China’s urbanization has led to changes in foodconsumption patterns. The effects of this population shift onthe limited arable land resources available have not beenclearly understood. Based on food consumption data in1982, 1992 and 2002, we evaluated the arable land require-ments needed to meet the demand of Chinese food consump-tion patterns and the countermeasures that could mitigate theincreasing pressure on this limited resource. The results indi-cated that processed food (including plant oil, alcohol andsugar) needed the most arable land for production, followedby livestock-based food and plant-based food, which neededthe least. The arable land requirement for food consumption ofurban residents was higher than that of rural residents in all3 years, 1982, 1992 and 2002 and both decreased from 1982to 2002. Based on the data for these years, the total arable landrequirement for Chinese food consumption is projected toincrease from 1982 to 2030, and then gradually decreasesfrom 2040 to 2050. The food demand pressures put on thelimited arable land resources in China is exacerbated by trendsin food consumption patterns—i.e. more livestock-based andless plant-based food, and the need to improve the nutritionalintake of both urban and rural populations. To alleviate thepressures, Chinese food consumption patterns should bechanged so that less livestock-based and more plant-basedfood is consumed. Two other mitigation options are to in-crease the import of land-intensive food and to invest inagricultural research and development. These findings couldbe helpful in optimizing the interrelationships between thelimited arable land resources available and food consumptionpatterns during the continuing rapid urbanization of China.