California is facing one of the most severe droughts on record, leading to stricter water conservation regulations. But many obvious water wasters, like long showers and leaky faucets, don’t use nearly as much water as less conspicuous ones, like the production of food: agriculture slurps up 80% of California’s water supply.
To visualize how your daily meals increase your water footprint, the L.A. Times put together an interactive infographic revealing how much water it takes to produce different types of food. You can compile various plates from a menu and tally up how many gallons went into making that plate. A breakfast of eggs, wheat bread, avocado, and orange juice uses up 286 gallons. A dinner of beef, pasta, grapefruit juice, and cauliflower takes a whopping 988 gallons to get to your table. It’s a smart way to visualize a set of big data that can seem abstract and impersonal: by picturing a nice meal on a dinner table, it hammers home how your eating habits affect the bigger picture.
Meat, it turns out, uses the most water of all food types, and beef is the thirstiest of them all: it takes more than 106 gallons of water to produce a mere ounce of beef. In a recent report, water expert Arjen Hoekstra calls the use of water for animal products a blindspot in conservation policy. Animal products in general demand much more water than other foods, so cutting them from your diet can help conserve water, Hoekstra says.
Still, the infographic doesn’t present the whole picture, since these numbers are presented largely out of context. For example, it doesn’t convey how efficiently each food product uses the water it requires for production in terms of its impact on the economy or its caloric value for consumers. And it leaves out an important crop–alfalfa, used largely for animal feed–which sucks up much more water than any other agricultural product. Making educated, drought-reducing diet decisions as a consumer is more complicated than the infographic suggests.
Go here to play around with the interactive infographic.
[via Los Angeles Times]