Report

True Cost of Food: Measuring What Matters to Transform the U.S. Food System

This report outlines the true cost of food, which includes the impacts on our health, the environment, biodiversity, livelihoods, and much more. With this new analysis, governments, advocates, corporations, and individuals are better equipped to catalyze the change needed to develop a truly nourishing, equitable, and sustainable food system in the United States.

The True Cost of Food in the U.S.

In the U.S., food costs more than our receipt at the grocery checkout. Our food system rings up immense “hidden costs” from its impact on human health, the environment, and social and economic inequity.

Consider this: In 2019, American consumers spent an estimated $1.1 trillion on food. That price tag includes the cost of producing, processing, retailing, and wholesaling the food we buy and eat. It does not include the cost of healthcare for the millions who fall ill with diet-related diseases. Nor does $1.1 trillion include the present and future costs of the food system’s contributions to water and air pollution, reduced biodiversity, or greenhouse gas emissions, which cause climate change.  Take those costs into account and it becomes clear the true cost of the U.S. food system is at least three times as big—$3.2 trillion per year.

BY THE NUMBERS

The way Americans eat and produce food costs nearly $2 trillion in health and environmental expenditures alone—and that cost disproportionately burdens communities of color.

Americans pay that cost even if consumers don’t see it at check-out, and, if we don’t change our food system, future generations will, too. What’s more, these hidden costs disproportionately burden communities of color, who face higher rates of diet-related diseases, have reduced access to water and sanitation, and often lack livable wages as producers and workers in the food system.

  • 1.7x higher

    the rates of diagnosed diabetes in Latinx Americans than White Americans

  • 1.5x higher

    the rates of diagnosed diabetes in Black Americans than White Americans

  • 19x more likely

    that Indigenous Americans to have reduced water/sanitation access than White Americans

 
  • 25% higher

    rate of air pollution exposure for Black Americans compared to the national average

  • 41% higher

    rate of air pollution exposure for Black Americans compared to White Americans

  • $2.3USD billion

    in settlement for class action lawsuits in 1997 and 2010 filed on behalf of Black farmers for discriminatory practices in the USDA agricultural loan program, as evidence of subsidies historically benefitting White farmers more than farmers of color

 

In this report, The Rockefeller Foundation outlines the true cost of food, which includes the impacts on our health, the environment, biodiversity, livelihoods, and much more. Following our July 2020 “Reset the Table” report, we spent the past year working with experts and advocates across the field to measure impact of the U.S. food system. The result is the first U.S.-wide set of metrics that can help us measure the cost of our food more accurately. With this new analysis, governments, advocates, food producers, and individuals are better equipped to transform our food system to be more nourishing, regenerative, and equitable for all.

  • Report

    True Cost of Food: Measuring What Matters to Transform the U.S. Food System

    The American food system costs more than what we pay at the store. Considering the impacts on health, the environment, and society, the hidden costs add up, and communities of color are disproportionately paying the price. Measuring the true cost of food will help us make better decisions to transform the U.S. food system.
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The American food system costs more than what we pay at the store. Considering the impacts on health, the environment, and society, the hidden costs add up, and communities of color are disproportionately paying the price. Measuring the true cost of food will help us make better decisions to transform the U.S. food system.
Resource

Analytical Model

This analytical model contains the key calculations, data sources, and assumptions that we used to account for the human health, environmental, societal, and economic impacts of the food system. We believe it represents a critical, but limited, first step in completing a full true cost accounting of food in the U.S. There is much more work to do and we invite all interested partners to continue building, improving, and expanding the model we made available here.

Download the model  
Resource

Interventions Library

To more quickly and effectively transform the food system, it is imperative that we find ways to integrate a true cost framework into decision-making and interventions across sectors. A compilation of recommendations from the experts we spoke to, this searchable database of interventions contains a wide array of meaningful ways to reduce the true cost of food and optimize benefits.

Download the Library  

Questions about the report and the resources?

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  • Understanding the true costs and benefits is critical for informed decision-making to make the U.S. food system more equitable, resilient, and nourishing for all.
    Dr. Rajiv J. Shah
    President, The Rockefeller Foundation
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