This may shock and surprise you: Compared to most other countries, the United States spends very little on food.

According to a study done by the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the average American spends 6.6 percent of his or her household budget on food consumed at home. If you factor in the costs of eating out, this number rises to 11 percent.

Naturally, the response to this is that it’s simply not possible. How can America—the land of plenty, a country that the majority of the planet’s fast-food conglomerates call home—be the country where people shell out the least cash money for their food?

Looking at the map below, you can easily see that there is a distinct variation among the expenditures of different countries. Even if you do factor in the expenses of eating out, Americans still spend a lower percentage of their income on all types of eating than almost every other country does on food consumed at home.

There are some fascinating facts behind this seeming imbalance. Firstly, it is practically an established truth that richer countries spend a smaller fraction of their income on food. 

A good way to explain this is that as countries get richer, they would eventually be spending more of their money on other things, like entertainment or leisure. However, this pattern fluctuates, and is dependent on elements like countries’ specific food prices and people’s food preferences. A notable example of how this rule doesn’t hold is that India, which is much poorer than Russia, spends a smaller portion (25.2 percent, vs. Russia’s 31.6 percent) of its household budget on food.

What’s more, Americans spend much less than Europeans do on food. And much less than Canadians and Australians, for that matter. The USDA notes,

“The average American spends $2,273 per year on food consumed at home. The average German spends $2,481 per year. The average French person spends $3,037 per year. The average Norwegian spends a whopping $4,485 per year on food.”

One of the simple reasons for this is that Americans are richer. But other more intrinsic factors come into play, such as the differing tax systems, food prices, and dining out habits. Obviously, food in the US is also significantly cheaper. Over the years, the prices of meat and poultry, fats and oils, and sweets have been pushed down, due to (but not limited to) influences such as farm subsidies and advancements in industrial agriculture.

Another interesting insight: High spending on food seems to be linked to malnutrition. According to this 2008 map below from Washington State University, poorer countries that dedicate a larger share of their income on food also have higher malnutrition rates. This happens most likely because price hikes caused by droughts and crop failures affect those poorer countries more than it does anyone else in the world.
food_expenditures_and_malnutrition[via Vox]