Letter from California (Part II)

Dear Reader,

In my last letter, I wrote about the water conservation measures I have taken at home as the mega-drought here in California rages on with no end in sight. Although I am happy to have incorporated these practices into my daily life—I find them easy enough to do—ordinary citizens like myself do not consume the majority of water in this state. To put some of the numbers below into perspective, the average American family consumes about 110,000 gallons of water per year.

The current state of affairs in California

5 steps you can take to help California

1. Do not waste food. According to the NRDC, we waste 40 percent of our food in this country. With 80 percent of water going toward growing that food, that works out to 32 percent of our water wasted. (NRDC says it’s 25 percent but if you do the math…either way, you get the picture).

2. Go easy on the beef, dairy and almonds. I know you all love your almond milk and vegetarians and vegans leave behind a much smaller footprint than meat-eaters. However, we all could take this opportunity to examine our diets and how much water various products consume in their production. I was shocked by this graphic which depicts just how much water chickpeas (and other foods) requireThis interactive chart from National Geographic reveals how much water goes into producing one pound of various foods, such as:

  • Beef: 1,799 gallons of water
  • Goat: 127 gallons of water (not a typo)
  • Milk: 880 gallons of water
  • Wine: 1,008 gallons of water
  • Coffee: 880 gallons of water
  • Tea: 128 gallons of water
  • Chocolate: 3,170 gallons of water (please don’t shoot the messenger)
sourdough bake 03.19.15
A slice of bread consumes 11 gallons of water to produce, mostly for the wheat, one of the less-thirsty crops

3. If you live in California, tear up your lawn and replace it with drought-tolerant plants. If you live elsewhere, consider doing this anyway and grow food. You’ll grow delicious fruits and vegetables, save money, get gentle exercise, cut your waste, reduce your dependency on corporations to feed you and learn a useful skill to pass down to generations who will need it.

4. Please I beg of you, do not buy bottled water. If you read my blog, you probably don’t buy bottled water. But you may not have signed this petition demanding that Nestlé stop taking our water. If nothing else, an online petition helps build awareness. If you do buy bottled water originating from outside of California, your money nonetheless supports unethical companies.

5. If you live in New Jersey, or England or China, do not buy our food, buy local. I will probably get kicked out of the state for this suggestion, but why do we grow so much food in California, only to transport it elsewhere? And why do we raise cattle in a desert? When we export water-intensive products, we export water. We have none.

My most recent farmer’s market haul of locally grown food

17 Replies to “Letter from California (Part II)”

  1. Reblogged this on Transition Tales and commented:
    Doable things we can do NOW to help California in this time of drought. What happens to California, happens to all of us.

    1. Thank you so much for the reblog! I really appreciate it 🙂

  2. Aggie’s Farm is doing her best to take some food growing pressure away from you. 🙂 The statistics for food water use seem so high that I looked up the source. It says 468 gal of water for a pound of chicken. Our chickens drank about a cup per day in the heat of last summer. They could be ready for meat in less than 3 months. That means they would drink about 6 gallons of water in their life. Say that I used 5 gal to clean the bird up after killing. That’s 11 gallons. What on earth do commercial poultry producers do to use so much water? Could it be that we don’t have to use water to clean up their wastes, because their “wastes” are useful soil feritilizer? I don’t know…

    1. I was shocked by these numbers too. My daughter said the same thing as you when I told her about the beef. She said pasture-raised beef would use less water and I think that makes sense. I think CAFOs do use water to flush out the manure and send it to their cesspools. Plus the cows eat grain which is water-intensive to grow. We grow more alfalfa here than any other crop and that uses something like 25% of our water. So those numbers in the post include the water used to grow the feed for the cows. I think that’s why the numbers are so high. On a normal farm, the animals are grazing and as they do so, leave behind manure that restores the fields. A CAFO just turns that resource into waste and an environmental mess with lagoons that sometimes break and leak. A CAFO is just out of whack and tries to control nature, which is total hubris. Your chickens run around and eat grubs and bugs and likely require less feed I imagine, so they would have a lower water footprint (if that’s a thing).

  3. A very informative and timely piece Anne Marie! Thank you.

  4. good points and really ditto for this country as well- it seems as avid tea drinkers we are the least heavy on the water table . phew
    if california kicks you out most welcome here…

    1. I thought the same thing about the tea also, Sandra. Thanks for the invitation. I’ll start packing 😉

      1. dont forget to bring eleanor

      2. Hahaha! If and when I leave California, Eleanor is at the top of my must-pack list! Most other things can stay behind.

  5. Very informative post. It sickens me that Nestle continues to bottle water even in such a severe drought.
    And a good reminder for those of us that don’t live in California to buy local produce whenever possible.

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth. I would hate to work in Nestle’s PR department. The company makes so many gaffes and gets a lot of well-deserved bad press. I think buy local is a good lesson to come out of all of this, especially with spring here and farmer’s markets starting up again on the East Coast.

  6. Great post. It’s so easy not to think about these aspects of water usage. Definitely supports the views that we should minimise waste, and recycle / upcycle where we can.

    1. Thank you! Minimizing the waste is a win-win! Unless you’re a Nestle shareholder ;p (In that case, divest!)

      1. I find it a bit scary how many smaller companies these big ones own. Makes it hard to buy ethically… Or invest!

  7. It’s hard to imagine but it only seems like yesterday (ok, the ’90’s) when we had endless rain each winter in L.A. One year, I think it was maybe ’92 or ’93, it rained almost an entire month. And what about that El Nino in the late ’90s? Wow, what a difference 15 years makes. Or even 10. My heart goes out to you guys and my head says, we gotta make some major changes in how we feed our country. (Working on that story right now, actually.) Hang in there & thanks for bringing up these important issues!

    1. We had el Nino years not that long ago here, maybe seven years ago or so. I remember my kids’ teachers urging all of us parents to buy rain boots for our kids. We sure do have to make changes to our food system! Now we have no choice. I guess that’s what it will take–no other option. I’m looking forward to your story on this 🙂

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