The largest portion of the average person’s water footprint comes from their diet. In order to lower water footprints, there’s no better place for a person to start than taking a closer look at their food choices.
Water Footprints and Diet
Clearly, food and water are closely linked, and for individuals water footprints are an excellent tool to better understand how daily food choices impact water resources. Keep in mind that water footprints of food items are comprised of three different parts:
- The amount of much rainwater used (green water footprint);
- The amount of water extracted from surface and groundwater for irrigation (blue water footprint); and
- The amount of water needed to dilute pollution created by producing the food (gray water footprint).
Eat Less Meat
The best way to lower dietary water footprints is to cut back on eating meat. Beef has a particularly high water footprint at about 1,800 gallons per pound, while pork follows at 578 gallons and chicken with 468 gallons. On average, the water footprint of a vegan or vegetarian is around half that of a meat eater.
Eat More Unprocessed Foods
Processed foods like frozen dinners, chips, candy and soda require more water to produce than whole foods. While the water footprint of whole foods like fruits and vegetables is made up entirely of water needed to grow, processed foods require additional water for things like cleaning the food and machinery, pre-cooking the food, producing fuel for delivery and making packaging materials.
Waste Less Food
Americans waste about 40% of their food every year. Because it takes a lot of water to get food to people’s plates, wasted food also means wasted water. In fact, nearly 25% of the freshwater consumed in the US goes towards food that never gets eaten. While there is waste at all stages on the food supply chain, food waste at home is a big part of the problem. The good news is that there are lots of ways to cut waste. The easiest and perhaps most effective thing to do is to plan out meals before heading to the store.
Organic farms don’t use synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, so those pollutants won’t run off of farm fields and into nearby waters. In addition, soils at organic farms tend to be much better at retaining nutrients and moisture, which reduces the risk of groundwater pollution. Buying products grown organically helps support farms that are making big efforts to reduce water pollution, which means those products have a smaller gray water footprint.
Food choices impact water supplies where the food was grown, and usually that’s far away from where people live. A growing number of Americans are choosing to buy food locally and that supports local farmers. But the local food movement can also benefit local waters by helping to keep the water used to grow food within the watershed. This helps to cut down on water exports from across the country or across the globe. Additionally, eating food grown on local, organic and sustainable farms can help protect water quality within the watershed.