Roast Chicken or 208 Minutes in the Shower—Your Call, Water Hog
Last night I ate lentils, brussels sprouts, and bread for dinner. I also drank a beer and took a shower. While I only spent maybe three or five minutes, tops, under the running water, today I’m thinking about all of those activities in terms of bathing.
That beer, for example, about doubled the length of my shower in terms of overall water use on a random Sunday night. My dinner was vegetarian, and the drought-tolerant lentils and wheat that comprised much of the meal likely relied on little water to grow. But had I eaten some chicken alongside those brussels sprouts, my theoretical shower would have stretched out to 104 minutes—which is how much water goes into raising one pound of poultry, according to a table from Dana Gunders’ forthcoming book, Waste-Free Kitchen Handbook.
Gunders, who researches food-waste issues for the Natural Resource Defense Council, was a guest on KCRW’s Good Food over the weekend. In the interview, she told host Evan Kleiman, “the idea that so much water is going to growing food that ultimately never gets eaten is really a tragedy.” In the United States, Gunders notes, $162 billion of food ends up not getting eaten every year.
Thanks to the ongoing drought in the West and a general increase in the environmental impact of the food we eat, ag water usage stats have shown a weird ability to go viral. But when people say that one almond requires 1.1 gallons of water—a stat that doesn’t account for rainfall, by the by, making it rather misleading—it only gives a physical shape to plants' thirst. It's an abstract notion. But most of us spend at least a few minutes in the shower every day, putting these figures (which include rainfall) into more relatable terms.
Like people, plants and animals need water to grow. Understanding how much water—or the equivalent amount of time spent in the shower—goes into dinner is less about bringing that number as close to zero as possible than smartly reducing it.
Because it’s not like you’re going to stop showering altogether in response to the drought—and I’m not going to stop eating chocolate (90 minutes of shower time to produce four ounces) because of it either.