Save Water With Your Food Choices

Perhaps the water footprint of the food we eat is not on our radar when we make our dietary choices, but as water becomes the biggest environmental challenge of the 21st century, it will have to become part of the menu. When the UN 2006 headline-making report, Livestock’s Long Shadow,​ r​evealed that the production of one pound of beef requires around 2,500 gallons (9,500 liters), environmental experts took heed. It’s a complex calculation, but unfortunately, several experts estimate it could be a lot higher than that.

A meat-heavy dish, therefore, is one of the most water-draining options in the menu and cutting out meat is much more effective than urinating during a quick shower, as Greenpeace once suggested. Even the iconic fashion designer, the godmother of punk, Vivienne Westwood acknowledges this in this new video ​t​hat takes the piss (pun intended) of wishy-washy ideas such as the shower one.

Plants require much less water to be grown into food. For instance, to produce a pound of potatoes, it takes 60 gallons. Wheat, corn, rice and soybeans require, respectively, 108, 168, 229 and 240 gallons per pound. These figures give an idea of how much water agriculture, the most water-intensive industry in the world, requires.

New studies keep confirming these figures. According to this recent op-ed in the New York Times, a 2012 estimates beef has a water footprint of four million gallons per ton while sugar crops such as sugar beets stand at around 52,000 per ton and vegetables at 85,000. Starchy roots require around 102,200 gallons per ton.

In the face of this situation, what can consumers do, apart from ​hoping for some rainfall. Well, we all have to eat three times a day and there’s a lot we can do with the consumer power that comes with that. ​ Making the right food choices can have an enormous impact.​

Still according to the NYT article, if we replace 50 percent of animal products with edible plants we can reduce our water footprint by 30 percent. I conclude that a 100 percent avoidance of animal foods results in a 60 percent water footprint reduction, which surely beats every other measure you can take in your daily life, although, of course, if you include them on top of a vegetarian diet, you’ll be scoring extra points on the water management front.

Image credit: World Water Day