How many people realize that it requires about 50 gallons of water to produce a quarter-pound of beef (raising the crops to feed the animal, water for the cow)? The average American adult uses 158 gallons of water a day, just for drinking and household chores. Europeans are more conservation-minded, consuming about 66 gallons a day. In developing countries, a person may consume a mere 2.5 to 5 gallons per day – the equivalent of a toilet flush.
Steduto makes more startling comparisons about the food-chain and water use, something many Americans don’t think about.
“If you are eating meats, it’s the conversion of all the food chain that has to be considered,” the U.N. water chief says. “You still have to produce, eventually, the vegetarian food (or grains) for the animals. Then the animals, we have to convert that food into the meat (processing, cleaning, etc.). . . . So when you look at how much water you need to generate one kilo of meat (2.2 pounds), you come up with 1,500 liters of water.” Translation: It takes about 396 gallons of water to produce 2.2 pounds of beef, enough for about four or five burgers.
All of that makes the “eat and buy local” movement more important. Eating and buying close to home reduces carbon emissions from transportion and mass-production factories, cuts the energy needed to grow, market and ship food, and dramatically reduces the water used by the world’s population.
“You look at the food, the grain – where it is coming from?” Steduto asks. “When we go to the supermarket, we have any product at any time of the year . . . because of the trade.”
And what does trade require? Water. It’s a loop: Transporting goods requires energy, and the production of energy requires, almost invariably, water.
“So, we need to be aware of all the things we do. The fact that we exist – that we are consuming natural resources and we are impacting the environment,” says the U.N. water chief.
Another reason Steduto and others are cautiously optimistic about growing water consciousness – and the resulting conservation – lies in the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals established in 2000-2002. That agreement called on all the world’s countries to meet eight goals by 2015, two of which were to halve the number of people worldwide who do not have safe drinking water or sanitation.