The way Americans have been packing in the calories, you'd think they enjoy eating as never before. Oddly enough, finds a survey by the Pew Research Center, they don't. Asked how much they enjoy eating, 39 percent of adults responded "a great deal." That's down from the 48 percent who said the same in a 1989 Gallup poll.
In the current survey, men were slightly more likely than women (41 percent vs. 38 percent) to say they enjoy eating a great deal. Age was a salient factor, with 45 percent of the 18-29 cohort saying they greatly enjoy it, vs. 41 percent of the 30-49s, 37 percent of the 50-64s and 34 percent of those 65 and older. Though it's nice to think the common man savors his hot dog as much as the aristo enjoys his fois gras, the numbers say it's not so: 51 percent of those in the $100,000-plus income bracket said they greatly enjoy eating, vs. 35 percent of those making less than $30,000.
The downturn in enjoyment of eating has come in tandem with the increasing mania for dieting—an unsavory accompaniment for food if ever there was one. Indeed, the trend has been especially pronounced among people who term themselves overweight. In the 1989 poll, 56 percent of overweight respondents said they greatly enjoy eating; in the new Pew survey, 42 percent said they do. Still, even fewer of those who feel their weight is "about right" said they do—38 percent now, vs. 44 percent in 1989.
One probable factor in people's declining pleasure in food is their declining use of their own kitchens. Granted, good takeout food might be tastier than the meals most of us could make, but it lacks the satisfaction that comes from eating food you or a loved one cooked. There has not been a decrease in enjoyment of cooking, even if people are doing less of it. In 1989, 32 percent of adults said they enjoy cooking a great deal; this year, 34 percent said so. A modest drop among women (from 39 percent to 35 percent) was offset by a larger increase among men (from 25 percent to 32 percent).
The downward trend in enjoyment of food also has coincided with our national binge on junk food. Nineteen percent of respondents said they "often" eat more junk food than they should; 36 percent said they "sometimes" do so. The constituency for fast-food restaurants, meanwhile, isn't quite as avid as one might suppose. Asked how often in an average week they "eat a meal from a fast-food restaurant like McDonald's or Burger King," 33 percent of respondents said "never" and 25 percent said "less than weekly." Just 10 percent said they have a meal from a fast feeder more than twice in an average week.