True cost of food: Measuring what matters to transform the U.S. food system

The Rockefeller Foundation
Resource type:
Reports and discussion papers

In this report by the Rockefeller Foundation, the true cost of the U.S. food system is analysed and calculated. Generally, the cost of a food system is thought to be the monetary value attributed to expenditures along the entire food supply chain. In 2019, the estimated cost of the U.S. food system was 1.1 trillion dollars. This estimate includes the cost of producing, processing, retailing, and wholesaling the food we buy and eat. What this estimate does not include is the cost of the negative downstream effects from a currently fractured, unsustainable food system. The Rockefeller Foundation calculates that the actual cost of the U.S. food system is 3.2 trillion dollars - nearly triple the 2019 estimate. This 3.2 trillion dollar figure includes the cost of health care for the millions who fall ill with diet-related diseases, present and future costs related to the food system's contributions to water and air pollution, reduced biodiversity, or greenhouse gas emissions. By viewing the cost of food systems holistically, including immediate and delayed impacts, a more real and relevant cost is revealed. 

This the first U.S.-wide set of metrics that can help measure the cost of 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.

This resource presents evidence or data but has not been peer reviewed