1 oz. of Beef vs. 30 Minute Showers: A Battle Royale for California’s Water Supply

By Rachan Narala | UTS Staff Writer | SQ Online (2014-15)


“Take shorter showers!” “Don’t wash your car or water your grass!” How many times have you heard these ever-increasing aphorisms in our society? Water drought has become a serious problem in many places around the world, and it is slowly becoming a more dire and severe problem in California as well. People continue to try and cut back on their use of water in their everyday lives, in small activities such as turning off faucets when they brush or shave, when many don’t realize that such reservations only contribute to the overall 20% of water provided for people daily. Where does the other 80% of California’s water go? Agriculture.

Due to California’s diverse climate and fertile regions, the Golden State grows about half of the produce for the entire country and even contributes to the global agricultural market. As a result, a massive amount of California’s water goes directly into agriculture. From animal produce, to fruits and vegetables, to starch, carbohydrates, and even carbonated and sugary drinks, California has a major role in the United States agricultural industry. If that much water goes into producing our food, then how many gallons are typically used for each type of our food?

To put things into perspective, let’s consider the average family household. For those of you that like to indulge in a calm, relaxing bath, you are ordering around 36 gallons from the California water menu. For those that take a 10-minute shower, you place an order for around 20-25 gallons, which is the same amount that is used for washing your dishes or clothes. Washing your hands and face, or shaving your face or legs, uses about 1-2 gallons of water, whereas brushing your teeth typically uses less than one gallon of water, depending on how long you turn the faucet on while brushing. Therefore the most expensive item (so to speak) in a household would be drawing a bath.

In comparison, it takes 106.28 gallons to produce 1 ounce of beef. This means you could take a whole 3 relaxing baths per day instead of eating 1 ounce of beef, and you would use about the same amount of California’s water supply. When you realize that people should eat on average 9 ounces of meat to obtain their daily quota of protein, the amount of water needed to sustain our meat intake is astronomical. Beef takes up the most amount of water out of all of California’s agricultural demands. In comparison to other proteins, pork and goat meat each require around 41 gallons of water per ounce. Lentils and chickpeas take between 70-80 gallons, while eggs take around 12 and chickens each take around 16 gallons.

However, when looking at fruits, vegetables, and grains, these produce all takes less than 30 gallons of water per ounce. Mangos require 28.5 gallons of water, while asparagus requires 20.3 gallons. When put into perspective, you are using the same amount of water to eat a mango as you are to take a 10-minute shower. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Even the artichoke, a vegetable found in pastas, pizzas and salads alike, uses around 6 gallons of water per ounce, which is the same amount of water used for a few flushes from your toilet. Rice and pasta both use around 16 gallons of water, which if you remember, is the same amount reserved for chickens. In contrast, how much water does a watermelon, a fruit famed for its hydrating properties, use up? Only around 1.79 ounces.

After reviewing how much water California uses on its agriculture in comparison to people’s everyday uses, can we conclude that water should not be set aside for our meat, vegetables, and fruits? Of course not.

To be fair, most of California’s agricultural industry focuses on producing fruits and vegetables rather than the more water-demanding products. However, the fact remains that there is a wide variety of agricultural goods grown in our state, from beef to chicken to strawberries to almonds, and most of our water supply is allocated to supporting our agricultural industry. In addition to cutting shower times, and turning the faucet off while shaving or brushing, eating less produce and meats that use substantial amounts of water will make a greater impact. The more we work together to limit our intake of produce exhausting our water supply, the closer we may be to alleviating California’s water debt.

For more information on which foods use how many gallons of water, check out this interactive graphic from the LA Times: http://graphics.latimes.com/food-water-footprint/

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