Is a Big Hunk of Steak Worth Almost 2,000 Gallons of Water?


Summer is heating up, and all the pools, barbeques, lawn-watering and the like that put our water use under the microscope, even more than it is the rest of the year. But did you know that we all have a "water-footprint"?

Quite similar in concept to the carbon footprint, our water footprints are defined as "the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual, business or nation," by People use lots of water for drinking, cooking and washing, but even more for producing things such as food, paper, cotton clothes, etc. The numbers are staggering.

In the US, our water footprint is 2,500 cubic meters per capita, which translates roughly to 660,430 U.S. gallons per person per year. Compare that to 700 cubic meters per year per capita (184,920 gallons) in China and 1150 cubic meters per year per capita (303,798 gallons) in Japan. That's a lot of water down the drain at our hands.

This is apropos to Graham's discussion earlier about knowing what it takes to "make" meat, and learning where it comes from; when you consider that it takes about 1,916 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, it helps contextualize the impact of your meat-eating choices.

Sure, we can all use less, buy less and consume less, which is easy to say and hard to do, but breaking it down and considering these numbers makes one simple food choice -- to eat less meat -- have much more gravity. I'm not in to guilt-tripping anyone into a greener lifestyle, but I encourage you to ask yourself this: Is having a big hunk of steak really worth almost 2,000 gallons of water?

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