Consuming Food Also Consumes Water!

This blog was written by WCO intern Elise McDonald. 

    Many studies have shown that eating a plant-based diet low in processed food, dairy, and meat can do wonders for your health. But what about how our diet effects our water resources? Whether we are aware of it or not, everything we eat utilizes water in its production. The more steps involved in the process of a food’s creation, the more water was used to make it.

Take cattle, for instance. The average beef cow spends the first 6 to 14 months of its life grazing in a pasture, then finishes its last 3 to 8 months of existence eating a diet of corn and soy designed to bulk it up for harvest. A cow can consume over 1,000 pounds of food in just a few months. It takes 146 gallons of water to produce one pound of corn and 257 gallons of water to grow one pound of soybeans. On average, a single cow drinks 30 gallons of water and consumes 100 pounds of plant material per day. Once they are ready for harvest, the cleaning and processing of the animals uses up to 450 gallons of water per animal. All this boils down to an unnerving result; 1,800 gallons of water are required to produce one pound of conventionally grown beef.

What about processed foods? These are the foods which normally come in boxes, cans, or other packages with a long list of ingredients, likely some with nearly impossible pronunciations. In short, the longer the list of ingredients a food has, the more processed it is. Just like the name suggests, creating these things is a process. There is water involved in the growth, harvest, and (in many cases) chemical development of virtually every ingredient in the product. Then there is subsequent water use involved in putting all these ingredients together at the factory to form the final product. Dark chocolate is one of the most highly water consumptive products on the market, requiring as much as 3,170 gallons of water to make one pound! Wheat bread is a much more modest offender, using 193 gallons per pound, or about 11 gallons per slice.

We hear a lot about ways to be water conscious by reducing the amount of water we waste directly, such as reducing the amount of water we let come out of our faucets at home. But another great way to make a big impact on not only the health of our bodies but also the health of our invaluable freshwater resources is to be food-wise. Let your concern for water resources be another incentive to watch what you eat!


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