Is Your Dinner Plate Full of Water-Wasting Food?

Last Update: June 2, 2023

Knocking back the recommended half gallon of water each day is only a drop in the bucket compared to the 1,000 gallons of H2O that goes into the average person’s daily food intake.

Just about all foods require a copious amount of water to produce—some of the most significant culprits being beef, poultry, and their byproducts like dairy and eggs. So, the logical conclusion would be that going vegan is the best way to conserve water, right? Actually, not necessarily.

A pound of beef requires about 1,847 gallons to produce, which includes drinking water for the cows and what’s required to grow the feed crops required to sustain them. Poultry utilizes 518 gallons of water per pound—miniscule by comparison. Still, considering the average American devoured about 125 pounds of meat and poultry in 2012, that’s 295,625 gallons of water for meat consumption in one year—almost half of an Olympic size pool. Holy cow. It’s likely that a person indulging in all this meat is also a fan of eggs, cheese, and butter, which all require nearly 400 gallons of water per pound.

Supporters of veganism are proud to proclaim that avoiding these animal products is a huge boon for water conservation. Yet some vegan protein-alternatives are about on par, if not higher in water use than chicken—lentils use 704 gallons per pound while chickpeas use 501, and tofu, 302. Other vegan staples such as rice, pasta, and bread are in the 200-300 gallon per pound range. But the real kicker—almonds and cashews use a whopping 1,929, and hazelnuts and walnuts, 1,260 gallons of water per pound. That’s about two to three months worth of showers in those few fistfuls of nuts.

However, most fruits and veggies—such as apples, bananas, grapes, kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, lemons, artichokes, cucumbers, and lettuce—use less than 100 gallons of water per pound. Some foods like broccoli and tomato are as low as 34 and 26 gallons per pound, respectively. So, a diet richer in these nutritious foods does save tons of water.

And a vegan indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who subscribes to the average meat-inclusive American diet. The factor at hand could be that, most likely, Americans are focusing too much on meat when they eat. One small choice that can make a difference? Choosing grass-fed animals, which use much less water than grain-fed ones.

But small changes matter, and if going vegan is a tough thing to swallow, even a small reduction in meat consumption will go a long way in augmenting the demand for it, and ultimately, help to replenish the water supply.

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Dana Poblete

Dana's love for all creatures under the sun (bugs, too) drives her in her advocacy for ethical eating, environmental sustainability, and cruelty-free living. A natural born islander, she surfs when she can, and writes, always.

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