Americans spent $1.1 trillion on food in 2019 – but the true cost of food is actually three times larger
07/21/2021 // Arsenio Toledo // Views

Americans spent more than $1.1 trillion on food in 2019. But the true cost of food is actually three times bigger.

The $1.1 trillion Americans spent on food includes the costs of producing, processing, selling and purchasing the food. This price tag was included in the Rockefeller Foundation's report titled "True Cost of Food: Measuring What Matters to Transform the U.S. Food System."

"Our food system rings up immense 'hidden costs' from its impact on human health, the environment and social and economic inequity," wrote the authors of the report.

According to the report, if Americans took into consideration a variety of "externalized costs," the total amount spent on food would increase by more than $2.1 trillion. This means Americans actually spent at least $3.2 trillion in food in 2019. Some of the externalized costs the Rockefeller Foundation took into account include health impacts, pollution, food insecurity, biodiversity, working conditions and livelihoods and even antimicrobial resistance driven by the widespread use of antibiotics in farming.

Listen to this Situation Update episode of the Health Ranger Report, a podcast by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, as he talks about how the drought being experienced by Western North America is contributing to the inevitable collapse of the food supply.

Americans pay externalized costs of food through other ways

According to the Rockefeller Foundation's report, the "hidden costs" Americans pay for their food are not seen in the receipts.

"And, if we don't change our food system, future generations will pay high costs, too," wrote the foundation.


The largest externalized cost is healthcare. Americans spent more than $1 trillion each year on healthcare costs. Roughly $604 billion of this additional spending can be attributed to food- and diet-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cancer. After considering direct medical costs attributable to diet and productivity loss, obesity alone resulted in another $359 billion in additional externalized costs for healthcare. Modern farming and ranching, which leads to air and soil pollution and soil degradation accounted for around $350 billion in externalized costs. Issues related to depleting biodiversity cost Americans an additional $455 billion.

Americans add another $134 billion to the true cost of food due to unaccounted livelihood costs. This includes people working in jobs with "unlivable" wages and inadequate benefits, including health insurance and childcare. Occupational hazards among food workers are also considered in this regard.

"Don't think we're getting a good deal here," said the organization in a video it posted on its social media accounts that advertised the report. "We're actually getting squeezed. Society pays that balance not out of our pockets but through other means." (Related: Supermarkets stocking up on food in anticipation of supply chain disruptions, price inflation.)

Minority communities suffer more under unsustainable food system

The Rockefeller Foundation pointed out that "communities of color" bore a "disproportionate burden" of the externalized costs. According to the report, rates of diabetes when compared to White Americans are 1.7 times higher for Hispanic communities and 1.5 times higher among African American communities.

African American communities are significantly harder hit. Black Americans are 25 percent more exposed to pollution than the national average, and were 41 percent more exposed to pollution than White communities. Furthermore, Native American communities were found to be 19 times more likely to have reduced access to water and sanitation than White Americans.

"This report is a wake-up call," said Rockefeller Foundation President Rajiv J. Shah. "The U.S. food system as it stands is adversely affecting our environment, our health and our society."

"To fix a problem, we need to first understand its extent. The data in this report reveals not only the negative impacts of the American food system, but also what steps we can take to make it more equitable, resilient and nourishing."

Learn more about the different vulnerabilities of the United States' food systems by reading the latest articles at

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