Americans actually really like broccoli

at 10:11 AM ET, 06/14/2012

The New York Times has a fun piece Thursday looking back at how broccoli came to play a starring role in the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. It came up nine times in official transcripts in the Supreme Court, often getting dinged as the “distasteful” vegetable that Americans could hypothetically be forced to buy, should Congress require the purchase of insurance.

There’s just one problem there: Dig into the data, and it looks like Americans don’t actually find broccoli distasteful at all. Quite to the contrary, the much maligned vegetable’s popularity among farmers and the general public alike has boomed in recent years.

Per person consumption of broccoli has tripled over the past three decades, from 1.4 pounds in 1980 and 5.6 pounds in 2010. Most of those gains, as the USDA’s handy Vegetable and Melons Yearbook tells us, have been in consumption of fresh broccoli (as opposed to the vegetable in a processed form):

As demand has gone up, so has the number of broccoli growers in the United States. After taking a dip in the 1990s, the number of American farms harvesting broccoli is, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, at an all-time high.

In 1999, one USDA report dubbed broccoli the “super food for all seasons,” noting that “The industry boasts farm revenue averaging $484 million (1996-98), up 24 percent from the previous 3 years.” In fact, we seem to like broccoli so much that we cannot produce enough of it. Excluding potatoes, broccoli accounted for one third of all of America’s vegetable imports in 2011. Not bad for one green vegetable that often gets a bad rap.

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