The USDA has one of the UC Food Observer’s favorite websites. Spend a few hours poking around and you’ll discover treasures galore, ranging from reports covering commodities and obesity to information about legislation/public policy, health tracking tools and recipes. We also love the USDA’s National Agricultural Library website (a bit like a Library of Congress for agriculture).

One of our favorite places to go for information is the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) site. ERS is one of the nation’s primary sources for economic research/analysis, covering food, agriculture and the environment. The ERS site contains reports, maps, chart and interactive tools, which will help you understand the nation’s complex food system. State fact sheets provide information about population, income, food insecurity, education, employment, organic agriculture, commodities, exports and more.

A recently released USDA ERS report answers – at least in part – questions about how Americans eat and how much time we spend grocery shopping and preparing meals. The report uses data from a 2014 survey that assessed certain behaviors or Americans age 15 and older.

Some key takeaways:

  • On an average day, those surveyed spend 64 minutes eating and drinking as a “primary” activity.
  • Respondents spent on average 16 minutes eating while doing something else, such as watching television, driving or working.
  • Two-thirds of Americans said they consumed beverages while engaged in another activity. Of those, 41 percent reported that that beverage was a soft drink.
  • Those participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs spent more time in food preparation and cleanup.
  • Obese individuals spent an average of 3.2 hours watching TV and movies per day. Normal-weight individuals who were survey reported spending about 2.5 hours a day.


The ERS released another report in July, which focuses on the demand for convenience foods, which has significant implications for our health and the quality of the American diet.

Key findings?

  • Americans may be working more…and we have less time to spend on food preparation.
  • The prices of convenience foods have fallen.
  • Ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat meals and snacks comprised about 26% of the average American food budget between 1999-2010
  • Advertising for fast foods is ubiquitous and effective for the fast-food industry; it stimulates demand.
  • The “most convenient foods”—i.e., those purchased from fast-food and sit-down restaurants— accounts for about half of the average total food budget.


A third report assessed where Americans get their food during a typical week…and what they pay.

Some highlights:

  • Per capita food expenditures averaged $78 per week. There were no differences between rural and urban areas.
  • Per capita weekly spending as reported was greater in the West ($83) than in the Midwest ($73).
  • SNAP households spent less per week ($52) than non-SNAP households ($59-$88).
  • 85 percent of households surveyed also acquired food from restaurants and other eating places.

Related: You might already enjoy reading…

The USDA’s Angie Tagtow discusses the dietary guidelines (two parts).

Scholar Janet Poppendieck on hunger and nutrition policy in America.

An interview with Bob Snieckus, the National Landscape Architect.