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How Much Water Does it Take to Grow America’s Favorite Foods?

From beef to beer, here’s how the numbers stack up

(Martin Sundberg/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

California grows about half the fruits and vegetables for the entire country, and even in the face of drought, the Golden State has to dump a huge share of its water into agriculture—about 80 percent of its entire supply. The L.A. Times just published an interactive graphic showing how much water it takes to produce some of the most widely eaten foods in the U.S. Here are the top three most thristy foods, in each major category, measured in gallons of water per ounce:

Protein

Beef: 106.28
Lamb: 84.68
Chickpeas: 76.07

Grains

Pasta: 16.6
Rice: 16.26
Wheat Bread: 14.44

Fruits and vegetables

Mangoes: 28.5
Asparagus: 20.32
Cherries: 12.22

Drinks 

Pineapple juice: 6.36
Milk: 5.48
Sparking wine: 4.28

Given how frequently the thirsty nature of almonds has been making the news, it is curious that particular nut did not make the list. Gizmodo estimates that almonds suck up about 23 gallons an ounce—quite a bit, but still on par with much of the other chow.

Of course, one couldn’t simply choose to subsist only on less thirsty crops. On the other end of the spectrum, you'd be eating a diet of beer, lettuce and potatoes. So while these numbers are good food for thought, they probably shouldn't be the only factor you weigh when making a grocery list.

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