High food costs make life even harder for the hungry

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Kristin Foley

Increasing food costs make life even harder for the hungry of Eastern Massachusetts
Number of people struggling with hunger shows no significant improvement

BOSTON – May 4, 2017 – Not only has the number of people struggling with hunger in Eastern Massachusetts not significantly improved, it has become even less affordable for them to feed themselves and their families, according to data released today by The Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB), the largest hunger-relief organization in New England.

“Map the Meal Gap 2017,” the latest report by Feeding America® on food insecurity and the cost of food in the U.S. at both the county and congressional district level, finds food-insecure individuals in Eastern Massachusetts now face an average weekly food budget shortfall of $19.97 per person, up 3.8 percent from $19.23 reported in last year’s report and 15 percent higher than the nationwide average.

Statewide, the weekly food budget shortfall is $19.21 per food-insecure person, up 4.1 percent from $18.45. In contrast, the weekly food budget shortfall for food-insecure individuals in the U.S. is $17.38, up 3.2 percent. Massachusetts ranks fifth highest in the country for weekly food budget shortfall and average meal cost, after the District of Columbia, Alaska, Vermont and Maine.

In addition, the study, which analyzed data from 2015, reveals that food insecurity exists in every county in GBFB’s service area, which includes Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Middlesex, Nantucket, Norfolk, Plymouth and Suffolk. Overall, food insecurity rates range from 8.1 percent in Essex County to 14.9 percent in Suffolk County. The average across Eastern Massachusetts is 9.9 percent—about 500,000 people—down from 10.4 percent since last year’s report. Statewide, the food insecurity rate is 10.3 percent—estimated at 700,000 people and down from 11.1 percent. In the U.S., 13.4 percent, or about 1 in 8 people, is food insecure, totaling about 42 million.

Food insecurity is a measure defined by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as lack of access, at times, to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.

“One in ten 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,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank. “The situation has gotten worse, not better for them in the Commonwealth. A family of four is short about eighty dollars a week. That’s an unsurmountable amount 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.”

In Eastern Massachusetts, an estimated 34 percent of individuals who live in food-insecure households may earn too much to qualify for most federal nutrition assistance programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and free and reduced school breakfast and lunch programs, according to the study. Statewide, the figure is slightly lower at 33 percent. Nationally, 26 percent are likely ineligible.

“In Massachusetts, one third of folks struggling with hunger are ineligible for government programs, as compared to a quarter nationwide,” D’Amato said. “And even those who do receive government assistance regularly run out of benefits before the end of the month. In both situations, the emergency food-relief assistance becomes the only alternative for these families.”

Children remain at higher risk of food insecurity than the overall population. In Eastern Massachusetts,1 in 8 children is food insecure; in Massachusetts 1 in 7; and nationally, 1 in 6.

Other key local findings:
  • The average cost per meal in Eastern Massachusetts is $3.38 (up from $3.30); in Massachusetts, $3.25 (up from $3.17); nationally, $2.94 (up from $2.89).
  • The Meal Gap (the annual household budget shortfall converted into meals) is 90,333,000 in Eastern Massachusetts; in Massachusetts, 125,814,500; and in the U.S. 7.6 billion.
Eastern Massachusetts County by County findings:
County Food insecurity rate Weekly budget shortfall Avg cost per meal Meal gap
Barnstable 9.4% $22.65 $3.83 3,600,700
Bristol 11.5% $18.77 $3.18 11,401,000
Dukes 10.7% $20.35 $3.44 326,400
Essex 8.1% $19.77 $3.34 11,098,000
Middlesex 8.7% $20.66 $3.49 24,383,600
Nantucket 9.9% $20.01 $3.38 186,500
Norfolk 8.6% $19.91 $3.37 10,577,900
Plymouth 9.4% $21.04 $3.56 8,456,600
Suffolk 14.9% $21.07 $3.56 20,302,300
Eastern MA 9.9% $19.97 $3.38 90,333,00


The Greater Boston Food bank (GBFB) is one of 200 food banks in the Feeding America network. GBFB distributes more than 48 million meals annually through its 530 member agencies—food pantries, meal programs, and shelters—across Eastern Massachusetts, serving more than 140,000 people a month.

“Map the Meal Gap 2017” uses data from the USDA, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. 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 2017.”

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 2017” 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 more than 48 million healthy meals annually distributed through its network of 530 member 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, become a fan on Facebook, follow us on Twitter (@gr8bosfoodbank), or call us at 617.427.5200.

About Feeding America

Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States. Together, we provide food to more than 46 million people through food pantries and meal programs in communities throughout America. Feeding America also supports programs that 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. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate. Together we can solve hunger. Visit Find us on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at

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