Our City’s Food System


The commercial economy provides most of the food we need through a complex system of meal providers and grocery stores backed up by a behind-the-scenes economy of food producers, processors and distributors. However, many people simply cannot meet their full food needs within the commercial economy, even with fulltime jobs. We all rely on what has become a permanent parallel system of government food subsidies, free food pantries and free meal sites to ensure that no one in our community goes entirely without food.  While the free and subsidized food system is essential, it is not sufficient to prevent serious impacts of chronic hunger and malnutrition, particularly to children, in our city.

851 – Commercial restaurants, cafeterias and food trucks in Providence.

258 – Commercial food markets in Providence.

78 – Food processors in Providence.

15 – Food distribution businesses in Providence.

29 – Farms in the city.

16 – Farmers markets in Providence.

22 – Congregate meal sites in the city providing no-cost or low-cost meals in a group setting for those in need.

35 – Providence-based food pantries providing free food to households.

27,712 – Providence residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

22,958 – Providence students enrolled for free or reduced-cost school lunches based on family income.

7,886 – Providence women and children at nutritional risk who were enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) in 2023. WIC participation has been shown to reduce infant mortality, and improve child health throughout childhood.

13,619 – Estimated number of Providence women and children eligible for WIC. The Federal government does not appropriate enough funds for all eligible housholds to participate.

118 – Meals on Wheels free meal home delivery participants in Providence.

15,108 – Tons of food wasted by Providence residents annually.

$710,000 – Annual municipal landfill fees for disposal of our residential food waste.

1 – Food waste recycling facility.

Sources: RI Food Policy Municipal Fact Sheet for Providence (data from 2021 and 2022).

WIC data from the 2024 Rhode Island KIDS Count  Factbook

Jonathan Howard is Co-founder of Cause & Effect, Inc., a consulting company that provides strategic planning facilitation, fund development planning and board strengthening to mission-driven organizations. He is a long- time resident of Providence.