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It's a favorite pastime in this country – Americans love to complain about rising food prices. Even when they aren't. In fact, given all of the complaining you would never know that average food price inflation in recent years is actually the lowest in several generations. Below are three reasons that Americans should stop whining about food prices, and be a little more appreciative of how affordable food is in the U.S. today, especially when compared to other countries, or when compared to previous decades in U.S. history.

(click to enlarge)1. First all, food prices over the most recent 12 month period through July have risen by only 1.44% (see blue line in chart, CPI food data here), following 12-month increases of 1.38% in June, and 1.37% in May. Over the last 12 months starting last August, the annual food inflation rate has ranged between 1.37% and 2%, and averaged 1.6%.

Given the somewhat volatile history of food prices on a monthly basis, we can look at the average food inflation rate over a longer period of time to smooth out some of the volatility. The red line in the chart above shows the 48-month moving average of monthly food inflation rates. For the most recent 48-month period from August 2009 to July 2013, annual food inflation has averaged less than 2% (only 1.97%), and that's been the case for the previous two months as well: 1.96% average annual food inflation for the 48 months through June, and 1.97% for the 48 months through May. As can be seen in the chart, there hasn't been a period in more than 47 years, since early 1966, when the average food inflation over any 4-year period has been below 2%.

Bottom Line: Annual increases in food prices over the last four years have averaged less than 2%, which is the lowest average food inflation rate over a 48-month period in almost 50 years. Although it might seem like food prices have been rising faster recently than in the past, due to either temporary increases in the prices of certain foods or because of short periods of price volatility, the average increase in food prices of less than 2% over the last four years is the lowest in several generations.

2. Next, let's consider an international comparison of spending on food at home as a share of total consumer expenditures in 2012, based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the 85 countries in the table below. As a share of total consumer expenditures per person last year, Americans spent the lowest share on food consumed at home of the 85 countries analyzed by the government at only 6.6% ($2,273 was spent on average per person in the U.S. for food at home out of $35,541 in total consumer spending last year per person). The average share of consumer spending for food at home was 22.8% for the 85 countries in the table below, and 33 countries spend one-quarter or more on food as a share to total spending, and 19 countries devote one-third or more of their spending on food. Consumers in many of the advanced economies of Europe and Asia (e.g. Norway, France, Japan, and Belgium) spend twice as much or more on food at home as a share of their total consumer expenditures as do American consumers.

Bottom Line: As a share of their total consumer expenditures, Americans were able to budget less of their spending on food prepared at home last year (6.6%) than consumers in any other country in the world (based on the USDA sample), who needed to devote an average of almost 23% of their annual consumer expenditures on food at home.

CountryShare of Spending on Food, 2012Spending on Food, Per PersonConsumer Spending per Person
United States6.6%$2,273$34,541
Singapore7.3%$1,422$19,398
U.K.9.1%$2,214$24,260
Canada9.6%$2,679$27,761
Austria10.1%$2,617$25,908
Ireland10.1%$2,037$20,093
Australia10.2%$3,814$37,492
Germany10.9%$2,481$22,762
Switzerland11.0%$4,943$44,899
Denmark11.1%$3,036$27,306
Netherlands11.6%$2,388$20,625
Finland12.0%$3,001$24,927
Qatar12.1%$1,361$11,199
Sweden12.2%$3,193$26,146
South Korea12.2%$1,468$12,002
Norway13.2%$4,885$37,146
France13.2%$3,037$22,945
Czech Republic13.3%$1,279$9,643
Hong Kong13.4%$3,224$24,060
Taiwan13.5%$1,657$12,247
Japan13.8%$3,818$27,761
Belgium13.8%$3,075$22,208
Bahrain13.9%$1,422$10,200
Spain14.0%$2,483$17,713
Italy14.2%$2,892$20,362
U.A.E.14.3%$3,024$21,206
New Zealand14.6%$3,284$22,448
Slovenia15.3%$2,125$13,858
Brazil15.9%$1,123$7,063
Israel15.9%$2,783$17,491
Hungary16.2%$1,127$6,972
Chile16.2%$1,546$9,566
Greece16.5%$2,740$16,652
Portugal16.5%$2,225$13,473
Slovakia16.8%$1,603$9,556
Uruguay18.3%$1,878$10,272
Colombia18.4%$872$4,744
Kuwait18.6%$1,352$7,284
Venezuela18.6%$1,378$7,421
Latvia18.8%$1,619$8,612
South Africa19.4%$877$4,524
Malaysia19.5%$1,084$5,557
Poland19.6%$1,521$7,773
Estonia19.6%$1,753$8,923
Argentina20.9%$1,381$6,595
Bulgaria21.2%$999$4,718
Ecuador21.9%$771$3,526
Turkey22.2%$1,708$7,705
Costa Rica23.3%$1,577$6,754
Turkmenistan23.5%$589$2,503
Dom. Republic24.5%$1,272$5,192
Mexico24.9%$1,625$6,518
India25.2%$220$871
Iran25.5%$699$2,744
Lithuania25.7%$2,331$9,067
Saudi Arabia25.8%$1,607$6,220
China26.9%$577$2,149
Romania28.6%$1,382$4,827
Bolivia28.7%$450$1,567
Uzbekistan31.0%$281$908
Croatia31.4%$2,847$9,078
Bosnia-Herz.31.4%$1,275$4,057
Russia31.6%$2,120$6,709
Thailand32.0%$1,016$3,177
Jordan32.2%$1,205$3,743
Indonesia33.4%$655$1,964
Macedonia34.4%$1,247$3,626
Kazakhstan35.1%$1,925$5,483
Tunisia35.5%$943$2,660
Vietnam35.9%$345$962
Belarus36.1%$1,115$3,091
Peru36.5%$1,507$4,126
Ukraine37.0%$1,028$2,779
Guatemala37.9%$1,091$2,878
Nigeria39.5%$381$966
Georgia40.4%$1,076$2,663
Morocco40.5%$777$1,921
Azerbaijan42.7%$1,222$2,862
Egypt42.7%$1,030$2,410
Philippines42.8%$823$1,925
Algeria43.7%$764$1,749
Kenya44.8%$350$782
Cameroon45.9%$423$921
Pakistan47.7%$415$871

3. The chart below shows spending on food at home as a share of total consumer expenditures in the U.S., on annual basis back to 2012, using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Over time, as food has become more affordable in America, consumers have needed to budget a decreasing share of their spending to eat at home, and the chart shows the decline over time, which has decreased from a range of 15-20% in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (comparable to Eastern European and South American countries today), to a range of 12-15% in the 1960s and 1970s (comparable to many European and Asian countries today), to a range of 7-12% in the 1980s and 1990s, and then below 7% since 2000. During the period that some describe as the "golden era" of middle class prosperity and upward mobility, Americans spent more than 17% of their household budgets on food at home in each year of that decade, and as much as 18.5% in 1952 – almost three times the share spent on food today.

(click to enlarge)

Bottom Line: Average food inflation over the last 4-years in the U.S. is the lowest in more than 47 years, Americans spend a smaller share of their household budget on food (at 6.6%) than consumers in any other country in the world, and that share of total U.S. consumer expenditures spent on food has fallen consistently over time, and is now half of what it was in the 1970s and about one-third of what it was in the 1950s. Stop your whining.

Source: Americans Love To Complain About Rising Food Prices: Three Reasons You Should Stop Whining