Take a look around your kitchen. Do you see almond butter? Fruits or vegetables from the grocery store? It’s very likely that, regardless of where you live, you’re invested in the epic California drought.
The state is the largest producer of commercially sold fruits, vegetables, and nuts in the country. According to a recent article in the New York Times, the average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water weekly through foods that were grown there. If you don’t have a garden to grow your own food or simply can’t avoid California produce and nuts, you can still do your part by making these easy swaps on your grocery store list.
1. Peanuts Over Almonds
Virtually all of the almonds grown in the US (and 80% of the worldwide supply) are from California, particularly the Central Valley, which has nearly perfect growing conditions. Well, until recently. More acres of almond trees have been planted in the past few decades as growers have been able to get higher prices for the nuts. But more trees plus continued drought has created a serious problem: Almond trees need to be watered consistently, whether they are producing or not, so a grower with an almond grove doesn’t have the choice to let a field lie fallow for a season—he’d risk losing too much money in future years. Instead, the trees are a constant draw on ground water supplies.
As an alternative to snacking on almonds—which are currently the top nut—reach for peanuts. They have similar nutritional content, cost about half as much, and are grown in less drought-prone areas like Georgia. Plus, over the past 25 to 30 years, researchers have been able to increase peanut yields by up to 30%, so farmers can grow more nuts with the same resources.
2. Swiss Chard Instead Of Lettuce
More than half of all head and leaf lettuces sold in stores are grown in California, particularly the Salinas Valley. Since lettuce has shallow roots, the surface of the soil needs constant watering, and the delicate plants are usually not drought tolerant. Swiss Chard, on the other hand, has deeper roots, can handle hot weather, and it produces like crazy almost anywhere. When sliced thinly, the nutritious leaves can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in stir-fries or soups.
3. Chicken Instead Of Beef
While there are many factors to consider when buying meat, water should rank pretty high on the list. More than 1,800 gallons of water are needed for every pound of beef, compared with 515 gallons for each pound of chicken. And while that doesn’t mean you should never eat another steak, you may want to cut back on red meat—and know where it’s coming from. Look for a meat CSA in your area or talk to local farmers about the water needs of their cattle. (For the sake of comparison, lentils take about 700 gallons per pound and a dozen eggs require about 600 gallons.)
4. Potatoes Instead Of Corn
As far as starchy vegetables go, potatoes require significantly less water than corn at 34 gallons per pound versus 146 gallons per pound of corn. And while corn is predominantly grown in the Midwest, it’s also a common crop in California’s Central Valley. So sub in roasted potatoes (locally grown if possible!) for boiled corn the next time you need a side for burger night.
5. Cauliflower Instead Of Asparagus
The cauliflower “rice” trend is on to something: Not only is it a good substitute for carbs, but the plant requires relatively little water to grow, even in California which grows 89% of all commercially sold cauliflower. Compared with asparagus—California grows about 70% of the U.S. supply—which needs 258 gallons of water per pound, cauliflower needs just 34.
6. Oregano Instead Of Basil
With bold flavor, oregano grows really well with little moisture. In fact, humidity or excess rain can cause the roots to rot, so the hotter and drier the better. And while it doesn’t have the quintessential summer flavor of basil—which requires ample water to thrive and may have stunted growth during a drought—a few snipped leaves can add a flavor boost to almost any Italian or Greek dish.
7. Georgia Or Missouri Peaches Over California
California produces about two-thirds of the nation’s peaches, but the trees won’t produce in the naturally arid climates without irrigation. Look for peaches grown in less drought-stricken areas such as Georgia or Missouri.
8. Halo Mandarin Oranges Over Conventional
California grows about 85% of all citrus grown in the U.S. and farmers there are in dire straits, some going as far as bulldozing entire groves in response to diminished water supplies. Prices are likely to increase as the citrus supply becomes smaller, so incorporate the zest into recipes, along with the juice, to add more flavor and shop for sustainably grown California or Florida citrus when possible. The company that produces the popular Halo mandarin oranges uses drip irrigation to conserve water.