When you look at the droughts that periodically hit in the American West and — for that matter — the rest of the world, it’s easy to complain about the water footprint everyone is leaving on our world and how that will affect us down the road. However, each of us has the power to make an impact by simply doing one thing, and that is choosing to eat more environmentally friendly foods.
Consider this: About two-thirds of the water you’ll use in your lifetime will be used to produce your food. What control do you have over that? Plenty, once you’re aware of the many ways certain foods are better for the environment.
Take peas, for example. Peas provide their own nitrogen, reducing the need for fertilizer, and still have enough left over to share with neighboring plants. Broccoli and onions keep pests at bay, cutting back on pesticides. Tomatoes tap deep root systems, requiring less irrigation. And potatoes are the wonder food, not only clocking in at a conservative 50 gallons of water per pound but also storing well for long periods of time. (Rice, by contrast, uses 403 gallons of water per pound.)
Need another reason to reach for a piece of fruit instead of more chocolate? A pound of oranges uses 55 gallons — 83 for a pound of apples or pears — while the cacao beans behind chocolate call for a whopping 2,847 gallons of water. (But don’t lose heart; strides are being made toward a more earth-friendly chocolate.)
Meat leaves the largest footprint, unless you are particularly fond of sardines and anchovies. But while beef uses a whopping 1,800 gallons of water per pound — and a gallon of milk another 2,000 — you again have choices. Pork uses 576 gallons of water, chicken 468 gallons and a single egg, 53.
Here are a last few tips to keep in mind. The less processed a food is, the better it is for the environment, from water consumption to greenhouse gas emissions. Go for soft cheeses and foods that go directly from the vine to the table. And buy local when possible, reducing on transport consumption.
The bottom line? Even the smallest efforts make a difference and, ultimately, give us something to praise about.