Mapping U.S. Food System Localization Potential: The Impact of Diet on Foodsheds
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In the long term, food systems must heed natural resource limits. Localized production and dietary changes are often suggested as potential solutions. However, no U.S. analyses fully evaluate the feasibility to scale localization across a range of diets. We therefore modeled the biophysical capacity for regional food systems based on agricultural land area and productivity, population, and 7 diet scenarios ranging in meat-intensity, from current consumption to vegan. We estimated foodshed size, colloquially known as "food miles" for 378 U.S. metropolitan centers, in a hypothetical nationwide closed system that prioritizes localized food. We found that foodshed size (weighted average distance traveled) for three land types ranged from 351-428 km (cultivated cropland), 80-492 km (perennial forage cropland), and 117-799 km (grazing land). Localized potential varies regionally: foodsheds are generally larger in the populous Northeast, Southeast, and Southwest than in the Northwest and the center of the country. However, depending on consumption of animal-based foods, a sizable proportion of the population could meet its food needs within 250km: from 35%-53% (cultivated cropland), 39%-94% (perennial forage cropland, 100% for vegan), and 26%-88% (grazing land, 100% for ovolacto-vegetarian and vegan). All seven scenarios leave some land unused. This reserve capacity might be used to supply food to the global market, grow bioenergy crops, or for conservation.
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