All products need water. Crops must be irrigated. Animals must eat those crops and drink water. Food and clothing often requires water to be processed. Anything transported must use gasoline, which uses water.
This hidden water constitutes a major amount of the water you consume every day, which is why what you order for lunch can have as much of an impact on water conservation as taking shorter showers or skipping the car wash. Many of our posts have focused on this virtual water, and today, we’re going to examine one of the assumptions we’ve hit on time and time again: that vegetables, especially home-grown vegetables, are one of the most water-friendly things you can eat. But before you break out the salad and stir-fry, let’s break down that broad spectrum of “vegetables” to see which veggies, in particular, are better or worse for your virtual water footprint.
I’m a bit old school, and in my mind, tomatoes are a vegetable; I don’t care what evidence you can offer to the contrary. Tomatoes are also, luckily, fantastic in terms of their virtual water footprint. A kilogram of tomatoes needs 50 liters of water to produce, and that might sound like a lot, but trust me, it’s not – especially once you see some of the alternatives. Cucumbers are in the same playing field – a kilogram clock in at just 50 liters.
I hope you’re a fan of salad, because leafy greens are big water savers. A kg of cabbage uses only 200 liters of water. Lettuce uses even less – 130 liters.
A kg of squash, such as pumpkins, need a bit more – 240 liters of water.
A kilogram of potatoes use 250 liters. That’s quite a bit more than some of the other veggies on this list, but still much healthier than most meat products.
We can debate whether these qualify as vegetables – but I challenge you to offer an alternative food class. Olives need almost ten times what potatoes want – 2750 liters of water for a single kg.
All in all, there’s a lot of variance between a tomato and an olive, or even a potato and lettuce, but vegetables, even the virtual water intensive ones, are body-healthy and planet-healthy, so eat up!