I was really moved — and chilled — by this article called Our Water-Guzzling Food Factory that talks about the amount of water required to produce beef (and chicken and eggs and ZOMG walnuts for pete’s sake WTF we are all doomed why did I ever have children send help).
The crisis in California is a harbinger of water scarcity in much of the world. And while we associate extravagant water use with swimming pools and verdant lawns, the biggest consumer, by far, is agriculture. In California, 80 percent of water used by humans goes to farming and ranching.
That’s where that hamburger patty comes in.
I grew up on a sheep and cherry farm near Yamhill, Ore. I worked for a year for the Future Farmers of America, and I still spend time every year on our family farm. But while I prize America’s rural heritage, let’s be blunt: It’s time for a fundamental rethinking of America’s food factory.
A mandarin orange consumes 14 gallons of water. A head of lettuce, 12 gallons. A bunch of grapes, 24 gallons. One single walnut, 2 gallons.
Animal products use even more water, mostly because of the need to raise grain or hay to feed the animals. Plant material converts quite inefficiently into animal protein.
So a single egg takes 53 gallons of water to produce. A pound of chicken, 468 gallons. A gallon of milk, 880 gallons. And a pound of beef, 1,800 gallons of water. (Of course, these figures are all approximate, and estimates differ. These are based on data from the Pacific Institute and National Geographic.)
It’s not like we eat beef very often anymore, but we do hit the chicken and fish pretty hard around here. Guess it’s time to start building more meatless nights into the weekly meal plan.