water Program

Water Saving Tips: Food Choices

You know you can save water by turning off the tap while you brush your teeth, “letting it mellow” and taking care not to waste it while cooking and cleaning. But did you know this direct water use only makes up a small portion of all the water you use? There is way more water – also known as virtual water – in the food, goods and services you consume. 

It takes a lot of water to produce and transport the all the fruit, vegetables, processed foods and, especially, the meat, dairy and nuts that you eat every day.

Read on to learn how to save water by changing how and what you consume and wasting less (be sure to check out our tips specifically for the kitchen and recycling), and take our Water Footprint Calculator to find out how much water you use directly and indirectly each day. 

Eating Lower on the Food Chain

  • It takes an enormous amount of water to produce animal products like meat and dairy, because livestock and poultry in the US eat large amounts of water-intensive feed – usually corn and soybeans.
  • Try Meatless Monday and go vegetarian one day a week. It could significantly lower your water footprint.
  • When you do eat meat, dairy and eggs, opt for pasture-raised products. It’s better for you and the planet, and grass (as opposed to corn and soy feed) is less likely to be irrigated so is less reliant on blue water resources.
  • A lot of water goes into processing foods, so opt for more fruits, vegetables, leafy greens (like spinach and kale) and whole grains. 
  • Drink one less cup of coffee per day, or – if you really need your caffeine fix –  go for tea instead, since coffee has one of the highest water footprints per pound.
  • Don’t go nuts. They’re a good, nutritious source of protein, but nuts, and especially nut milks, are major water hogs.
  • Learn more about the water in your food.

Processed Foods

  • Eat less processed food like chips, premade meals, candy and soda, because processing requires more water. Learn more about the water in your food.
  • “Process” your own whole foods for on-the-go snacks by chopping up fresh fruit and vegetables, making your own trail mix with dried fruit and nuts, or mashing up (with a food processor) beans with olive oil and seasoning for hummus or dip.

Food Waste

  • In the US, we waste about 40 percent of our total food supply every year, which also wastes 25 percent of all freshwater consumed annually.
  • Plan your meals so you only buy what you need and not more.
  • Cook and eat what you buy. Food ingredients are not for looking but for cooking, so go ahead and make something delicious with even the most random assortment of ingredients lurking in your kitchen.
  • Eat leftovers! If you want a change of pace, learn how to cook smart and turn leftovers into a new meal.
  • If you do have food scraps or unwanted leftovers, learn how and where you can compost to keep it out of the landfills. 
  • Learn more about composting.

Sustainable Shopping and Cooking

  • Find out what sustainable food is, where to buy it and even how to grow your own.
  • Find good food with the Eat Well Guide, a directory of over 25,000 sustainable family farms, restaurants, farmers' markets, grocery stores and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs in the US and Canada.
  • Explore the treasure trove of great recipes that use sustainable ingredients from Sustainable Table

Pet Food

  • Make your own pet food so you can control the quality of ingredients, as well as the water footprint. Talk with your veterinarian to determine if there are any specific nutritional needs.
  • Learn more about making your own dog food.
  • Buy sustainably made products like hemp dog toys, collars and leashes.
  • Reuse, repair and in general, buy fewer animal products like collars, leashes, bowls and toys. Your pet won't care, we promise.