Virtual Water Consumption: How Much Does Your Food Require?


Have you checked out this month’s National Geographic magazine yet? It’s a special issue on water and they’ve enclosed a beautiful map showing the river systems of the world. On the other side of the map is a display called “Hidden Water” that depicts the “virtual water”–the amount of water used to create a product–for meat, animal products, fruit and vegetables, and common goods. (If you don’t get the magazine, they have a fun interactive version on their website.)

For example, the virtual water used to raise animals for food consists of the water they drink and the water used to grow their food and clean their waste.

Here are the number of gallons needed for cows:

For pigs:

For chickens:

What they don’t tell you on the interactive site is that the statistics for the meat–at least the beef–come from industrial food production, which is revealed in the sidebar at the bottom of the graphic called “Why Meat Takes More”.

Here’s the explanation: “A human diet that regularly includes meat requires 60 percent more water than a diet that’s predominantly vegetarian…this graphic illustrates the water needed to raise a cow or steer in an industrial production system, using the global average of three years from birth to market.”

As in my January blog post (“A Cow’s Carbon Footprint: Why Grassfed Beef is Carbon-Negative“), I am always looking for statistics showing that grassfed beef positively impacts the environment. For sure, it does less damage than feedlot beef. But is there a solid argument confirming that raising grassfed beef actually helps Mother Earth?

I scoured the Web and I like what EatWild.com says about grass farming the best. Still, I couldn’t find the stats I was looking for.

My conclusion, I suppose, is “everything in moderation,” as revealed in my decision to stay a flexitarian. If we all ate less meat, we’d reduce water consumption. If we ate grassfed meat instead of feedlot meat, we’d reduce it even more–not to mention avoiding the other negative impacts of eating feedlot meat: pollution, increased usage of fossil fuels, antibiotics and hormones added to the meat, higher risk of disease, poor working conditions for humans, and animal abuse.

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One response to “Virtual Water Consumption: How Much Does Your Food Require?

  1. I hopes to be successful

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