Produce Variety Helps Diet Variety!
Our choices and varieties of fruits and vegetables has expanded.
Early in the 20th century, what people ate in the U.S. primarily depended on their heritage and traditions, where they lived, what they could grow, and how much money they had.
This is not to say we don’t still enjoy the same fruits and vegetables we did in 1970!
While we have integrated new produce into our diet regimen, it is safe to say, old habits die hard. In 1970, three vegetables – lettuce, tomatoes, and potatoes – were the most consumed fresh vegetables in the US.
We have retained a strong preference for certain fruits.
In recent years, robust demand for avocados, blueberries, cherries, lemons, limes, mangoes, papayas, and pineapples has been driving growth in fresh fruit commodities. USDA analysts attribute this growth in fruit use to preparation of traditional dishes by a more ethnically diverse population as well as heightened interest in a healthy diet.
Not only have there been changes in the diversity of what Americans eat, but there has also been an even greater change in when we eat fresh produce. Prior to the turn of the century, the majority of the U.S. population was eating strawberries for one, two, or if you were lucky, maybe three months of the year. Now eating fresh strawberries year-round is commonplace, as is noted by the 320% increase in per capita consumption from 1970 to 2010. And it is just not strawberries – the same is true for blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pineapples, cantaloupe, and a litany of other fruits and vegetables.
So why the increasing diversity in our produce?
To help meet the growing demand for fruits and vegetables, plant breeding has resulted in new varieties of popular produce items with increased yields, extended growing seasons, improved product quality fruit, and enhanced shelf-life. Tomatoes and strawberries are two prime examples of fruits where year-round availability is a direct result of breeding new varieties.
Suppliers have also improved shelf-life and product quality during transportation by modifying harvesting methods. A good example of these improvements can be seen with the banana which bruises easily when it is ripe. Bananas used to be harvested after ripening until growers discovered they could harvest unripe, green bananas and ship them all over the world without damaging the still firm unripe fruit.
The Bottom Line:
In the U.S. and most of the developed world, we are fortunate to have a large selection of fresh produce available thanks to new and improved varieties, harvesting methods, preservation technologies, and transportation.
As food ingredients fads continue to expand produce options, our diets become more diverse—however, that does not mean that we discard the original staples. Old and new produce now “work together”, giving our diets more variety!
Bentley J, Perez A. 2015. Fresh fruit makes up a growing share of U.S. fruit availability, Amber Waves, May 4, 2015, http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2015-may/fresh-fruit-makes-up-a-growing-share-of-us-fruit-availability.aspx#.V46KpfkrJpi
Bentley J. 2015. Potatoes and tomatoes account for over half of U.S. vegetable availability. Amber Waves, September 8, 2015,http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2015-september/potatoes-and-tomatoes-account-for-over-half-of-us-vegetable-availability.aspx#.V46K_PkrJpg
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th Ed. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/
State of the Plate: 2015 Study on America’s Consumption of Fruit & Vegetables, Produce for Better Health Foundation,http://www.pbhfoundation.org/pdfs/about/res/pbh_res/State_of_the_Plate_2015_WEB_Bookmarked.pdf .
USDA. Economic Research Service, Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/food-availability-(per-capita)-data-system/.aspx