The Japanese food transition

by on September 15, 2013 at 3:49 am in Books, Food and Drink, History | Permalink

1. Peak “buckwheat noodle” came in 1914.

2. Peak horse meat came in the 1960s.

3. Peak whale meat came in 2005-2006, although some of that supply was frozen and has not yet been consumed.

4. The consumption of vegetables has been broadly constant for decades.

5. Yearly per capita pork consumption has risen from 1.1 kg in 1960 to 11.7 kg in 2008.  During the 1960s, the consumption of chicken meat nearly quintupled.

6. In 1876, per capita sake consumption was 17 liters per capita, which was very high for Japanese income at the time.  You can compare that to America’s 7 liters of ethanol per drinking age person in 1870.

7. Land area under cultivation peaked in 1921.  The United States and China, however, cultivated more land in 2000 than they did in 1900.

8. Japan’s paddy fields peaked in 1969.

9. In 2006 Japanese meat consumption edged out fish consumption for the first time.

All of those estimates are from a very interesting book by Vaclav Smil and Kazuhiko Kobayashi, Japan’s Dietary Transition and Its Impacts.

Alexei Sadeski September 15, 2013 at 4:32 am

I need to get there pronto, based upon the pork consumption stat alone!

Doug September 15, 2013 at 4:33 am

“In 1876, per capita sake consumption was 17 liters per capita, which was very high for Japanese income at the time. You can compare that to America’s 7 liters of ethanol per drinking age person in 1870.”

Just to be clear, sake’s 16% alcohol content means that 1876 Japan consumed 2.7 liters of ethanol per capita. Only about 40% of American consumption. This doesn’t seem unusually high, even given low incomes. Alcohol tends to be pretty income inelastic.

Steve Sailer September 15, 2013 at 5:42 am

Americans were drunk much of the time before the temperance movement built up steam. I think peak alcohol consumption was in the first half of the 19th Century. America grew lots and lots of corn per capita back then, but it was expensive to move bulky products around before the transportation network was improved. So, turning corn into high value hard liquor before putting it in jugs on wagons saved money.

Mark Thorson September 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

And then women got the vote, the red light districts were closed, and the party was over.

Tarrou September 15, 2013 at 8:14 am

Beat me to it Doug!

JWatts September 15, 2013 at 10:24 am

per capita != drinking age person

Anon September 15, 2013 at 11:00 am

Though how different are ‘drinking age persons’ and ‘per capita’? 2x given a young age distribution?

DW September 15, 2013 at 7:00 am

No kindle version of this book and this post isn’t exactly a rock-solid recommendation.

The subject seems pretty interesting but the signals aren’t looking great for the readability of this book.

Curt F. September 15, 2013 at 10:24 am

It’s by Vaclav Smil. That is alone is a very reliable signal of quality.

sam September 15, 2013 at 7:28 am

#7 – What was that a few weeks ago about comparative advantage being over-rated?

JWatts September 15, 2013 at 10:25 am

Wouldn’t #7 likely be absolute advantage?

sam September 15, 2013 at 10:59 pm

Chinese agriculture, an absolute advantage? Really?

I’m not sure but I would not have guessed agricultural productivity would be high. Although I guess in some provinces it could be.

Mark Thorson September 15, 2013 at 11:59 am

Fish is meat, so total meat consumption will exceed any subset of meat. If by “meat” you meant to exclude fish, what about chicken? Did you mean red meat + poultry > fish? Or did you mean red meat > fish? Maybe it will be clear after I’ve had some ethanol.

Adam J Calhoun (neuroecology) September 15, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I think this is more of a UK (?) terminology, but meat can be used to mean the flesh of a mammal (as opposed to fish/poultry).

Douglas Knight September 15, 2013 at 5:06 pm

No, it’s not special to the UK, where Smil and Cowen have never lived. That is the normal meaning in the US and Canada.

There is some variation in usage, though. In the Southern US, “meat” is very narrow.

Ronald Brak September 15, 2013 at 10:29 pm

In my experience this particular sin gets committed in the US a lot. I keep wondering if I order a fish over there and cut it open will vegetables spill out?

Vernunft September 16, 2013 at 11:21 pm

What sin?

FC September 16, 2013 at 2:55 am

Peak human meat consumption (Allied POW subcategory) was ca. 1945.

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