Food prices have risen in the last three decades—but that’s not the whole story. While some foods have gotten more expensive, others have fallen in price dramatically, and a look at the data says a lot about why we eat the way we do.

The USDA just put together a look at where food prices have gone in the last 30 years, and while the increase is slight, it’s still significant: An overall rise of 4.5% (and, yes, all the numbers have been adjusted for inflation). But when you start to look at the breakdown of the numbers the problem becomes much more obvious.


The biggest rise is, far and away, in fresh fruits and vegetables—a rise that’s especially problematic when you consider the fact that less than 10% of Americans are eating enough vegetables right now. Meanwhile, the nonalcoholic beverage category (a group dominated by sodas and energy drinks) has had almost the exact same move, in the opposite direction. The other foods that have had a drop in price? Sweets and fats, primarily.

Then there’s also the issue of that small bar that you see over on the far left—cooking at home. Home-cooking is often presented as the cure-all solution for our food problems, and, yes, it is typically healthier than the alternative. But it is also getting steadily more expensive, just like the fruits, vegetables, and meats that form its backbone.


It’s these contrasts where a lot of the clash in food policy is coming from today. We see the drop in the number of people who are eating healthy, nutritious food regularly and we tell them, and ourselves, that we need to do better. But, at the same time, healthy food and the time to prepare it are more and more being priced like a luxury.

Top image: LDprod/Shutterstock.