Penn Club H2O
How Water Scarcity Will Impact Your Diet & Food Availability
As climate change continues to impact the environment with increasingly devastating consequences, the issue of water scarcity perpetually hinders food security. Since agriculture is responsible for about 70% of global water withdrawals, it is majorly contributing to this ongoing crisis¹. Observing these impacts from a consumer perspective and highlighting specific foods that are particularly water intensive, exemplifies how individuals’ diets may shift because of food availability being altered from this deceased access to water.
As society hyper fixates on curating diets that prioritize improving individual’s health, the ongoing impact from water scarcity may cause diet alterations for consumers with intentions of benefiting the environment as well as their wallet instead. Specifically, the price of water intensive foods, which are typically meats, will continue to increase as water’s quality and quantity continues to dwindle for agricultural use. The most demanding meat category is beef, which takes more than 15,000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of due how much is needed to grow the food the cow consumes, and for it drink to fully grow to the proper size before slaughter². Following behind with 8,700, 7,000, and 4,000 liters of required water to produce 1 kilogram of meat are sheep, pig, and chicken respectively, making it evident that meat products will become increasingly expensive as water scarcity prevails².
While the main themes surrounding plant-based diets typically pertain to its beneficial impact on the environment, health improvements, and a form of opposing animal cruelty, an emerging new motivation to pursue this lifestyle is the lower costs of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes compared to meat sources. Reports have shown predictions indicating that Americans will consume 5.6% less beef this year due to price increases because of shortages on the market³. Due to these alterations to the meat industry, consumers are shifting towards purchasing more plant-based foods, seeing as the sales of plant-based foods have grown at a rate three times higher than all other grocery store foods⁴. As the plant-based diet is becoming increasingly popular, plant-based food sales are predicted to increase fivefold by 2030, providing a cheaper option to meat products as water scarcity causes traditional meat goods to become continuously more expensive⁵.
While the dietary trend of pursuing a plant-based lifestyle is on the rise, reviewing which crops are water intensive is crucial to address the impact of water scarcity on non-meat products also. Specifically, two water intensive crops that are staples for consumers abiding by plant-based diet criteria are almonds and avocados, with almonds requiring 12 liters to grow just 1 and avocados requiring 2,000 liters to grow 1 kilogram of the crop⁶. Also, making the list of water intensive fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes include rice, bananas, beans, beets, and sugarcane, it is likely that as the water crisis continues, the access to these products for consumers will decrease as their prices increase⁷.
Anticipating the impacts on the agricultural industry because of water scarcity highlights how consumer habits will adjust to the ongoing consequences of climate change and can help individuals plan their consumption habits to benefit both the planet and their finances. Seeing as individuals are increasingly becoming invested in climate change mitigation strategies, our consumption behaviors can be a great starting point in reducing water consumption.
1 Sentlinger, Katherine. “Water Scarcity and Agriculture.” The Water Project. Accessed April 26, 2023. https://thewaterproject.org/water-scarcity/water-scarcity-and-agriculture#:~:text=Water%20Crisis&text=Water%20scarcity%20has%20a%20huge,for%20the%20fast%20growing%20population.
2 Armstrong, Martin. “Which Foods Need the Most Water to Produce?” World Economic Forum, June 7, 2021. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/06/water-footprint-food-sustainability.
3 “2023 Meat Shortage: The Largest Beef Supply Drop in 40 Years.” Good Ranchers, February 24, 2023. https://www.goodranchers.com/blog/2023-meat-shortage-the-largest-beef-supply-drop-in-40-years.
4 Russo, Andrea. “Know How: The Rise of Plant-Based Foods.” Nestlé Professional, August 1, 2022. https://www.nestleprofessional.us/trends-insights/plant-based-know-how#:~:text=Plant%2DBased%20Foods%E2%80%94Sowing%20the,all%20other%20grocery%20store%20food.&text=A%20whopping%2098%25%20of%20consumers,meat%20also%20buy%20animal%20meat.
5 Minassian, Liana. “Why the Global Rise in Vegan and Plant-Based Eating Is No Fad (30x Increase in US Vegans + Other Astounding Vegan Stats).” Food Revolution Network, April 11, 2023. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/vegan-statistics-global/#:~:text=Vegan%20Stats%3A%20Global%20Demand%20Increases%20for%20Plant%2DBased%20Foods&text=This%20means%20that%20plant%2Dbased,to%20increase%20fivefold%20by%202030.
6 Gerretsen, Isabelle. “5 Everyday Foods That Are Making Droughts Worse.” CNN. Cable News Network, April 8, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2019/04/05/health/everyday-foods-water-drought-climate-intl/index.html.
Disclaimer: All information, content and materials on this blog are for general information purposes only. Any opinion expressed by the author is not necessarily the opinion of Penn Club H2O or University of Pennsylvania.