Comparing urban food system characteristics and actions in US and Indian cities from a multi‐environmental impact perspective

  • January 2020
  • Peer-Reviewed Articles
  • Multiple

Boyer, D. & A. Ramaswami. (2020). Comparing urban food system characteristics and actions in US and Indian cities from a multi‐environmental impact perspective: Toward a streamlined approach. Journal of Industrial Ecology.

ABSTRACT: Food action plans in many global cities articulate interest in multiple objectives including reducing in‐ and trans‐boundary environmental impacts (water, land, greenhouse gas (GHG)). However, there exist few standardized analytical tools to compare food system characteristics and actions across cities and countries to assess trade‐offs between multiple objectives (i.e., health, equity) with environmental outcomes. This paper demonstrates a streamlined model applied for analysis of four cities with varying characteristics across the United States and India, to quantify system‐wide water, energy/GHG, and land impacts associated with multiple food system actions to address health, equity, and environment. Baseline diet analysis finds key differences between countries in terms of meat consumption (Delhi 4; Pondicherry 16; United States 59, kg/capita/year), and environmental impact of processing of the average diet (21%, 19%, <1%, <1% of community‐wide GHG‐emissions for New York, Minneapolis, Delhi, and Pondicherry). Analysis of supply chains finds city average distance (food‐miles) varies (Delhi 420; Pondicherry 200; United States average 1,640 km/t‐food) and the sensitivity of GHG emissions of food demand to spatial variability of energy intensity of irrigation is greater in Indian than US cities. Analysis also finds greater pre‐consumer waste in India versus larger post‐consumer accumulations in the United States. Despite these differences in food system characteristics, food waste management and diet change consistently emerge as key strategies. Among diet scenarios, all vegetarian diets are not found equal in terms of environmental benefit, with the US Government’s recommended vegetarian diet resulting in less benefit than other more focused targeted diet changes.