Why Water Matters

How can I show my commitment to sustainable living in the way I prepare meals? How can I reduce my water consumption and conserve water?

It's hard to think of water as a resource in danger of depletion. Water covers 71% of the earth's surface. The ocean is deeper than our tallest mountains and wider than any content. However, only 2.5% of the water on and around the earth is available for human use. There are 8.7 million species on the planet (according to Science Daily), so assuming that we are nice and intend to equally share our resources (although we rarely do) we have very, very little water to work with.

Naturally, we use more than we need and more than the earth can sustainably manage to provide (like most natural resources). Groundwater in the United States and worldwide is quickly being sapped, while some rivers run dry at their mouths or seize to exist entirely. This is not only altering soil composition, destroying ecosystems and accelerating desertification but also is cheating both current and future generations of all the treasures water provides.

This, however, can all be changed! The best thing about water is that it's one of the easiest natural resources to preserve and with super simple changes to our lifestyle, we can drastically alter our water consumption. Since we are focusing on sustainable actions in the kitchen we'll break it down into three areas to improve; cooking, eating and dishwashing. We'll be using some tips from the Grace Communications Foundation (a water preservation non-profit) and some personal ideas to start on our journey of water conservation in the kitchen! In every step of every meal, we can make changes to save water, a resource that is becoming increasingly more precious.

The first place we can save water when preparing a meal is when we are cooking. To start, when you go to wash fruit or veggies, do so in a tub. This way you aren't running water for a prolonged amount of time, and you are catching the water you are using to be re-used later. When you go to boil those veggies make sure you don't use too much water in the pot. This will save on both gas, time and water as your food will cook faster! If you're defrosting foods make sure that you put them in the refrigerator the night before instead of running water to make them defrost. This brings up a very important point of never letting the water run for long periods. To even better conserve water, you can install slow flow faucets that allow you to have greater control over the amount of water you're running. Finally, all of the water you use to rinse, boil and (if you must) defrost, can be re-used. Pour cooled water into a small bucket or watering can and use this to water plants the next time they need watering before you use the hose or tap water. It will have more organic material in it by then so it will be better for your plants anyways!

Next, let's focus on eating. Again, it comes down to the meat. The amount of water consumed by traditional meat farms is mind-blowing. However, this doesn't apply to free-range animals. Why? Because it's not what the animals are drinking, but what they are eating! Interestingly enough, 70% of the freshwater used in the world is used for agriculture. How do you escape overusing water if doing so means you can't eat meats or veggies? You buy smartly! When you buy traditional meat products you are essentially doubling your water consumption because now, that pig's or cow's or chicken's food intake becomes part of your total water consumption! Free-range animals not only eat less, but they eat natural grasses instead of corn and soy which is grown in massive crops, usually in non-native climates, and requires tons of watering. Again, if you are going to buy meat, the message is to buy small. Buy small portions from small businesses that get their meat from small farms.

How do you decrease your water consumption when it comes to veggies? To do so, you have to understand that there are four primary ways to water crops. Farmers may choose to use a flooding method, a furrow method, a drip method or a spray method. Drip and spray methods apply water directly to plants and use much less water and usually garner a higher crop yield. However, they are expensive methods. Naturally, due to the savings, most farmers use flood or furrow methods. I won't get into what this does to the soil fertility but I will say its a HUGE water waster. Of course, it takes some real work to find out how farmers are irrigating their crops; work I probably wouldn't want to do while shopping, so that's a bit out of the question. What you can do is buy fruits and vegetables that you know likely wouldn't survive high levels of saturation. A few examples would be most bean plants, tomatoes, melons, and squashes. Unfortunately, one of the crops that requires the most amount of water to grow is coffee. Stick to a cup a day and you'll be doing well, but don't make your Keurig or the local Starbucks the most common site of your day. If this is still a little too much effort for you, then you can at least try to eat mostly local produce to compensate. When you buy local, you are decreasing the amount of water it has taken to ship the item to a store near you. As a general rule, the farther away food gets from the soil in which it was grown (both on a processing and shipping level) the more water it takes to make. If corn takes a lot of water to grow then beef takes even more to raise and highly processed beef products take exponentially more.

Finally, when all the eating is done, we enter the final stage of water conservation in our kitchens; the dishes. In our house, I have little experience in this stage of the meal since I am deathly allergic to doing dishes (lol), so Cooper is the one that implements these steps in the dish stage. Saving water when doing dishes is simple; use the dishwasher. If your dishwasher is energy efficient, that's even better! That being said, there are always a few delicate items that can't brave the dishwasher. When it comes to these items, try wetting a soapy sponge and cleaning them all down before you even turn on the water! In the end, when it's time to deal with all the food scraps, opt for the compost instead of the garburator, as that will save on running water as well.

If it feels like you are drowning in information (no pun intended), then I'll help you back to the surface. If you want to conserve water simply use less when cooking and washing dishes and re-use what you do use. When buying chose local, small and as close to the soil as you can!

If you're interested in the other portions of your water consumption check out this awesome water footprint calculator!