If you are ethical or eco conscious, you may be interested in reducing the amount of land used to produce the foods you eat.
This guide gives a quick overview in how it might be possible to decrease the land footprint in the foods you eat, by identifying the foods that take more or less land to produce.
Summary – How To Decrease The Land Footprint With The Foods You Eat
When talking about hectares of land required per person, per year:
- Eliminate, Or Reduce – meats (mainly beef, pork and chicken), whole and refined grains, some dairy like cheese, highly processed or refined sugar type foods, foods with artificial sweeteners, fats like plant oils, dairy fats and animal fats
- Substitute With, Or Increase – vegetables, beans and lentils, rice, fruits, cow’s milk, nuts, tofu, eggs, and a more plant based diet (some of these foods may not have a low land footprint by themselves, but as part of a whole diet, they can contribute to a lower total land footprint)
You can read more about the proportions that different food groups are included in different diets that use more or less land at https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/
This is a very simplistic way of looking at it though, and mostly takes into account production, but not food waste (vegetables, fruits and highly perishable foods are actually wasted at a greater rate at the consumer level than meats for example).
When taking into account food waste, healthier diets centred around more plant based diets, actually waste less cropland than the “Western diet”, characterized by high intake of refined carbohydrates, added sugar, sodium, and animal products, and low intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
There are many other things to consider though in a food diet other than just the land footprint (the land footprint of the same food can differ depending on how you measure it, or depending on other variables)
Solely plant based diets are not perfect, do have their own drawbacks, and may not be healthy for some groups of people with certain nutritional requirements and health conditions
Something worth noting when it comes to land specifically is that vegetables, fruits and plant based food actually needs arable cropland to grow at a large scale. Livestock on the other hand can make use of far less fertile grazing and cropland (that vegetables, fruits and plant based foods can’t) which is in far greater availability. So, when talking about land – you need to consider the types of land too (and break them up into categories) – cropland vs grazing and pastureland.
* A Note About Your Diet & Health – Always see a suitably qualified food or health professional before changing your diet, or the foods you are currently eating. This is general information only on this page, and is not advice or a recommendation of any kind
Food Groups With Higher Land Footprints
- Animal meat (beef, pork and chicken) – animal feed takes up a lot of land in addition to the land the livestock live on
- Other animal based products
- Some dairy
- Generally anything animal meat, refined sugar or more highly processed
Food Groups With Lower Land Footprints
- Beans and lentils
- Generally anything plant based
Notes On Food Land Footprint Variables
The land footprint given for any particular food will vary depending on where/how the food has been produced, what data has been used, and the final unit of measurement.
It does depend on the farming method used (for example grain and grass fed beef can have different land requirements), where the food is produced (country, state/province and specific farm) etc.
It also depends on which indicator you are measuring the food land footprint by:
- As part of a whole type of diet (as current studies mainly do) e.g. meat based diet, ovo-lacto vegetarian, vegetarian, vegan etc.
- Per serving
- Per unit of weight (pounds, kilograms etc.)
- Per calorie or kilocalorie
- Per gram of protein
- Per gram of fat
- Per gram of carbohydrates
- and more
Different foods have different nutritional profiles, which is a different consideration altogether from food weight or serving amount.
You also have to consider food waste – and vegetables, fruits and healthier foods tend to have a higher food waste rate at the consumer level, but waste cropland at a lower rate.
Read More About Different Food Land Footprints
A Case Study On Decreasing Land Footprint Through Diet
You can read more here https://www.wri.org/blog/2016/04/how-i-tweaked-my-diet-cut-its-environmental-footprint-half
The writer notes that 85 percent of the GHG emissions and 90 percent of the agricultural land use associated with the average American diet come from animal meat and dairy, and about half of the emissions and land use are from beef alone.
The land required for this food and the greenhouse gas emissions produced (for an average American diet) is nearly twice as high as the world average.
Shifting from beef to chicken, and cutting meat, dairy, fish and egg consumption by half – will decrease your environmental impact of your diet by 15%, and almost 50% respectively.