How Much Precious California Water Did You Just Eat? Find the Water Footprint of Your Food

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Courtesy LA Times
Courtesy LA Times

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that soy milk was the most water-intensive drink. The  value, as initially listed by the LA Times, was for the soybean ingredient, not the actual final soy milk product. Soy milk actually has a smaller water footprint than most other processed drinks.

Looking to minimize your water footprint at the dinner table? How about a wholesome meal of eggs, carrots, potatoes and beer?

Nutritious and downright water efficient (although perhaps not age-appropriate for the whole family). 

According to a new Los Angeles Times data analysis, the raw ingredients in that meal require less water to produce than almost any other combo plate of a protein, a fruit/veggie, a starch and a beverage. Use the site's new interactive tool to build a combination of meals and see how much water is needed to produce California's most commonly consumed foods (sources and methodology listed at the bottom of the graphic).

Now in its fourth year of drought, California has only a fraction of its once-normal water supply. And as officials continue to wrestle with how best to cope with less, the agriculture industry, which uses about 80% of the state's water supply, has come under increased scrutiny.

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It's no secret that it takes a lot of water to grow food. And California produces a lot of food -- about half the nation's fruits and veggies. But some foods are much thirstier than others, and a growing number of drought-conscious farmers and consumers are making an effort to cut down on crops and commodities that require larger quantities of water.

As a general rule of thumb, meat is the thirstiest food source out there, with beef leading the charge. In its analysis, the LA Times calculated that about 850 gallons of water are required to produce 8 ounces (or half a pound) of beef -- about 10 times more water intensive than chicken.

Among starches, pasta requires the most water (16.6 gallons needed to produce one ounce), with rice (16.26 gallons) coming in as a close second.

In the fruit and veggie aisle, mangoes (grown near the Mexican border) are the biggest water hogs, requiring 28.5 gallons per ounce. Ironically, one of California's most water efficient fruits is ... watermelon (1.79 gallons of water per ounce). The Times' analysis also includes several crops not typically grown here, like pineapples and bananas (generally produced in more tropical, wetter climates).

When it comes to beverages, milk is among the most water-intensive, requiring 5.48 gallons of water produce one ounce, according to the LA Times. California produces the most dairy products in the nation.

The most water-efficient drink? Well, that'd be plain, old refreshing water (who'd a thunk it?).