Taking on Water Challenge: Week 1 – Eat Less Meat

Estimates vary, but data from the Water Footprint Network suggests that the annual water footprint of the average American consumer is more than 750,000 gallons per year, nearly 60 percent of which is used in the production of our food. America’s startlingly high water footprint is primarily due to high per capita consumption of meat and industrial products.

According to the Water Footprint Network, it requires about 1,799 gallons to produce one pound of beef, 468 gallons per pound of chicken, 576 gallons per pound of pork, and 880 gallons per gallon of milk. Copious volumes of water are needed to grow feed for animals, and then additional water is used to care for animals, process meat, and distribute and sell animal products. By contrast, raising fruit, vegetables, and grains requires a fraction of the water. Carrots require only 6.5 gallons of water per pound; apples, nearly 100 gallons per pound; peas, 10.2 gallons per pound; blueberries, 13.8 gallons per cup; and potatoes, 119 gallons per pound.

By avoiding red meat for two days this week, you can reduce your water footprint by about 953 gallons. By continuing this practice, you can save nearly 50,000 gallons of water in a year.

Follow these links for more discussion about:

The Average American Diet and Its Water Footprint

The Environmental Implications of Meat Production

How We Use Water for Food

See introductory information on the Taking on Water Challenge: Reduce your Water Footprint here. To enter to win the Taking on Water Challenge, pledge to decrease your water footprint by leaving a comment.


To Enter

Full official contest rules and guidelines are here. Contest begins January 29, 2013. Entries must be received no later than March 11, 2013, 11:59:59 PM Pacific Time.

• Enter for the chance to win a copy of Taking on Water and a water reduction kit for your home (Approximate Retail Value $130).

• No purchase necessary.

• Open to residents of the fifty United States and the District of Columbia, ages 18 or older.

• Contest begins January 29, 2013. Entries must be received no later than March 11, 2013, 11:59:59 PM Pacific Time.

• The winner will be selected on or about March 15, 2013.

• Void where prohibited by law.

Entries must be made in the comments section on Wendy Pabich’s blog, www.waterdeva.com. Entries must include the following (Incomplete entries will not be considered):

▪ Name (first and last)

▪ Email Address

▪ A brief comment pledging to decrease your water footprint

Optional: A link to a blog post or photograph can be included, but is not necessary for entry.

38 comments to Taking on Water Challenge: Week 1 – Eat Less Meat

  • [...] Taking on Water Challenge: Week 1 – Eat Less Meat    How You as Educators and Consumers Can Help Solve Our Water Problems [...]

  • Gill Brociner

    I have been a vegetarian for three decades now and pledge to do my best to maintain an ecologically sound water footprint.

  • Brie Gyncild

    I’m a vegetarian so this challenge is pretty easy for me. But I consume a lot of cheese. Presumably, dairy cattle consume large quantities of water, too. Would reducing my cheese consumption make a substantial difference?

    • Yes, reducing dairy input would reduce your water footprint. For reference, here are some rough numbers: it takes 414 gallons to produce a pound of cheese, 23 gallons per egg, 36 gallons per 6 ounces of yogurt, 720 gallons per gallon of milk, and a whopping 3,600 gallons per pound of butter (Source: Thomas S. Kostigen, The Blue Green Book).

  • Lou

    being a vegetarian is awesome for some. I do not consume red meats for health issues But if everyone decided to not eat meat we would have 1000′s upon 1000′s farmers and farm workers out of jobs and countless number of animals being slaughtered. HOW about if we worry about getting the Business at the corner to turn off their automated sprinklers I love it when its raining and they are going! How about if we don’t care so much about shiny cars and 30 minute showers running so our hair is pretty and conditioned! And so what if it is summer and our lawns are not green! Putting farmers out of business is not an answer Besides How much water does it take to grow a field of corn or a field of green beans?

  • Dot Lenhart

    I haven’t eaten meat for many years, and have spent a good portion of my 60 years as a vegetarian. 2 years ago I started to develop a rainwater collection system for my gardens. I have also cut down my showering time by more than 1/2. Now I am reducing my dairy intake. I will enjoy learning even more ways to conserve water.

  • Bethann harris

    I am 9 months pregnant with baby number three and since I have been pregnant I have been doing a lot of research on how to better mine && two other kids environment and watching more of what we eat! I pledge this week to eat less red meat in order to reduce my water footprint!

  • sara jackson

    My husband and I have been cutting out red meat for a while now to save money and for our health, I had no idea it had such a larger impact!

  • Colleen Hickman

    Had a delicious sweet potato curry with lentils and broccoli for dinner last night – amazing! No need for meat in this fabulous dish!

  • I have become a semi-vegetarian ( I eat more meatless meal) I have a daughter that is vegetarian so I enjoy more meals meatless then with meat…

  • Helen Ward

    We also have cut down considerably, only purchase local, grass fed meat and try to eat only what we raise on our farm.

    I pledge to eat red meat twice per week and only buy local, grass fed meat. I have two boys who LOVE meat and I am working on making it more of a side dish than a main meal.

  • Isaac Salazar

    I’m up for this challenge and will continue to do my best to decrease my water footprint.

  • Richard McLellan

    I’m already a “less is best” meat eater – perhaps eating meat (beef, lamb, pork, chicken) just once or twice a month. I much prefer to enjoy MSC fish once or thrice each week, and live with a very savvy partner who shops with a conscience and an understanding of the footprint of our food. But love the challenge of doing better, and being reminded of our need to reduce our Water Footprint.

  • Judy G.

    I haven’t eaten meat/chicken/fish in 35 years and have drastically reduced dairy consumption over the past year. I recommend watching ‘Forks Over Knives’ for more reasons to change to a plant based diet.

  • Kelli Grabowski

    I am a high school Earth Science teacher and have my students working on a creative project to increase awareness of many different water-related issues of the world. They have the option of developing the project from different perspectives including a 25-year old living in Las Vegas, a corn stalk in Indiana, a conservation officer in upstate New York, or a 15-year old in Kenya. I came across your book and challenge as I helped them research. I am glad I found it when I did! I am so in! My students are too young to enter, but I will be updating them as we go! Thanks, Wendy!

  • Marie Kellner

    I’m in, Wendy! Thanks for the ideas and the motivation!

  • OK, I’m committed to the challenge! This week is easy for me since I’m about 95% vegan already- hard to resist those free samples at Costco when I shop (but I usually skip the red meat anyway). I look forward to seeing the challenges coming up.

  • Laura Smith

    Grateful to have found this blog, so informative. I pledge to decrease my water usage beginning with the week 1 challenge.

  • [...] goin’ on Wendy Pabich’s water challenge, by the way. Who’s with me? (Hint: it’ll be a cinch for all us vegetarians out [...]

  • Rebecca Sullivan

    wunderground carried your blog… never thought about this. well, not the food aspect. I have been experimenting… one ten minute shower will flush the toilet for 2-3 days depending on how often the toilet needs flushing. i figure to enjoy a couple of longer showers a week I might as well reuse the water… I hauled the water from the rain barrel into the garage for the winter. am still using to water the indoor plants. however, I also use the vegetable washing water to water plants. anytime we can use water twice we gain. and yes, i eat little meat, a chicken lasts me a week or more, and am allergic to dairy so don’t do that. I’d think that goat milk/cheese would be a less wasteful water user than cow’s milk? I’m also excited to keep expanding garden so more locally grown food and less grass. Oh, yes, down the road there is an ethanol plant… does it hog the water!!!

    • Hi Rebecca, Welcome and thanks for letting me know how you found your way here. Reusing water is always a great way to go! I don’t know that anyone has done the analysis comparing cheese made with goat’s milk versus cow’s milk, but the water footprint of goat meat is about one-half that of beef. You might be interested in this Grist story on the environmental implications of cheese production: http://goo.gl/jh385

  • John B

    Wendy, firstly, I’m pretty good on my water footprint. I’ve drastically reduced the consumption of red meat, eat lots of fruits (many cut from backyard trees) vegetables, beans, and lentils. I’ve also reduced the consumption of processed wheat products (cereals, pasta, breads). However, I do consume a fair amount of chicken as well as yogurt.
    Couple of questions for you; with respect to water usuage:
    Is there a difference between free range chicken vs other?
    Would artificial grass be better than a lawn? (it would seem so, but many things have hidden costs). Might be a good idea for businesses, etc. to replace their small patches of grass with artificial stuff.

    • Hi John, Welcome. It seems that the water footprint of free range chicken is not much different than that of industrially-raised chicken. However, we do know that factory farming carried tremendous environmental burdens. Rather than artificial turf, how about some of the great alternatives — low-water plants, cobbles, mulch, etc.?

  • [...] Hydrophilia, has a weekly challenge for cutting back your embedded water usage. Did you know by avoiding red meat for two days a week, you can reduce your water footprint by about 953 gallons? By continuing this practice, you can [...]

  • Jack

    I am a veggie. An added benefit to eating veggies is that one becomes more sympathetic to the environment. The amount of plastic that comes into our homes, as wrapping, is stunning. A person can completely flip the amount of garbage to recyclables after realizing that the earth must absorb, properly, the refuse we produce. Plastics and metals must be removed from the disposed foods we eat so this food refuse can be consumed by the earth. Someday the plastic/styrophome(sp) wrapping industry will be unacceptable. What a crime on the planet. The amount of plastics we bring into the house must be recycled properly.

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