The term “foodprint” has become somewhat of a buzzword in recent years, resulting in a wide variety of definitions. However, consensus among definitions seems to include that a foodprint is a component of an individual’s ecological footprint, including all the resources required to support a healthy diet for one person over the course of one year. In addition, foodprints are often discussed synonymously with an individual’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and subsequent climate change.
One highly important resource that contributes to a person’s foodprint is the land required to support a healthy diet, which varies given a number of factors. The model developed in “Testing a complete-diet model for estimating the land resource requirements of food consumption and agricultural carrying capacity: The New York state example” (NYS study) serves as an example of a methodology to determine how diets differ in their land use.
GENERALLY, HOW DO DIETS DIFFER IN THEIR LAND USE?
Strictly vegan diets made up primarily of fruits, grains and vegetables require high-quality land, whereas the land required to support meat- and dairy-producing animals can be much more lower in quality.
WHAT METHODOLOGY WAS USED IN THE NEW YORK STATE STUDY TO ARRIVE AT THESE FINDINGS?
Researchers in the NYS study developed and analyzed 42 diets, all of which were based on 2,300 calories per day and consisted of products grown and sourced within the boundaries of New York state. The constant variables within each of these diets included equal amounts of grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. The variables analyzed included varying amounts of meat and the amount of energy supplied by fats.
WHAT RESULTS DID THE NEW YORK STATE STUDY YIELD REGARDING THE MOST EFFICIENT DIET GIVEN ITS LAND BASE?
The study found that a strictly vegetarian diet required less than a half an acre to provide the food needs for one person for one year, whereas a diet low in fat and high in meat required more than two acres. However, New York state is composed of a higher degree of lands suitable for the production of perennial forage crops, or crops that grown back annually, than lands required to support crops that must be replanted annually. Therefore, the most efficient diet (defined in terms of the amount of people who can be fed) given the land base in New York state consists of modest meat intake. Specifically, the study suggested that meat and egg consumption by New Yorkers should be reduced to two cooked ounces per day. This amount is a significant decrease from six ounces, which is the estimated daily meat consumption by the average American.
In cases in which the available land is all high-quality, the resulting land use could favor a strictly vegan/vegetarian diet, as opposed to a diet high in meat, land suitable to support forage crops is not as prevalent.