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Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future

How can shifting diets — the type, combination, and quantity of foods people consume — contribute to a sustainable food future? Building on the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s food demand projections, the World Resources Institute (WRI) estimates that the world needs to close a 70 percent “food gap” between the crop calories available in 2006 and expected calorie demand in 2050.

This working paper, the 11th and last in a WRI series on Creating a Sustainable Food Future, assesses the role of shifting the diets of populations who consume high amounts of calories, protein and animal-based foods in closing the food gap. Specifically, it considers 3 interconnected diet shifts:

  1. Reduce overconsumption of calories.
  2. Reduce overconsumption of protein by reducing consumption of animal-based foods.
  3. Reduce consumption of beef specifically.

For each, it describes the issue addressed by the change, why it matters, and the relevant trends. The authors use the GlobAgri model to quantify the land use and greenhouse gas consequences of different foods, and then analyze the per person and global effects of the three diet shifts on agricultural land needs and greenhouse gas emissions.

They find that these diet shifts — if implemented at a large scale — can close the food gap by up to 30 percent, while substantially reducing agriculture’s resource use and environmental impacts.

With the food industry in mind — particularly the retail and food service sectors — the authors introduce the Shift Wheel, a framework that harnesses marketing and behavioral change strategies to tackle the crucial question of how to shift people’s diets. The paper concludes with four recommendations to help shift diets and apply the Shift Wheel.

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