Food systems can curb cities’ environmental impacts

A new study has analyzed the greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use of food systems in the United States and India. Its findings help identify which urban policies can support environmental mitigation.

Researchers at Princeton University have created a framework to understand and compare cities’ food systems and their effects on climate change, water use and land use. The research will allow planners to estimate the impact of a city’s food system and evaluate policy actions.

“Our approach reveals differences between urban food systems both within and across countries,” said co-author Anu Ramaswami in a statement. “Despite these differences, we now have a common methodology to identify which policies would result in what levels of environmental mitigation.”

The study analyzed the greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use of food systems for two metropolitan areas in India, Delhi and Pondicherry; and two in the United States, New York and Minneapolis.

In the United States, the study showed that changing residents’ diets by replacing all meat consumption with lentils and legumes could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 34 per cent. In India, rice is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and land use, and switching from rice to wheat could decrease both Delhi’s and Pondicherry’s food footprint.

Improving food waste management could have benefits in all four cities, although the most useful ways to reduce waste differed based on the nature of waste accumulation. However, increasing urban agriculture, whether through conventional farming or vertical farming techniques, would have negligible environmental impacts, according to the statement.

“Our research gives us a method to inform the environmental aspects of urban food system actions, but the food system is very multifaceted,” said co-author Dana Boyer. “There’s cultural aspects, there’s health aspects, equity considerations. So, this is one tool that we can pair with other tools to inform a holistic food action plan.”

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

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