Our carbon footprint has been talked about for years. The amount of water certain crops need is not news. But what is your water footprint?

The May issue of Bon Appetit magazine asked and helped answer that question.

Avocados are on the “thristier” scale, according to Bon Appetite magazine. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s not something I give any thought to when I’m buying groceries. I pay attention to price, where it’s grown, and if it’s in season where I live.

Chico is known for almonds. It’s also one of the biggest water consuming crops. I already knew this. But what I learned from the magazine article is that California almonds on average use 700 gallons of water per pound of almonds, whereas the rest of the almond-growing world uses 1,900 gallons for a pound.

Either way, that’s a whole heck of a lot of water.

The article suggests substituting peanuts for almonds because at 200 gallons per pound that’s a lot less water being used. While that’s a true statement, nutrition-wise almonds, according to what I found online, have more health benefits.

For someone who became a vegetarian based on a water consuming crop, it’s rather surprising I’m not more cognizant of my buying/eating choices.

The short story on my conversion to being a vegetarian in my 20s is that I was living in the Central Valley (south of where I am now) where two of the top water-consuming crops–cotton and alfalfa–are grown. California was in a drought. Alfalfa is only grown to feed cows that are then slaughtered for human consumption. I thought then as I still do today that that was a waste of land, water and the effort to grow a crop solely to feed to an animal that I would later consume. Why not use that land for a product I could essentially eat right from the field? That was my bit of protest that has continued decades later.

I’m not saying people should be vegetarians. I’m merely suggesting we could all do a better job when it comes to knowing the resources it takes to grow our food—be it animal or vegetable or fruit or grain or other.

Bon Appetit listed how much water various proteins use:

  • Beef: 1,850 gallons per pound
  • Pork: 719 gallons/pound
  • Chicken: 516 gallons/pound
  • Pulses (beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils): 486 gallons/pound
  • Tofu: 302 gallons/pound.

I was disheartened to learn avocados like water: 141-224/gallons per pound.

While it can be difficult to pay attention to everything that goes into putting groceries on store shelves, or on farmers’ market tables, the magazine said the following, which I think we should all take to heart: “The quickest, easiest way to shrink your water footprint? Eat everything you buy. At least 30 percent of the food purchased in the U.S. ends up in the trash. The average person’s annual food waste each year is equivalent to taking a 10-minute shower every day for 400 days.”

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