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Abstract

Natural resources facilitate production of an adequate daily food supply for Americans. Food consumption in the United States, measured in total calories per day, increased about 50 percent over a recent 25-year span. Understanding how changes in food consumption impact the U.S. food system’s use of the country’s natural resources requires consideration of many factors. We find that diets, or food choices, are likely to be an important factor. For example, had the diets of Americans who met all the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans back in 2007 become the typical American diet of that time, then per capita consumption of the fruits, vegetables, legumes/nuts/seeds, eggs, and dairy categories would have increased, while per capita consumption in the sugars/sweets/beverages, fats/oils/salad dressings, grain products, and meat/poultry/fish/mixtures food groups would have declined. In such a scenario, under the production and marketing practices in 2007, nutrition and resource conservation goals would have been mostly complementary, or synergistic. As one notable exception, water conservation in particular may have required tradeoffs between competing goals, especially for production of fruits, vegetables, and dairy. This report combines empirical evidence of resource use in the system in 2007 with the presentation of a framework for a broader empirical study of sustainable pathways to producing a healthy and adequate food supply.

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