How Thirsty is Our Food?

Solving the Water Footprint Mystery

We are all familiar with the concept of ‘carbon footprint’, but what about its less discussed counterpart, the ‘water footprint’? Most of us think about saving water when we take a shower or water the lawn, but how often do we consider the water used in the production of the food we consume?

Take beef, for example. You know that 1kg steak you plan to grill this weekend? It took 15,415 litres of water to produce it! Not far behind in water consumption, nuts require an average of 9,063 litres per kilogram. In contrast, fruits and vegetables have a relatively lower water footprint, requiring 962 and 322 litres of water per kilogram respectively. Cereals stand out as the most water efficient option with only 0.51 litres per kilocalorie.

The Environmental Cost of Food Production

Food production has historically been an inefficient and resource-intensive endeavour. A staggering 70 per cent of the world’s freshwater use is dedicated to agriculture, and the sector accounts for 37 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

A study conducted in Oxford in 2022 sheds light on the sustainability of various types of food. While red meat, fish, poultry and dairy products emerged as the least sustainable foods, this finding was supported by the Water Footprint Network and revealed the significant water use behind these foods. For example, it takes 15,415 litres of water to produce just 1 kg of beef.

The Challenge of Feeding a Growing Population

With the global population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050, there is an urgent need to reassess our food production practices. Experts warn that if current trends continue, we will need to double our crop production to meet demand.

The path to a sustainable future, as advocated by environmental experts, involves reducing the consumption of resource-intensive foods and minimising food waste. According to the Water Footprint Network, vegetables are emerging as the most sustainable food to produce and offer a viable solution to the challenges of feeding a growing population without depleting our precious water resources.

Towards a Sustainable Future

The future of food depends on our collective actions. By making conscious choices, such as choosing water-efficient foods like vegetables and grains and reducing food waste, we can significantly reduce our water footprint and contribute to a more sustainable food system.

The point is not to deprive ourselves of our favourite foods, but to make conscious decisions that will benefit both our health and our planet. As we stand at the intersection of environmental sustainability and food security, let’s choose the path that will lead us to a more sustainable and water-efficient future for all.