The Effects of Diet on Water Conservation in the US

Posted by AM Conservation Group on February 1, 2016

For your constituents, taking the first steps toward water conservation isn’t difficult.

Turning off the tap while washing dishes or brushing teeth, taking shorter showers, and regularly inspecting for leaks are all very easy steps your constituents can take. With just a little more effort, they can install high efficiency showerheads and faucet aerators, or make water saving upgrades to their toilets.

Many of your constituents have probably put one or more of these water conservation methods into practice already, and that’s good. But chances are high that few, if any, of them have considered their overall water footprint past their immediate water usage.

Virtually everything your constituents do uses water, from the gasoline in their cars to the clothes on their backs, from the books they read to the couch they’re sitting on. The largest portion of every American’s water footprint, however, may come as a surprise to many.

It’s their diet.

Food and Water

agri 2

Despite a world population well over 7 billion people, our single largest use of water is not straight from the faucet usage — it is agriculture.

Beef, a staple on American tables, is particularly costly. In the last months of life, cows are fed upward of 1,000 pounds worth of feed composed of corn and soy, water-intense crops; to grow 1 pound of corn, 147 gallons of water is required. This means that an average commercially raised cow consumes a minimum of 147,000 gallons worth of water in just a few months before slaughter.Globally, agriculture is responsible for 80% of all water consumed on an annual basis. This includes irrigation for crops meant for human consumption, crops meant for poultry and livestock consumption, and for transportation. On average, just over 1,000 gallons of water go into producing the diet of one single American for one single day.

Altogether, roughly 106 gallons of water is required for every ounce of edible beef. The average American consumes roughly 55 pounds of beef a year, the equivalent of about 93,200 gallons of water.

Other common food items with high water costs include:

  • Soda — 3.83 gallons per ounce
  • Milk — 5.48 gallons per ounce
  • Coffee — 6.87 gallons per ounce
  • Pasta — 16.6 gallons per ounce
  • Cheese — 23.86 gallons per ounce
  • Bread — 240 gallons per loaf

Worsening the United States’ water footprint is the amount of food wasted every year. About 40% of consumable food goods produced in the US annually are wasted. That’s the equivalent of 25% of the water consumed in the US each year.

Reducing Water Footprints

The majority of your constituents’ water footprint is their diet. While diet is rarely thought of as an avenue for water conservation, the truth of the matter is that, as with anything, even small steps can make a big difference.

One thing they can do to help is eat lower on the food chain. Basically, eating lower on the food chain means eating less meat and dairy. By eating one vegetarian meal a week in place of beef, an average American family of four can remove 360,000 gallons of water, or more, out of their footprint every year.

Not all of your constituents will be willing to eat vegetarian, which is fine. Instead, they can purchase only pasture-raised or grass-fed meat and poultry. Not only are these diets more natural and healthier for the animals, but grass pasture requires little to no irrigation, so far less water is used than in growing corn or soy. Installing a water efficient faucet aerator on their kitchen sink faucet will help reduce the amount of water needed to wash the meat your constituents consume as well as the fruits and vegetables they eat.

The more processed a food is, the more water has gone into its production, so it helps to avoid them when possible. Your constituents could bake their own potato chips in the oven, for example, instead of buying a bag.

Other water footprint reduction methods include drinking less coffee (one cup less a day can save more than 20,000 gallons of water annually), planning meals to avoid buying excess that will become waste, and making sure to use leftovers.

There are a wealth of online resources that you can direct your constituents to for information about their water footprint and how to manage their diet to improve it.

Working with AM Conservation

It’s important to help shed light on lesser known facets of water conservation, such as water footprint and the unexpected effect that diet has on it.

At the same time, we shouldn’t lose focus on the basics, the day-to-day habits that keep water conservation in people’s minds. To that end, AM Conservation Group offers a wide range of water saving devices.

To help your constituents learn more about water conservation, download our Water Conservation Checklist today. Free and filled with excellent water conservation tips, you can use it to help your constituents start making an impact, or improve the impact they’re already making.

Download the Checklist