A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explores a different side of food waste, the “opportunity food loss” of producing animal-based products and the advantages of plant-based alternatives.

Unlike conventional food waste, the researchers looked at “hidden food that can be recovered via changes in diets.” To explore the opportunity food loss, the researchers compared various animal products – beef, pork, dairy, poultry, and eggs. The study found that: “plant-based replacements for each of the major animal categories in the United States can produce twofold to 20-fold more nutritionally similar food per unit cropland.”

The most resource intensive product was no surprise, beef. For every four grams of beef that is produced, we could have produced 100 grams of nutritionally equal plant-based protein. Following beef, in terms of next largest opportunity loss were pork, dairy, poultry, and eggs. Specifically by replacing animal products with plant-based alternatives, the researchers concluded we could feed an additional 350 million people with the same land resources. 350 million people!

By converting land for animal production to nutritionally equivalent plant protein production, we could move towards a more sustainable food system and have a significant impact on the environment while helping to meet the demands of our growing global population. The study author, Ron Milo, notes: “Together, waste reduction and dietary shifts offer substantial food availability gains”.

In other words, building a sustainable food system requires us to both waste less food and shift towards a plant-based diet.

Thanks to PBFA nutrition advisor Sherene Chou for drafting this post.