Mapping Global Food Spending (Infographic)

A one dollar bag of rice in the U.S. is not the same as a one dollar bag of rice in Indonesia. For an American, who, on average, devotes about seven percent of his or her spending to food, it won’t matter that much if the price of rice doubles to two dollars. An American can likely take the money that would have gone to a “non-essential” item and put it towards food instead. But for an Indonesian, who devotes 43 percent of his/her spending to food, it could mean less to eat.

According to the World Bank, food prices have risen dramatically in the last few months, largely due to weather events and political unrest around the world. Wheat is particularly hard hit. In Azerbaijan, for example, the price of wheat went up 24 percent during the second half of last year and Azerbaijanis already put almost half of their spending toward food.

Ephraim Leibtag, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said these times of high food prices affect people disproportionately: “As situations change in the food market, who feels that more or less in their everyday lives? The consumer who spends the majority of spending on food, when there’s a food spike, if food prices are 40 percent of their budget, that takes a bigger hit.”

This interactive map shows data on the percentages of spending that go towards food by residents of countries around the world. Click on a percentage number for the total per capita household spending and food spending for that country.

This post is part of an ongoing partnership between Civil Eats and the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism News21 course on food reporting. Over the next several months we will regularly feature stories from students in the class.

33 thoughts on “Mapping Global Food Spending (Infographic)

  1. While it’s undoubtedly true that people in different countries spend different amounts on food, it seems simplistic to correlate the amount spent and assume it’s a direct relationship to food costs everywhere – we know that some countries simply place much higher value on fresh, seasonal food – and on paying farmers the actual costs of foods.

    This map really doesn’t seem to separate out the idea of choosing to shop at the local market and pay fair wages, and having no choice in where to buy food. And that’s going to make a big difference when talking about rising food costs, because someone who chooses to spend more can readjust just as much as the American whose diet is supported primarily by processed foods and agricultural subsidies.

  2. Does this account for how much US citizens “pay” in taxes that goes to subsidize the “food”? If you’re not including the Farm Bill in the calculation then you’re not accounting for the true cost. As well, the unsustainable cost of food production (not to mention the pollution it creates) in the US needs to be accounted for somehow.

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  4. As an American I used to know what it ment to only spend very little of your money towards foods stuffs. However in the recent years I have beecome disabled and on a very limited budget and have defintely felt this recent crunch via the increase in food prices. As a low and limited income person I was already spending between 40 and 50% of my budget on food. Now that the prices on travel, food, and everything have gone up one of a few things have to happen, cut travel and cut out food costs. Luckily it is nearing summer in which I can grow many of my own food items. However, this is still not a sustainable level.

  5. I bet the people spending a higher percentage on food are healthier than North America / UK.

  6. Kelly is right.
    Americans eat far too much processed junk, don’t pay farmers fair wages nor value fresh, seasonal food.
    Great project by the way :)

  7. I think this can be deceptive. Yes we do pay a small portion of our income towards food, but what does the average person in Indonesia earn? I’m guessing they would have to spend a higher proportion of their income to have the same amount of food, simply because incomes in America are higher than many other countries.

    That all being said, people in America are way too cheap when it comes to what they put in their bodies and I think they should devote more money to things like grass fed beef, sustainable fish, local vegetables and the like.

  8. I’m wondering if this takes into account the $ people in the U.S. spend on eating out as a “food expense”. I know a lot of folks that don’t spend much on groceries, but they eat out for 15 meals per week so if that money isn’t calculated in the numbers are skewed.

    I’m also with Kevin on adding in the amount of our tax dollars that go towards subsidizing big ag, this would greatly increase the amount spent on food in this country.

  9. Natalie, this is great graphic. Can you share the raw data with us as a CSV or spreadsheet?

  10. Really interesting article. I can only speak for Ireland’s case. Our actual nominal spend on food is really low, despite our overall spend being high to normal by EU standards.
    However the opinion here is that food prices are generally higher that the rest of the EU.
    Possible solution may be people paying down debt, and shopping in discount retailers (Aldi + Lidl)or more people growing their own. Still a bit of a puzzle when you consider Grease who have similar problems, or the US which also has high levels of consumer debt.
    Maybe we are actually the Bread Basket of Europe after all.

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  12. Here at ALLOTINABOX we believe more people around the world should be growing and eating their own produce, as much as they can! By using community spirit and locally teaming together to source and supply food to one another could really be seen!

    If we support Growing your own food we could really see a change in the amount spent on food. GYO is a great way to also stay fit, great for families and for people of all ages and abilities.

    Find us on facebook and twitter support growing your own produce.

    http://twitter.com/#!/allotinabox/followers

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  14. my family of six spends 25% or more a week of our income on mostly organic and natural foods. perhaps we are not average Americans, but since we are used to paying prices that accurately reflect true costs we haven’t noticed a huge increase yet.

  15. Fascinating stuff; worth future study on my part. I’d really like to acquire my own copy of the map image — how might that be possible?

    Thanks in advance for your kind assistance,

    Dave

  16. I hate averages – I live in a rural area in America where unemployment is high and wages are really low. If you want to buy sustainable food you either have to grow it during our very short growing season or have it driven in over a mountain that is over 150 miles away from a sustainable farm (which is hardly buying local). While I hate shopping at Safeway, for many, many people in my community, it’s the only option to buy a lot of processed junk………and please, not ALL American’s are cheap and buy processed junk. Just like averages, generalities are just as misleading.

  17. As many of the comments state, using averages is very misleading. Data from The Consumer Expenditure Survey (2004-2005), Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the percent spent on food by income level in the US. Those making over $70,000 are the only ones really spending less than 10% of their income on food. For those between $50,000 and $69,999 it is about 14%; for those between $40,000 and $49,999, it is about 15%, for those between $30,000 and $39,999 it is about 18%; for those between $20,000 and $29,999 it is about 22%; for those between $15,000 and $19,999 it is about 30%; and for those between $10,000 and $14,999 is about 36%.

    See: http://yy9g.info/publications/eib29/eib29-4/eib29-4.pdf for a good explanation)

    Unfortunately about 47% of us fall below an average income of $25,000. This means that many of us are devoting 20% or more of our income on food. Other easily available data indicate that there are 47 million Americans who don’t get enough food, 16 million of these are children. This is the real story.

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  19. Interesting information that, I imagine, points to real differences in the proportion of income spent on food.

    But I think it is flawed statistically. When you click on a country for more information, you get two figures. Total Household Expenditures and Per Person Food Expenditures. I cannot tell the size of the household. In the US, the Total is 32051 and the per person is 2208. That calculates to 6.9% ONLY if it is a one-person household. The proportion of income spent on food will increase as the size of the household increases if the household total stays the same.

    In the US, a 4 person household will spend 27.56% of income on food.

    Household size needs to be taken into account, for both figures. In the US, is the average total household expenditure for a one-person household really over 32000 dollars?

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  23. There must be a strong correlation with Engel index. Any insight with Gini index?

  24. Having just prepared my 2010 taxes I can accurately report that well over 50% of our gross household income was divided between Fed., state, & local taxes, then insurances, including medical coverage. The next major expense, $15,000, went to supporting about 28% of our son’s college tuition and represented, coincidentally, about 6.8% of our gross income.

    I would be curious to know how your percentages account for the wide range of expenses made on different International household budgets and if the household incomes quoted were either gross or net. Countries such as Canada, the UK, & the EU, where the costs of health insurance and tuitions are either considerably lower or not directly charged against household income cannot readily be compared to countries with few or no services whatsoever, unless some equalizing compensations are made. In the EU the percentage spent for food may be higher than the in US because other major expenses are covered elsewhere. Your percentages will be valid when comparing societies of economic similarity but on a global basis the comparisons become skewed by other differences. In other words saying that the US spends an average of 6.9% on food and Algeria spends 43.8% is misleading. I do agree, it’s just wrong that the Algerians have so much less income left over to spend on their SUVs’ gasoline, maybe only 6.9%; it’s fortunate that we get those costs subsidized.

    In general you prove your point; we are a pampered oblivious society, so I appreciate your statistics. I would be very interested to see a breakdown of the direct impact on world food prices made by commodities speculation and suggest that you use that as a factor in your next research project.

  25. Ah yes! Other countries value “fresh, seasonal produce” more than we do.
    Or.. they don’t have to spend nearly so much on health care, tuition, childcare, transportation (or at least have highly subsidized and available public transportation as an option)among other things.

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  28. Great research! I would encourage you to visit InterAction’s newly launched Food Security Aid Map (http://foodsecurity.ngoaidmap.org). This online map has project-level data on close to 800 active projects from 50 NGOs working to reduce malnutrition, food insecurity and hunger. It’s a useful tool to see where there are funding gaps in these areas and also how NGOs can collaborate with each other or partner with the private sector. Danielle, InterAction

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