Food and Prosperity

Our consumption of food is closely related to our income. High-income households spend more on food than low-income ones, consuming higher-quality food. Lower-income households spend less on food, buying discounted brands and preparing more of it themselves. For example, in the United States, households in the lowest quintile spent $2,300 on food in 2009; while households in the highest quintile spent over $10,800.

In 2012, the lowest quintile of incomes spent nearly three-fourths of their income on food, while those at the highest level spent just one-sixth of their incomes on food. According to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this share decreased from 18 percent to 10 percent over 50 years. Increasingly, our food consumption is closely tied to our income, and it is a significant contributor to both poverty and prosperity.

In addition to the farmers and ranchers, food production involves a variety of jobs, including hired workers, family members, and residents of small towns. While some employees earn a living wage and can expect upward mobility, many do not. As a result, our food system contributes to nearly four percent of our gross domestic product and over one-half of our GDP. Our food system is the largest industry in the U.S., providing employment to over two million people and over one-third of the nation’s labor force.

Our food system meets most of these goals, but a significant proportion of the population experiences diet-related disease. This points to areas of improvement. Consumers’ decisions regarding the food they eat depend on multiple factors, such as what is available locally, who they live with, and their beliefs. The report describes the steps that are needed to transform the food system and achieve a healthy diet. And these steps must be taken in four key areas:

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