12 Mar 2019


A vegetarian menu cuts an individual’s “water footprint” by about half

PARMA, ITALY March 12 – A meatless menu analyzed by the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition for the United Nations World Water Day on March 22 cuts an individual’s “water footprint” by nearly half, at a time when water scarcity is increasing around the world. 

It takes as much as 19,525 liters of water to produce one kilo of beef. A kilo of pork uses 7,485 liters and a kilo of poultry for 4,805 liters. Pasta calls for 1,710 liters of water per kilo, and bread for 1,090. Seasonable vegetables are at the bottom with 335 liters. A lunch of pasta with fennel, a portion of raw vegetables, oil and bread would consume 668 liters. (see Image attached).

 “Water footprint” measures the number of liters of water to produce a kilogram (or liter) of food. The “water footprint” forms an inverted pyramid, with water-intensive meat at the top and seasonable vegetables at the bottom.1)

By substituting a dinner of steak fillet, a mixed salad dressed with olive oil, a slice of bread and fruit for dessert with a dinner of chickpea soup, steamed French beans, potatoes with parmesan shavings and fruit, you can cut the liters of water consumed to produce the meal to 1,466 from 3,349 – eating the same amount of calories (2,106 vs 2,031). 

The growth in world population and average incomes, as well as climate change, are driving an increase in water demand. Two thirds of the world’s population, or over four billion people, already live in areas that suffer from water scarcity for at least one month each year, and a further 1.6 billion people are afflicted by water shortage due to lack of infrastructure. With the global population set to increase to 9 billion in 2050, it is clear that transforming our food system to save water is urgent.

Not only poor or arid countries will be affected. Australia, Italy, Spain and the US will all face severe water shortage by 2050, according to the World Resources Institute. 

Our food choices can help save water. Of the world’s fresh water consumed each year, 70% is used by agriculture, according to the World Bank.  

We must change the way we produce and consume food to secure our precious water supplies,” said Marta Antonelli, Research Program Manager at the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition. “Instead of seeing water as a cheap, free resource, we need to start viewing it instead as a precious, scarce resource.” 

Every day, the average person consumes at least two  liters of water. Without realizing it, he or she also uses up to 5,000 liters of “invisible” water, hidden in food production, according to BCFN research.  A slice of bread contains 40 liters of “hidden” water, for example; a bag of potato chips comes to 185 liters. A single egg needs 135 liters to reach your plate.  Producing 50 grams of chocolate takes 860 liters of water, and a 150-gram hamburger “costs” a whopping 2,400 liters from stall to table. 

In the picture: water footprint of the Food Pyramid (liters of water per kg or liter of food)

Source: BCFN Foundation,2015

1 https://waterfootprint.org/media/downloads/Report50-NationalWaterFootprints-Vol1.pdf. 2Pag. 1


Valentina Gasbarri, Communication and External Relations Manager, valentina.gasbarri@barillacfn.com , +39 338 7882700

The Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Foundation (BCFN) is a multi-disciplinary non profit research center which studies the causes and effects on food created by economic, science, society and environmental factors. It produces science-based content that can be used to inform people and help them make responsible choices on food, nutrition, health and sustainability. All BCFN work is monitored by the BCFN Advisory Board. For further information: www.barillacfn.com