We normally think in terms of drinking our water, or washing with it. But we eat much of the water we consume. National Geographic recently included a fascinating insert in their magazine that is very relevant as we head into summer- and drought season- in many parts of our country and the world.
Food takes water to grow. Agriculture uses an enormous amount. The Colorado River is a mighty stream in some places, but only a trickle at the end, most of it consumed along the way to grow stuff. The quarter pound of beef on your burger represents about 465 gallons of water used to produce it. The whole burger took 634 gallons to bring to you, and the beer to wash it down, only 20. I guess I should drink more beer and eat less beef. A cup of morning tea represents 9 gallons, a cup of Joe 37, but the eggs that go with breakfast took 400 gallons to produce per pound, and a pound of sausage a whopping 1,382 gallons!
This “virtual water” was a concept coined by Tony Allen at King’s College in London to illustrate the total water impact of food and other products. Here are some other comparisons:
Meat: One pound of beef uses 1,857 gallons of water to produce; pork only 756; chicken 469. When choosing what to grill meat-wise this summer, flip ‘em the bird.
Dairy: A pound of processed cheese uses 589 gallons of H2O to make, but fresh cheese only 371 gallons per pound. Stick with yogurt and it’s only 138 gallons of water. A glass of milk is 53 gallons of water, all things considered, but you don’t see people trying to keep milk or yogurt off campus, just bottled water, which represents about 3 gallons of water used for every gallon consumed. And plastic yogurt containers are barely recycled, while nearly 30% of PET water bottles are.
Fruits and veggies: If you like eggplant, you only use 25 gallons of water for each pound you gobble, but if figs are your thing, it’s 379 gallons per pound. Plums and cherries are high at 193 and 185; but strawberries surprisingly use only 33 gallons per pound, and grapes 78. Beans and potatoes are low on the scale at 43 and 31 pounds, but if you like corn and avocados, you’ll consume 109 and 154 pounds of H2O with every pound you eat.
What about other everyday grown products? Those jeans look great on you, but not the 2,900 gallons of water it took to produce them. Staying in bed naked is fun, but not much better- one cotton bed sheet drinks 2800 gallons. Your cotton t-shirt, wet or otherwise, needed 766 gallons to cover your back.
Now before you jump off a cliff (not off a bridge please, you’ll just pollute the water), water is a renewable resource if used wisely. Water applied to crops respirates out of them and back into the atmosphere where it condenses and returns as more rain. Naturally, water passes through all of us, again and again. 2.5% of the earth’s water is fresh, and 70% of that is locked up in ice. So we have less than 1% of the earth’s water to work with this summer- which will be plenty if we conserve it as much as possible by turning off faucets, fixing leaks and watering less; reuse it by saving rainwater in barrels for gardens and lawns, flushing our toilets with greywater that we’ve already washed our hands in and so forth; and keep it clean by forgoing the use of pesticides and inorganic fertilizers on our fields, yards and forests.
“See the cloud” in the page of the book you are reading, as well as in your clothes, food, and nearly every product you use. Time may be money, but stuff is water, and the more we reduce, reuse and recycle, the more we’ll have to play in.