New Data Shows Cost of Food in Massachusetts Highest in United States

Map the Meal Gap

Media contact:
Catherine Drennan

BOSTON – May 1, 2019 – Massachusetts is the most expensive state in the country in terms of the cost of a meal, according to new data released by Feeding America and the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB)—the largest hunger-relief organization in New England. Additionally, residents of Eastern Massachusetts, GBFB’s service area, have the highest food costs in the state.

While the number of food-insecure individuals in Eastern Massachusetts is relatively unchanged from last year’s report, the cost of a meal and the food budget shortfall (the amount of money per week food-insecure households require to meet their food needs) both increased from last year and are several times higher than the national average.

“One in 11 people in Eastern Massachusetts is food insecure, which means they don’t consistently know where their next meal is coming from. One in 9 is a child,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of GBFB. “As it becomes harder for food-insecure families to afford healthy food, it is imperative we continue increasing our distribution of fresh, nutritious food like protein, produce and dairy—the foods often too expensive for these individuals, yet the foods they need to stay healthy.”

“Map the Meal Gap 2019,” the latest report by Feeding America® on food insecurity and the cost of food in the United States at the county and congressional district level, reveals that food insecurity exists in every county in the country, including all nine counties in GBFB’s service area, Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Middlesex, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk.

Three counties in GBFB’s service area, (Barnstable, Middlesex, and Suffolk), are among the top 50 counties in the United States in terms of cost of food. Massachusetts was the fourth-most expensive state in terms of cost of food in last year’s report, becoming the most expensive state this year.

Feeding America created this interactive dashboard of food insecurity and demographic data for Suffolk County, which is in the top 10 percent of counties in the US for the number of food insecure people (107,030).

In Eastern Massachusetts, food insecurity rates range from 7.2 percent in Essex County to 13.7 percent in Suffolk County. Food insecurity is a measure defined by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

The average across Eastern Massachusetts is 8.7 percent (about 450,000 or 1 in 11 people) down from 9.1 percent since last year’s report. Statewide, the food insecurity rate is 9.0 percent, estimated at 616,000 people or 1 in 11, down from 9.6 percent and 1 in 10. In the US, about 1 in 8 people (or about 12.5 percent) is food insecure, totaling about 40 million.

Children remain at a higher risk of food insecurity than the overall population, although it has slightly improved over last year. In Eastern Massachusetts,1 in 9 children is food insecure; in Massachusetts 1 in 9; and nationally, 1 in 6.

The study, which analyzed data from 2017, finds food-insecure individuals in Eastern Massachusetts now face an average weekly food budget shortfall of $21.12 per person, up 2.9 percent from $20.53 reported in last year’s report and 24.3 percent higher than the nationwide average.

“One in 11 Massachusetts residents not only don’t know where their next meal is coming from but can’t even afford to buy as much food as they could last year,” D’Amato said. “The situation has gotten worse for those struggling with hunger in the Commonwealth. A family of four is short more than $80 a week. That is insurmountable for many hard-working, low-income people scrambling to also meet the high cost of housing, health care, utilities, transportation and other basic needs in our state.”

GBFB released a report last year that found the healthcare-related costs of hunger are $2.4 billion in Massachusetts, which is just another expense tied to not being able to meet basic needs in this area.

Map the Meal Gap 2019 Key local findings:

  • In Massachusetts, food costs nearly 18 percent more than the national average: cost per meal in Massachusetts is $3.55
  • In Eastern Massachusetts, food costs 24 percent more than the national average: cost per meal in Eastern Massachusetts is $3.75; the sixth highest service area in the Feeding America network.
  • Seven of the nine counties in Eastern Massachusetts are amongst the 100 counties with the highest food costs (Barnstable, Middlesex, Suffolk in the top 50, plus Plymouth, Norfolk, Dukes, and Essex)

Eastern Massachusetts County by County findings:

County Food Insecurity
Weekly Budget
cost per meal
Meal Gap
Barnstable 7.9% $23.76 $4.22 2,885,700
Bristol 10.1% $19.46 $3.46 9,604,200
Dukes 9.0% $21.01 $3.74 264,500
Essex 7.2% $20.99 $3.73 9,491,600
Middlesex 7.5% $22.28 $3.96 20,256,200
Nantucket 8.9% $20.79 $3.70 165,500
Norfolk 7.2% $21.31 $3.79 8,564,900
Plymouth 8.1% $21.49 $3.82 7,025,700
Suffolk 13.7% $23.55 $4.19 18,264,700
Eastern MA 8.7% $21.12 $3.75 76,522,900


The Greater Boston Food bank (GBFB) is one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network. GBFB distributes more than 51 million healthy meals annually through its more than 500 member agencies—food pantries, meal programs, and shelters—across Eastern Massachusetts, serving more than 140,000 people a month.

 “Map the Meal Gap 2019” uses data from the USDA, US Census Bureau, US Bureau of Labor Statistics and food price data and analysis provided by Nielsen (NYSE: NLSN), a global provider of information and insights. The study is supported by founding sponsor The Howard G. Buffett Foundation, Conagra Brands Foundation and Nielsen.

Dr. Craig Gundersen, professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois, executive director of the National Soybean Research Laboratory and a member of Feeding America’s Technical Advisory Group is the lead researcher of “Map the Meal Gap 2019.”

A summary of the findings, an interactive map of the United States, and the full report are available at Join the conversation about “Map the Meal Gap 2019” on Twitter using #MealGap.

About The Greater Boston Food Bank
The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and among the largest food banks in the country. GBFB provides the equivalent of over 51 million healthy meals annually distributed through its network of more than 500 partner agencies in the 190 cities and towns across Eastern Massachusetts. GBFB operates four direct service programs at nearly 70 sites throughout the area. A member of Feeding America, the nation’s food bank network, GBFB serves more than 140,000 people every month in its mission to create a hunger-free Eastern Massachusetts. For more information, visit us at, follow us on Facebook, Twitter (@gr8bosfoodbank) and Instagram, or call us at 617.427.5200.

About Feeding America

Feeding America® is the largest hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs, we provide meals to more than 46 million people each year. Feeding America also supports programs that prevent food waste and improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates  for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Visit, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

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