Food systems are key to curbing cities’ environmental footprint

Written by
Molly Sharlach
Molly Sharlach, School of Engineering and Applied Science
March 13, 2020

Focusing on urbanization as a key driver of environmental change in the 21st century, 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, the Sanjay Swani ’87 Professor of India Studies professor of civil and environmental engineering, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and the Princeton Environmental Institute. “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 the cities of Delhi and Pondicherry in India and New York and Minneapolis in the United States. The results highlight the impacts of differences in meat consumption as well as differences in food processing. In general, dietary changes and waste management emerged as the most effective ways to shrink cities’ food footprints, with specific beneficial changes differing among cities.

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