Under certain scenarios, a large percentage of Americans could subsist on a diet made up of mostly local food, according to a new study.

The study out of the University of California Merced measured the areas of the country with available farmland, calculated how productive the farmland is and where people live. Throughout most of the country—including Kentucky—more than 80 percent of the population could be fed a balanced diet from food that could theoretically be grown within 50 miles.

“What was surprising was how much capacity still exists,” said Elliott Campbell, a professor at UC Merced and one of the study’s authors. “The basic finding was that the vast majority of Americans could be fed with local food, if that’s what we wanted to do.”

mapErica Peterson | wfpl.org
map 2Elliott Campbell/UC Merced

The study looked at three different diets: a “typical” one, a plant-based diet and one heavy on meat. Campbell’s study found that more Americans following a largely vegetarian diet could be fed from food grown within 50 miles, than those incorporating meat.

“The key distinction between the diets is that the more meat-intensive diet in general requires about three times as much land to support the same number of people as with the plant-based diet,” he said.

It’s not so much whether you’re eating a locally grown cow. It’s whether you eat the cow at all, he said.

For more people to get the majority of their diet from their local foodshed, some changes would be necessary, Campbell said. There needs to be more infrastructure to distribute the food locally, as well as better land use planning.

And ultimately, it’s not realistic that most Americans would want to survive on a purely local diet, and not take advantage of food grown in different climates,  he said.

“We’re not implying that people should eat 100 percent local, that people should do away with their chocolate and avocados. What we’re saying is that it could be really big–this could be a big part of your diet if you wanted to,” he said.

“So it could still be that you eat your chocolate and avocados, but a big chunk of your diet could also be supplemented by local farms.”

The study was published earlier this month in the newest edition of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, which is the journal for the Ecological Society of America.