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Photograph by Lynn Johnson
Of the less than 1 percent of freshwater available for human use, a whopping 70 percent goes toward growing food and raising animals.
Your diet is probably the biggest slice of your water footprint, especially if you eat meat from cows and other animals fed with water-intensive crops, such as corn. Cutting consumption of animal products in half would reduce the U.S.’s dietary requirements of water by 37 percent. The average U.S. diet currently takes 1,320 gallons (4,997 liters) of water a day to produce.
Food is also a means by which water is moved, or imported and exported, around the world. You may find that the rice you bought today was grown in a dry region of Jordan with the help of highly engineered, but not always very efficient, irrigation systems. For example, northern China annually exports to south China about 1.8 trillion cubic feet (52 billion cubic meters) of water indirectly through foodstuffs and other products.
In areas where food is not taken for granted—often the same areas where droughts and flooding hit the hardest—there are 850 million people annually suffering from malnutrition. As water becomes less accessible, so does food.
Asia's growing appetite for meat threatens the already water-stressed region with severe food shortages, according to scientists.
Find out how much water it really takes to support your lifestyle.
Producing food for billions can take lots of water. Learn more with National Geographic's sustainable agriculture website.
The end of plenty—what is a hot, crowded, and hungry world to do?