Water with your meal?

By Jennie Saxe

This time of year, you might find me sampling the last of our Valentine’s Day chocolates, or cooking up a hearty stew – enough to ensure there will be leftovers for my busy family. In past blogs, we’ve written about the water footprint of our food, and ways that sustainable food management protects water resources. This got me thinking: how much water goes into producing some of my family’s favorite foods?

You can calculate the “water footprint” of your favorite foods.

You can calculate the “water footprint” of your favorite foods.

After doing a little research, I found that there’s a lot of water hidden in my go-to chicken stew recipe: the chicken alone – about 2 lbs. of it – requires around 1,100 gallons of water to produce. That’s enough water to fill about 25 bathtubs! If my famous beef stew were on the menu, the same amount of beef requires almost quadruple the amount of water – 91 bathtubs’ worth. And believe it or not, those Valentine’s Day chocolates have the largest water footprint on the menu: it takes a whopping 454 gallons of water to produce a standard-sized (100g) chocolate bar. According to EPA’s WaterSense program, that’s more water than an average American family of four uses in one day.

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the water footprint of your favorite meals. Buying only what you need for your recipes reduces potential food waste, and minimizes the waste of everything that went into producing the food, including water!

You can also look for foods that are locally-grown. Lower transportation needs for local food translate into a smaller environmental footprint overall. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and urban gardens are great ways to support your community and get healthy, local foods. EPA is a partner in the Local Foods, Local Places program which helps communities like Allentown, Pennsylvania, Crisfield, Maryland, and Williamson, West Virginia stimulate economic development through local food enterprises.

With simple steps, you can be a water-savvy home chef – and still make mouths water at the dinner table.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs.