Reports / Reports

Reset the Table: Meeting the Moment to Transform the U.S. Food System

America faces a hunger and nutrition crisis unlike any this country has seen in generations. Today 14 million children are missing meals on a regular basis – a statistic that’s five times worse than before the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s even worse for Latino and Black families, which have seen rates of nutrition insecurity spike to 25% and 30%, respectively.

In many ways, Covid-19 has boiled over long-simmering problems plaguing America’s food system. What began as a public health crisis fueled an economic crisis, leaving 33 percent of families unable to afford the amount or quality of food they want. School closures put 30 million students at risk of losing the meals they need to learn and thrive.

What Covid-19 has revealed

The images of the past few months have been both shocking and heartbreaking.

Families out of work and newly struggling with nutrition insecurity waiting in long car lines for a day’s or a week’s worth of food. School nutrition professionals—wearing whatever protective equipment they or their schools could provide—putting their own health at risk to meet the rising demand for food in their communities. Meat and poultry plant workers suffering disproportionate rates of Covid-19 infections while facing mandatory return-to-work orders. And farmers, with none of their usual buyers in a position to purchase, out of economic necessity dumping millions of gallons of milk, onions, beans, eggs, and more.

These images tell a powerful story of the economic and public health consequences of poor nutrition, with 94 percent of deaths from Covid-19 among individuals with an underlying condition, the majority of which are diet-related. They tell an equally powerful story of a food system struggling to respond to the disruptions wrought by Covid-19.

  • 40%

    of Americans are unable to access $400 even in times of emergency

  • 1/3of households

    with children couldn't afford to buy the amount or quality of food they wanted

  • 63% & 54%

    of Hispanic and Black workers, respectively, reported earning low wages even before Covid-19 struck

An Opportunity

While Covid-19 and the resulting economic downturn made the negative consequences of the food system worse and more obvious, the pandemic did not create them and its end will not solve them.

Fundamental change needed in the U.S. food system

Over the past few months, The Rockefeller Foundation gathered a diverse group of more than 100 experts – from farmers and food industry leaders to social justice, health, environmental, and nutrition security advocates. Together, we explored not just how to meet this moment, but also how to transform the U.S. food system over the long-term to more effectively promote healthy people and a healthy planet.

Working together, we have the opportunity and the obligation to transform the U.S. food system to make it more efficient, equitable, healthy, and resilient, both in good times and bad. Accomplishing this objective will require three significant shifts:


More integrated nutrition security system

Immediate actions we need to take:
1. Strengthen nutrition benefit programs to ensure children and families are fed.
2. Invest public and private funding in school food programs as anchors of community feeding.
3. Expand Food is Medicine.


Reinvigorated regional systems

Immediate actions we need to take:
1. Ensure relief and stimulus policies improve the resilience of supply chains and strengthen local systems.
2. Direct the purchasing power of large institutions along a values-based (equitable, ethical, sustainable) supply chain.


Equitable prosperity throughout the supply chain

Immediate actions we need to take:
1. OSHA must set and enforce mandatory guidelines to keep workers and the food supply safe.
2. Provide credit, loan servicing, and debt relief for farmers and ranchers.
3. Increase prosperity of farmers, ranchers, and fishers by more equitably distributing risk and profit.

Download and read the full paper for more insights on how we can achieve a food system that is more equitable, resilient, sustainable, and nourishing for all.