Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Nutrition Science and Dietetics


Jennifer L. Wilkins

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health Sciences


Objective: The objective of this study was to explore the potential impacts of a sustainability constraint on monthly cost, composition and availability of the USDA Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) market basket.

Methods: A sustainability constraint was specified to include a sustainable eating pattern, organic certification, seasonality, regionally or locally produced foods. Three levels of natural resource costs were considered. A store food list of 68 foods (119 items reflecting different food forms) produced in the Northeast region was generated reflecting the TFP. Price and availability data for conventional and organic varieties were recorded at four distinct food retail store types: supercenters, full-service supermarkets and small independent and discount grocery stores. Seasonal and local produce price information was collected at a farmers’ market. Food price data were collected and recorded at three time points in five different retail food stores and one time point at the farmers’ market in one metropolitan low-income area of Upstate New York.

Analysis: Food price differences were determined between conventional and organic varieties available at five retail food stores. Additional price comparisons were made with local, seasonal produce options available at a regional market. Availability of items found in the sustainable TFP market basket was measured based on the absence or presence at the data points in the five retail food stores. A Tufts University Excel-based TFP calculator was used to adjust the TFP food categories to reflect the sustainable eating pattern and determine cost.

Results: In total, 67 conventional foods (117 items) and 52 organic foods (78 items) were available from the 68-food (119-item) store food list. Availability of organic foods (and items) among the five retail food stores was inconsistent. Data suggest an average 70% premium exists for organic foods. An average discount of 21% was found at a farmers’ market for seasonal produce. The total TFP monthly cost increased by 96%, 93% and 84% under a low, moderate and high sustainable pattern.

Conclusion: The cost of a sustainable TFP substantially exceeded the cost constraint of the TFP. Much of this increase can be attributed to inclusion of certified organic foods. Sustainable eating patterns, seasonality and regional and local foods account for a much smaller proportion of the cost difference. In addition, only a small portion of retail food stores may offer a sufficient variety of organic options as part of a healthy and sustainable diet. This suggests that the sustainable TFP with this sustainability constraint would be challenging for the TFP population in terms of access to sufficient organic food variety and cost.


Open Access



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