Add a little meat and dairy, say researchers.
The discussion of "foodprints" that we chronicled in the "Ask Natural Life" column in September/October 2007 has been given a new spin. Researchers at Cornell University recently agreed with the earlier research that we presented, which found that a low-fat vegetarian diet is very efficient in terms of how much land is needed to support it. But, the researchers say, adding some dairy products and a limited amount of meat may actually increase this efficiency.
Their study concluded that if everyone in New York state followed a low-fat vegetarian diet, the state could directly support almost 50 percent more people, or about 32 percent of its population, agriculturally. It is currently only able to support 22 percent of its population who eat a high-meat, high-dairy diet.
The study, published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems, is the first to examine the land requirements of complete diets. The researchers compared 42 diets with the same number of calories and a core of grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products (using only foods that can be produced in New York state), but with varying amounts of meat (from none to 13.4 ounces daily) and fat (from 20 to 45 percent of calories) to determine each diet's "agricultural land footprint."
They found that a person following a low-fat vegetarian diet will need less than half (0.44) an acre per person per year to produce their food. A high-fat diet with a lot of meat, on the other hand, needs 2.11 acres.
The reason a vegetarian diet is not necessarily the most efficient in terms of land use is that fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown on high-quality cropland. Meat and dairy products are supported by lower quality, but more widely available, land that can support pasture and hay. And in New York state, there is a lot of that sort of farmland. So while meat increases land-use requirements, diets including small amounts of meat can feed more people than some higher fat vegetarian diets.
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|Title Annotation:||Health Roundup: What's new and interesting about food and wellness; diet and agricultural land footprint|
|Article Type:||Brief article|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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