How Much Water Does It Take?

Photo from Flickr/Vassilis .

Photo fromFlickr/Vassilis.

The California drought has officially gotten scary. Further complicating the situation is the fact that almost 80% of California's water supply goes to the state's agriculture needs, which in turn goes toward feeding the entire planet. (Did you know that California produces 80% of the world's almonds?) A recent LA Times infographic shows just how much water is used to produce one plate of food (968 gallons). There is also an interactive version, where you can create different plates of food to understand their water impact.

Infographics like this can feel at once illuminating and confusing, so we thought we'd take this opportunity to identify and discuss some of the major takeaways. First, we can see that the biggest water-hog on the plate is the eight-ounce steak, which requires 850 of those 968 gallons of water to produce. Why does meat need so much water? Well, it has to do with the way we feed our livestock. When meat comes from industrial feedlots, the water is fed through irrigation systems used to sustain the animals' grain-based diet (mostly soy and corn). Less water is used for grass-fed and grass-finished beef, which relies on Mother Nature: rain and pasturing.

Why are we telling you this? Well, because the American consumption of beef is more than 37 million tons annually. That's the highest in the world, and that means our water needs are higher, which has a direct impact on this drought.

So, what can you do? Honestly (and you're probably not going to want to hear this), the very best thing we can do is cut our consumption of meat. Don't kill the messenger, friends! Listen, if cutting out meat entirely or dramatically decreasing your consumption sounds impossible, consider starting with a Meatless Monday. If you are going to eat meat, then your best choice is chicken, which only requires 17 gallons of water per ounce.  Pork, while requiring more water than chicken, is also preferable to beef. Want a compromise? Try making meat a side dish instead of your main, and load up on grain and veggies.

Read the complete story at Refinery29.