Saturday, July 21, 2012

USDA Recommended Daily Allowance and Water

Water consumed by different MyPlate options

93% of all fresh water consumption worldwide goes to produce food.

When I stumbled across the idea of water footprint, I saw lots of numbers about how many liters of water it takes to feed or grow a kilogram of beef, or wheat, or soybeans.

But that didn't translate for me.

I used the USDA guidance on recommended daily allowances to come up with the amount of food in each food group they want you to eat. Then I computed the cups of water it takes to produce various options in each food groups. I also decided to add in the water cost of various beverages.

The answer was pretty surprising.

Chicken is my new best friend, protein-wise. I'll choose potatoes over rich or bread when given the option. I drink water now almost exclusively. And I eat my fruits and vegetables as close to raw as I can get them.

P.S. - Weighed in today, and I've lost a couple of pounds, though I'm still in the "Obese" bin.

Monday, July 16, 2012

200 Gallons for a "Nutrition" Drink

I've been busy, so I stocked up on chocolate-flavored nutrition drinks on sale at the local pharmacy. I figured one drink couldn't cost too much water.

I was wrong.

Here was the rough accounting for significant components:

  • 4 oz soy milk
  • 3 oz skim milk
  • 22g sugar
  • 10g cocoa powder
  • trace vanilla

    I admit I'm guessing a bit when it comes to the quantities here. With a bit of internet research I was able to find out how much cocoa powder and sugar you need to make chocolate milk. And I know there's more soy in this than milk.

    112 gallons for the soy milk @ 28 gallons per ounce.
    18 gallons for skim milk @ 6 gallons per ounce.
    11 gallons for sugar @ 0.5 gallons per gram.
    40 gallons for cocoa powder @ 4.13 gallons per gram.
    ~19 gallons for vanilla @ 33.42 gallons per gram of vanilla bean.
    200 gallons total water consumed to produce a 250 calorie, 8 ounce serving of nutrition drink.

    If I'd wanted something that gave me 9 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbohydrates, and 6 grams of fat, my best bet would be a bit more than an ounce of chicken, a 6-7 ounce baked potato, and a pat of butter (5 g). We could even add in a 1/2 cup of steamed broccoli (~3 ounces) and an apple (3.3 ounces) for dessert.

    20 gallons for the chicken at 16.6 gallons per ounce.
    13 gallons for the potato at 2.1 gallons per ounce.
    6 gallons for the pat of butter at 1.14 gallons per gram.
    6 gallons for the broccoli at 2.1 gallons per ounce.
    20 gallons for a small apple at 6.2 gallons per ounce.
    65 gallons total for a nice little meal. Maybe that's what I'll have for dinner...
  • Sunday, July 15, 2012

    Professor Hoekstra and Green Water

    In 2002, Dr. Arjen Hoekstra struggled to find a way to express the amount of water required for various human activities. He knew that water shortages and pollution could be better understood and addressed if understood in terms of "water footprint," something like the well-understood "carbon footprint" being used to inform global policy with respect to fossil fuel.

    Water was traditionally only "counted" if you pumped it out of a lake or aquifer. There was plenty of data on water people had paid for. Agriculture, for example, consumes 70% of the fresh water people pay for. But crops aren't watered solely by irrigation.

    Based on his research into water management, engineering, and policy, Professor Hoekstra proposed a new paradigm that would allow all water use to be captured. Most human activites require one or more of the following types of water:

  • Blue Water would be the water we traditionally consider in the past - the water we pay for.
  • Grey Waterwould be the water we consume to clean up after ourselves, for example the water used to clean up after cattle and return the soiled water to a useable state.
  • Green Water would be the water we've always taken for granted - the water that falls from the sky.

    In the years since 2002, Professor Hoekstra has created a huge body of research in peer-reviewed publications. He has built a global scientific consensus on how water should be "counted," and what quantity of water is used for any of a vast number of human activities. I point this out since the common response folks have when I talk about water footprint is to question the numbers and definitions.

    Most common people simply cannot believe their life activities require thousands of gallons of fresh water per week. And the vast majority of the fresh water we consume goes to produce our food. With the globalization of food, we may be completely unaware of the water consumed to put food on our table, or the impact our "extraction" of that water has on the local peoples.

    In 2011 Professor Hoekstra and his colleagues produced two documents that allow us to compute the water consumed to produce our food on an individual level:

  • Water Footprints of Crop Products, and
  • Water Footprint of Animal Products.

    These scientific papers express the amount of green water, blue water, and grey water required to produce a quantity of, say, sugar or beef. Unfortunately for the average American, these data are in terms of cubic meters of water per metric ton of product. We don't "speak" metric, and we don't eat tons of anything. Even when the numbers are expressed as liters per kilogram of product, our eyes glaze over.

    I've taken the data from Professor Hoekstra's 2011 reports and converted it to the number of gallons per ounce or gram of each product. For the next year, I'll be measuring the weight of what I eat, estimating the amount of "product," and compute the water it took to produce that food.
  • Saturday, July 14, 2012

    Saturday Weigh-In

    Yep - I'm currently obese...

    I'm not doing the 365 Gallon diet to lose weight. But since counting my gallons could affect my weight, I'll measure myself on Saturday mornings. I'll be using Wii Fit, which not only weighs me, but allows me to know my body mass index (BMI) without me having to do any math. Brilliant!

    If you don't have a tool that automatically calculates your BMI, you can get the official NIH chart here. You could calculate your BMI by hand with these equations, courtesy of WikiHow:

    Or you could simply plot where you are on this chart:

  • A BMI less than 18.5 is considered underweight
  • A BMI between 18.5 and 25 is considered normal
  • A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight
  • A BMI between 30 and 40 is considered obese
  • And a BMI of 40 or higher is considered morbidly obese (the part of the chart beyond the last dashed curve)

    As long as we're saving the world by saving food water, we might as well save ourselves as well, by eating to achieve a normal weight.

    My problem has been eating too much. But if you're underweight with a normal metabolism, I suspect you'd find it hard to stay underweight if you force yourself to eat 365 gallons worth of water-wise food. Stay tuned, over the next week I'll explain how it's possible to know how much water you are consuming as food.
  • Friday, July 13, 2012

    How much is 365 Gallons?

    A 5-person hot tub can hold 365 gallons of water

    365 gallons of water seems like a lot. So when I tell you I'm putting myself on a diet of only 365 gallons of water per day, that doesn't seem hard at all.

    Maybe I should explain. I'm putting myself on a diet where the food I eat each day should require less than 365 gallons per day to grow or feed. Still sounds easy, I'll bet. Let me show you an example of how many hamburgers I can eat for 375 gallons

    A partially-eaten hamburger, courtesy of Adam Roberts of

    I don't plan to starve myself - in fact, I can eat pretty well for 365 gallons. I just won't be able to eat many hamburgers.