA” does return a sensible answer. So I guess the issue is mixing continents (Africa) with single countries (USA).

    Posted by Stefano Piccardi March 30, 2010 at 7:47 am

Just my thoughts: I really think this is a great job!
As for myself, nowadays I do not work with this kind of data, and I seem to be getting lazy with it. My father used to say that as we grow older we begin to search for a “field vision” rather than searching for technical details. I like the graphs, and I love to see the coments…
It might be just a “learning resistance” problem!
Nevertheless, I am very happy to see that this kind of information is now available for those who look for it.

Posted by ligia albuquerque March 31, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Yes! This is a good way! For coffee (my opinion – I’m from Romania): If you look for “USA working hours per capita”, it is a clear slope increasement after the sixties. It may mean less coffee-breaks but also that the individual choose more and more to work along the coffee cup – in this case it is low coffee content (though more liquid in the cup). Again – the other items (like social) interfered. Data are converging and it is good mark.

Posted by LeGrig March 31, 2010 at 4:30 pm

The data will be useful in many respects. Human beings live because of food intake. However, the reliability of the figures in countries like India and differences in mix of food need to be addressed. The world has no standard meal. For example a significant population in India is vegetarian. The consumption of edible oils and pulses differ from country to country. I am just wondering how to address these issues. Can I have a reply?

Posted by Prof.K.Prabhakar July 13, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I have been having some interesting findings on world food consumption in regards to the amount of processed foods that are being consumed in first world countries. It would also definitely be interesting at how this kind of data could in some way linked to obesity / health rates.

Posted by Carly Wilson March 18, 2015 at 12:31 pm