As concerns over food security rise, more interest is being paid to the possibility of urban centers feeding themselves instead of relying so heavily on imported calories. For that to happen across the country, we will need to tweak the way we eat.

An analysis published in Environmental Science & Technology studied how population, geography and diet could affect localization of the American food supply. Researchers concluded that reducing average meat consumption from 5 ounces to 2.5 ounces per day would—in many areas—greatly increase the potential for making food supply more local (within about 150 miles). Some grazing land could then be used to produce other necessary foodstuffs, and/or a greater percentage of the meat consumed could be raised and processed closer to the point of consumption. Growing fewer export crops and crops for biofuels near population-dense areas would also free up land to localize the American food supply.

Still, even if residents adopted a vegan diet, some large cities—such as New York, Boston and Miami—would need to import nonlocal food to meet demand. Metropolitan regions in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest are much more capable of growing all their necessary food within 150 miles.

The researchers found that more food localization would leave the U.S. with a surplus of land that could be used to grow crops for export or biofuel purposes or even be converted into conservation areas.

See also: Healthy Food, Healthy Planet