Is the Water Crisis a Result of Our Eating and Drinking Habits?

In case you hadn’t heard, California is in the midst of one of the state’s worst droughts ever, so much so that Governor Jerry Brown declared the water crisis a state of emergency. With California’s agricultural industry, this isn’t just a state issue – it’s a national one. In fact, California produces almost half of the fruit and vegetables grown in the United States. Water is at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

It’s inevitable that we think of these things in times of a water crisis, but it’s an important reminder that when it comes to water, we need to be thinking about it all of the time. Water is a very serious issue.

Facing a drought our minds immediately go to the obvious industry: farming. You can’t grow crops without water. But in terms of our water usage, it’s more than the just the fruit and vegetables that we eat.

In fact, many of the foods that we consume are much more water intensive than we might think. For example, to produce one glass of almond milk it takes 23 gallons of water. And one gallon of regular milk? 683 gallons of water. Your average latte? More than 200 gallons. A pint of beer? 39.6 gallons.

But if you really want to focus on one product that’s extremely water intensive, it’s beef. A recent New York Times op-ed on the drought and water intensive crops – of which alfalfa, the main feed of cattle, is a big culprit – summarized the following:

It’s understandable for concerned consumers to feel helpless in the face of these complex industrial and global realities. But in the case of agriculture and drought, there’s a clear and accessible action most citizens can take: reducing or, ideally, eliminating the consumption of animal products. Changing one’s diet to replace 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers results in a 30 percent reduction in an individual’s food-related water footprint. Going vegetarian, a better option in many respects, reduces that water footprint by almost 60 percent.

And unfortunately, it’s not just meat. Cattle are also the source of milk, and according to one study, 98 percent of milk’s water footprint comes from cows’ food. Which means, that if we want to reduce our water footprint, we have to think about eating less meat and fewer dairy products. Because as long as we continue on the food path that we’re on, we can expect more and more issues related to water.

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