We hope that all our readers have been paying attention to our posts for the last several months.  Specifically, we hope you’ve remembered our many posts  on the virtual water content of food, and how what you eat can cost hundreds of thousands of gallons of water each day – one bacon cheeseburger could offset months of skipping showers when it comes to water conservation.

One issue we’ve touched on time and time again is that meat and other animal products have a massive virtual water footprint – a kilogram of beef takes 15,500 liters of water  to produce, whereas a salad can take only a few hundred, depending on what ingredients you use.

Personally, I’m not ready to go full-on vegetarian, but I’m also not willing to waste four hot tub’s worth of water just on one steak dinner.  So I’ve been trying to experiment with some vegetarian cooking, although I find myself wondering: are meat substitutes really all that more water-conscious than meat itself?  After all, as we’ve learned by looking at chocolate  and groundnuts, just because something is made of plants, that doesn’t mean it was produced in a water-conscious way.

Meat substitutes (like chicken-less chicken or veggie burgers) can often be just as processed and artificial  as many of the “foods” many people try to avoid for health and environmental reasons.   Of course, plenty of cultures have developed dishes without meat for millions of years before the modern Western Diet became a thing, so let’s take a look at the impact of cooking with natural vegetarian ingredients.

Chickpeas are used to make hummus, falafel, and can also be eaten on their own or in curries, stir-fries, and a ton of Indian dishes.  A single pound of chickpeas needs only 163 liters of water to produce.  Tofu, which is made of fermented soybeans, needs 244 gallons for every pound  produced – it’s not as water-friendly as chickpeas, but still a safe choice for the water-conscious consumer.  A pound of beans takes the virtual water cake, clocking in at only 43 gallons of water per pound of beans.  

I’ve always been a fan of nutty dishes myself, and I know nuts are packed with protein, which is why I was disappointed to discover that a kilo of groundnuts require more than 3,000 liters to produce.  In pounds, that’s about 1400 liters of water per pound.

At the end of the day, it’s much easier to stick to a diet if you enjoy the food you’re eating than if it’s a chore, and that’s as true when you’re on the virtual-water diet as it is if you’re trying to lose weight.  A year ago, I didn’t think I’d be able to handle going days (and occasionally more than a week) between my doses of chicken, beef, and pork, but now my meat-free kitchen has become second nature.  The key lies in finding what works for you, and thankfully, there are many water-wise meatless options to choose from.