The water footprint of food

This article was originally published in August 2015

water drop graphic

“It takes a gallon of water to grow an almond.” You may have seen that headline as drought worsens in California, where most almonds are grown. It’s true almonds are a thirsty crop — but they’re far from the only food with a hefty water footprint.

Globally, agriculture accounts for 92 percent of the global freshwater footprint; 29 percent of the water in agriculture is directly or indirectly used by livestock.

Keep in mind that if you’re buying organic, you’re helping to reduce your food water footprint. Organic methods help farms use water more effectively by retaining moisture in soil, reducing runoff and erosion, and increasing water filtration. Long-term trials by the Rodale Institute show organic farms can withstand drought periods better than conventional farms.


Meats: 460

Beef: 460 gallons/.25 lb
Pork: 180 gallons/.25 lb
Chicken: 129 gallons/.25 lb


Sweets: 446

Chocolate, 3.5 oz: 446 gallons
Sugar, refined cane: 213 gallons/lb


Carbs: 299

Rice: 299 gallons/lb
Pasta: 222 gallons/lb
Bread, 2 slices: 6.4 gallons



Dairy: 67

Milk, 8 oz glass: 67 gallons
Egg: 52 gallons
Cheese, cow’s milk: 38 gallons/oz
Butter: 20 gallons/tablespoon


Fruit: 42

Banana: 42 gallons
Peach or nectarine: 37 gallons
Orange: 21 gallons
Strawberry: 0.25 gallons


Beverages: 34

Coffee, 1 cup: 34 gallons
Wine, 1 glass: 29 gallons
Beer, 1 glass: 20 gallons
Tea, 1 cup: 7 gallons



Vegetables: 28

Cucumber, medium: 28 gallons
Lettuce, 1.4-lb: 18 gallons
Corn, medium: 18 gallons
Potato, medium: 16 gallons


Nuts: 2

Walnut: 2 gallons/ea
Almond: 1 gallon/ea
Pistachio: 0.35 gallon/ea

Learn more: Calculate your personal water footprint.

Map of USA with California highlighted

The average American reportedly consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food produced there.

California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. Farming in the state accounts for 80 percent of all the state’s water consumption. PCC’s main organic produce distributor, Organically Grown Company, says about 44 percent of its produce comes from California.

Data from the Water Footprint Network and The New York Times.

Also in this issue

PCC to open 11th store in Bothell

The Canyon Park neighborhood in Bothell, Wash. will be home to a new PCC Natural Markets store in 2016.

Student debt a barrier for beginning farmers

Young farmers with student loan debt are having a hard time making student loan payments, and some haven't pursued farming as a career because their salary as a farmer wouldn't be enough to cover their student loan payments. A bill introduced in Congress would categorize farming as public service and would forgive payment on student loans of public servants after 10 years in the field.

Letters to the editor, August 2015

PCC's support for organics, Online delivery, Excessive packaging, and more