How Much Water is on Your Thanksgiving Plate?


It’s almost time to carve that turkey (pass the stuffing, please)! We were looking at water footprints this week and got to wondering: What’s the average water footprint for a typical Thanksgiving feast?

It’s probably a lot more than you think. We’re not talking about what’s needed to cook the meal; we’re talking just about the H20 required to raise the food. When you count the water cost to transport it from farm to table, the numbers will grow even more.

We used an interactive infographic from the Los Angles Times for our calculations, and the numbers are only ballpark figures based on global food production averages. Because their chart doesn’t include turkey, we substituted chicken, so the numbers for the main course are probably higher given that the larger birds eat more. We also substituted wheat bread — again, the only option available on the chart — for stuffing and dinner rolls (and didn’t factor in the other ingredients to make them). Squash doubles as our source for the pumpkin pie figure (which also doesn’t factor in other ingredients). We used general nutritional guidelines to determine the average portion size for each serving.

Thanksgiving by the Gallon

One 16-oz serving of turkey: About 264 gallons

One 16-oz. glass of beer:  About 31 gallons

One 5-oz. glass of wine: About 17 gallons

One 1-oz. dinner roll: About 14 gallons

One 4-oz serving of rice: About 65 gallons

One 8-oz serving of potatoes: About 24 gallons

One .5-oz serving of stuffing: About 58 gallons

One 8-oz serving of brussels sprouts: About 20 gallons

One 8-oz. serving of broccoli: About 20 gallons

One 8-oz serving of squash: About 15 gallons

One 8-oz serving of cranberries: About 17 gallons

One 6-oz serving of pumpkin pie: About 12 gallons

Assuming that you had only one glass of wine and nothing else to drink, and just one portion of everything on the menu above, a single plate of food took approximately 526 gallons of water to produce. That’s not even counting the water it took for the chef’s hand washing, the amount of water needed to cook the food, and the amount of water it’s going to take to wash all those dishes!

Pretty mind-blowing, right? Granted, it’s really just an estimate, but when you start to break down how much water we use every day, it’s sobering. According to figures from National Geographic, the average American uses 2,000 gallons of water daily: more than twice the global average. That includes approximately 1,000 gallons per person per day just to produce three meals — “more than the global average water footprint of 900 gallons per person per day for diet, household use, transportation, energy, and the consumption of material goods.”

As you sit down on Thursday and reflect on everything for which you’re thankful, put clean water on that list — your Thanksgiving feast wouldn’t be possible without it!

From all of us at LCA, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.