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Our Super Expensive Cheap Food System is Killing Us and Costing Us $Trillions. What Can We Do?

Chrys Ostrander

Graphic of the food systemFrom POLITICO Weekly Ag newsletter:

OUR SUPER EXPENSIVE CHEAP FOOD SYSTEM: Critics of the American food system have long argued that our extremely efficient and affordable food supply doesn’t account for all the hidden costs to public health, the environment and vulnerable low-wage workers.

Now they have a new estimate for just how expensive the system may be: $3.2 trillion.

That calculation, released Friday by the Rockefeller Foundation, is about triple the size of the $1.1 trillion food system. The “true cost” accounts for a long list of hidden costs, like diet-related diseases, lost biodiversity and contributions to climate change.

Massive public health costs: The toll on human health is by far the biggest unaccounted cost to the food system, according to the report. At $1.1 trillion, diet related diseases alone double the “true cost” of the food system —“our national ‘bill’ for the diet-related disease is equal to all the money we currently pay for the food itself,” per an executive summary.

Costly to the environment: The unaccounted environmental costs add up to almost $900 billion per year, the report says. These costs are driven mostly by greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity costs.

“This report is a wake-up call,” Rajiv Shah, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said in a statement. “To fix a problem, we need to first understand its extent.”

Read the Report

What Can We in the Inland Northwest Do About This?

In order to make inroads on this agricultural catastrophe, it's going to take a nationwide grassroots effort. We must counter the dollars that agribusiness pours into the coffers of lobbyists with loud voices from millions of regular people. It's our food system, not the corporations'. We need to build a movement by working at the federal, state and local level. We need to devise, advocate for and implement policies that pull the plug on industrial agriculture. We do this by revitalizing regional and local food systems, breaking up ag conglomerates and monopolies, improving the pay and working conditions of farmworkers, rewriting the rules around agricultural land ownership, farmland preservation, land use and farm subsidies and redirecting research and development funding away from soil-depleting, chemical-dependent agriculture towards re-inventing a regenerative agriculture that will feed us far into the future without jeopardizing that very future.

At the federal level, we need to build support to pass bills like these:

H.R.1258/S.370 - Strengthening Local Processing Act of 2021

H.R. 2803/S.1337 - Agriculture Resilience Act

H.R. 2534/S. 1072: Climate Stewardship Act of 2021

S. 2332 - A bill to place a moratorium on large concentrated animal feeding operations, to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act, 1921, to require country of origin labeling on beef, pork, and dairy products, and for other purposes.

H.R.4356 - Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2022

At the state level, we need to support bills like these:

HB 1094 - 2021-2023 fiscal biennium operating appropriations (includes $100,000 of the general fund for the Sustainable Farms and Fields Program created in RCW 89.08.615 AND $23,000 of the general fund—state appropriation for fiscal year 2022 and $4,000 of the general fund—state appropriation for fiscal year 2023 to implement SB 5253 - Implementing the recommendations of the pollinator health task force)

SB 5045 - Establishing a state meat and poultry inspection program (creates the Meat and Poultry Processing and Marketing Assistance Program)

HB 1117 - Promoting salmon recovery through revisions to the state's comprehensive planning framework.

HB 1099 - Improving the state's climate response through updates to the state's comprehensive planning framework.

At the local level:

1. Please fill out this survey ( and demonstrate your support for the Draft Sustainability Action Plan that has been authored by the Sustainability Action Subcommittee of the Spokane City Council. Among a wide assortment of crucial recommendations, for the first time, recommendations to enhance regional food security are prominently included in the draft. Your support will help with the effort to have the draft plan adopted by the City - which is not a sure thing given the conservative nature of the City administration. Here is a summary of food and farm related recommendations from the draft plan:

Household Food Security
According to the USDA, food insecurity means that the “consistent access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.” In Spokane, it is estimated that 1 in 5 children live in food insecure households. Food security for a household in Spokane is dependent on two things: the existence of a secure and robust supply network that produces food and brings it to market; and the economic ability of a household to access it. This plan addresses both elements of food security with specific strategies in different planning sectors. The COVID-19 crisis demonstrated the vulnerability of global and national food networks to disruption. Despite our location within a large agricultural region, Spokane has grown overly dependent on these external networks for food. This Sustainability Action Plan addresses Spokane’s ability to ensure household food security for all residents.

Under HW Strategy 1, Spokane will strengthen our local food supply network to decrease dependency on global networks.

Actions TL 8.4 & WR 4.5 are designed to preserve local farmlands from development. 

Action EP 1.3 will improve the viability of local businesses, including those involved in food production and processing. About 18% of Spokane residents fall below the federal poverty level. This directly impacts the ability of many households to purchase food. 

EP Strategies 3.1 through 3.5 will, over time, improve the economic well-being of working-class households and reduce unemployment. 

Strategies EP 2.2 and WD 2.1 will address hunger in the short-term, by supporting programs which divert excess food from commercial and institutional kitchens to those in need.

2. Support the work of the Spokane Food Policy Council ( The SFPC is an independent board made up of individuals and organizations with a mission to advance policies and initiatives that foster a resilient food system in the Spokane area; one that is healthy and equitable for its citizens, economy and environment. Responding to a request by the Spokane City Council, the SFPC is currently drafting a Regional Food System Action Plan that will include numerous recommendations to guide Spokane's food and farming future in a sustainable direction in the areas of farmland preservation, local food processing, food security through healthy food for all and the reduction of food waste.

You may donate to the Spokane Food Policy Council and support its work here:

3. Get involved in the City and County planning process, including advocating for improvements to the City and County Comprehensive Plans, and help shape policies that preserve farmland while improving the ability for farmers to pursue viable farming operations in our region. Information is available from the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group:
You may donate to the Spokane Farmland Preservation Working Group here:

4. Allocate pandemic recovery funds to building a resilient and regenerative regional food system. The City of Spokane has received over $80 million in recovery funds as part of the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The Spokane City Council has established a Recovery Plan Work Group, including Council and Administration representation, that will develop implementation proposals and identify partnerships with City Departments, other government entities, and nonprofit organizations for the effective delivery of funds to the community in alignment with the requirements of the (ARPA). Community feedback will help guide the City's decisions and move us in the direction of economic empowerment and recovery for Spokane.

Make sure the City hears from you that major investments in our local and regional food system are near the top of your list of priorities for how to spend this money. Go here to provide your input:

Spokane County is receiving an additional $100 million from ARPA. Make sure the County also hears from you that major investments in our local and regional food system are near the top of your list of priorities for how to spend this money. Contact your County Commissioners:

Spokane County Commissioners:

Josh Kerns
County Commissioner, District 1

Mary Kuney
County Commissioner, District 2

Al French
County Commissioner, District 3

Watch the Inland FoodWise Online Journal for further info on this important once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fund our food system with ARPA dollars.

5. Very important: Support your local food producers by buying their products!

Find a farmers' market near you. The Inland Northwest Farmers Market Association is a nonprofit coalition of 12 farmers markets serving the Inland Northwest.

Use the Washington Food and Farm Finder to locate farmers near you to buy from:

6. Learn about the issues affecting your regional food system by reading and subscribing to the Inland FoodWise Online Journal which is dedicated to
reporting on issues related to building a regenerative local food system.
You may donate to the Inland FoodWise Online Journal here (these donations are not tax-deductible and come to me, Chrys Ostrander, publisher):

GET ACTIVE! It's your food system. Take back control. Roll up your sleeves and get your friends and neighbors active too.


July, 2021