April’s food

Ever wondered how much water is used in making your food?

9th April was Family Day. Let’s take the plunge and extend this into the whole month of April and make April family month – a time to celebrate all things family.

Whether it is going on the long-planned camping trip in the Cederberg or picnic by moonlight on Lion’s Head, to surfing the gentle waves in Muizenberg and basking in the warm autumn sun on top of Chapman’s Peak – this is the time to catch up on the much missed time and spend it with those you love and cherish.

At the end of your exciting day out or your long journey home – it is the perfect occasion to put something on the braai. Steaks – check, mielies – check, beers – check, soda – check, coffee – check, toast – check. As you make your way from the meandering food and beverage queue back to the dining room you find it nearly shoulder-deep in water.

What’s going on? That’s not how the perfect day out or weekend away is supposed to end. It’s not April’s Fool, or is it?

Every item we purchase and consume has a water footprint embedded within its life cycle – from production and transport, to cleaning and cooking. Water is in everything – even if we don’t see it. So why does your supper use so much water? Where is it all going?

Here is what’s on your plate.

1. A 250g piece of steak (water usage: 3875 litres) – The global average water footprint for a kilogram of beef is 15500 litres. This includes the grains and roughage, as well as the water that the cow consumes. For comparative purposes, 263 litres of water is used in the production of a 250g soy burger.

2. Mielie 250g (water usage: 225 litres) – For every kilogram of mielie that is grown, nine hundred litres of water is used. Around 8 percent (or 550 billion cubic metres) of the global water use for crop production can be attributed to mielie production.

3. Toast (water usage: 40 litres) – The water footprint for a slice of wheat bread is about 40 litres.

4. Two glasses of beer (water usage: 150 litres) – Each glass of beer requires three hundred times more water to produce. The global average water footprint for a glass of beer is 75 litres – most of which is from the barley production.

While in South Africa, according to SAB Miller, 155 litres of water is used in the production of every litre of beer.

5. For those two glasses of soda (water usage: 250 litres) – Every glass of soda comes with a water footprint, most of which (about 95 percent) is from its ingredients. The water footprint is estimated at between 85 to 155 litres per 250mL glass of soda.

6. Coffee (water usage: 140 litres) – 140 litres of water goes into the production process to make one cup of coffee; compared to 30 litres of water used in the production of a cup of tea. Gulp. A big gulp.

So it total, your braai for two adults and two chidlren will have used 17, 640 litres of water.  This would fill your living room to almost shoulder height with water!

Let’s not forget the food that we throw away. In effect, by throwing the food away, we are also wasting the water (as well as energy) that was used in growing, processing, transporting and storing of the food. A report by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) and the WWF in the UK, estimated the water footprint for wasted food in the UK is 280L per day, which is nearly double the average household water use of 150L per day. ( and

Water is not just consumed in what we eat. Water is in the services we utilise, the way we travel to and from work, in the showers that we take, in the computers, cell phones and music players that we use.

To gain some insight into what the water footprint of your lifestyle, check out the extended Water Footprint calculator.

So how do we in South Africa fare with the rest of the world, when it comes to water usage?

According to the Water Footprint Network, South Africans use on average of 1255 cubic meters of water per year, with the global average being 1385 cubic meters per person per year. So while we are using less water than the average global citizen, we as South Africans are already facing water shortages; with current projections that our demand for water will exceed our supply in about 13 years time, 2025 (ref).

So what now? How can I save water?

You can begin with your next grocery shop. You can shrink your water footprint by making conscious decisions as you walk down each aisle. Choosing fresh ingredients for a vegetarian lasagne instead of your normal Tuesday spaghetti bolognaise. Wake up to a mug of green tea (which is by the way full of anti-oxidants) to get your daily caffeine fix! Walk pass the bottled water and pick up the water filter and jug in the next aisle.

Changing what you eat and consume will make more than a drop of a difference in your water footprint.

Hin Wah Li – Researcher and Content Facilitator




3 responses to “April’s food

  1. Pingback: All things water | Walk the Talk – South Africa

  2. Pingback: Water, water everywhere, only if we share. |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s