Water We Eating?

By Nicole Dominguez, Bobbi Kimble, Kelsey Leon, Greta Kate Larson, Diana Mendoza

Picture this: You’re a student at Santa Clara University. It’s a typical Tuesday at noon. Although this school is in California and

Students heading into Benson

California has the reputation of being a sunny state, it is lightly sprinkling outside as you exit the classroom that you were just in. You internally groan, mentally complaining about how you’re sick of the rain and reprimanding yourself for wearing a pair of shoes with a big hole in the right shoe’s heel. Your annoyance is interrupted by a loud grumbling in your stomach. As a result, you head straight to Benson, the school’s dining hall, passing by the sea of other students rushing to and from classes, trying to seek the indoors in order to escape the gloomy sky.

Once you get inside Benson, you try to figure out what kind of food you want. You’re pretty hungry, so a salad isn’t going to fill you up. The Bistro Special looks rather unappetizing and you don’t want a sandwich because it doesn’t seem hearty enough. Poke looks good, but you want something warm since you just escaped the rain. You were planning on having Mexican food for dinner, so for right now, that’s not an option. Finally, you walk over to Tailgaters, the burger place. A burger sounds like a really great idea. You order one and soon enough, the food is in your hands as you find a place to sit down with your other friends.

Well, if you were going to get a burger, you might as well have taken a pretty decently sized chunk of that rain falling out of the sky and drank it.

Wait, what? How is that possible? It’s just a burger, right? Well, that burger you just ordered takes a lot more water to create than you’d think.

If you were a student at SCU, you would likely think that drinking water from the sky must be an exaggeration, because SCU would never condone an action that requires such an enormous use of water. Santa Clara throws around the word “sustainable” frequently and conserving water falls into that category. It even has a section on its main website that discusses the SCU Center for Sustainability. The SCU Center for Sustainability webpage has an entire section dedicated to conserving water. According to the website, “All decorative fountains on campus have been turned off or will be converted to operate with recycled water.” The website also points out a variety of other measures being taken in order to conserve water. It boasts, “The majority of campus grounds is irrigated with water from [recycled water]. Recycled water is also used for toilet flushing in several buildings” (University, Santa Clara).  All around the campus, there are campaigns driven toward saving water, especially because California is in a drought.

However, while all of this true and SCU is putting an effort to try and conserve water, it is not doing the best that it possibly can. In fact, it is not addressing what uses water the most: animal agriculture (Andersen). That burger you just ate? That beef patty took a whopping 660 gallons to produce. Now imagine all of the burgers that SCU students eat on a daily basis, collectively.

An Olympic pool from the 2000 Australian Trials

If each undergraduate student ate one hamburger from Benson, the water indirectly consumed would fill five Olympic-sized pools. That is roughly 3,302,150 gallons of water (“How Much”).
How can SCU claim to be putting in massive efforts toward saving water if it does not largely advertise a vegan or vegetarian diet, since raising animals is the number one use of water by a long shot? (Andersen). Perhaps that promotion seems too drastic for the majority of SCU students. Still, even skipping out on eating meat once a week can make a huge difference. Therefore, Santa Clara University would make a much greater and effective impact on the school’s water footprint if it does something simple like promoting Meatless Mondays.

It may be difficult to imagine how much water is actually required to make a typical beef meal, so here is an example that might make it easier to understand: it takes about 660 gallons of water to produce a burger. 600 of those gallons of water are used simply for the production of the patty, assuming it is ⅓ of a pound (Hallock, Betty). This means that a pound of beef requires roughly 1,800 gallons of water (Hallock, Betty). If Santa Clara is a true promoter of sustainability, shouldn’t it be promoting meatless meals more openly because animal agriculture makes up for about half of the water that the U.S uses? (“Facts on”). On the University Sustainability page, the University mentions that the school’s Dining service, Bon Appetit, “promotes vegetarian and vegan choices as low water options and encourages guests to make low-water food selections”, but not once have we seen any signs reminding students at Benson that the production of meat requires an exaggerated amount of water (University, Santa Clara). We could not even find any information about the harm of animal agriculture on this website. Is it the University’s responsibility to inform the student body on the ecological deterioration that comes with animal agriculture, or is telling people to eat less meat or no meat too much of a personal subject? Perhaps the University omits this information to students because it is a big source of profit, and they would not want to damage the partnership they have with Bon Appetit. During the period of 2003-2013 SCU was able to salvage 487.4 million gallons of water through recycling water (University, Santa Clara). This same amount of water can be salvaged if all 9,015 students at SCU (graduates and undergraduates) do not eat the equivalent amount of meat to a burger once a week for 82 weeks which is about a year and a half. Why not save water the faster way so that even more water can be saved? Not only does not eating meat once a week salvage a huge amount of water, but it also requires very minimal effort to not eat meat. What Santa Clara is doing to preserve water is great, but cannot be deemed as sustainable according to our definition of sustainability, which is to save water by means of not eating meat.

Santa Clara University’s Center for Sustainability promotes and focuses their efforts on

Campaign poster found in the Campisi shower stalls

water conservation efforts through water bottle refilling stations and water recycling but does not put enough efforts into Dining Services. The 60 Seconds Less Campaign, started in 2015 by Associated Student Government, promotes spending one minute less showering and “educates about navy showers, a method of turning off the water when soaping, or lathering up, and turning water on only for rinsing” (“Recycling”).  In addition to the pledge, students were given “a blue wristband that they could be wearing in the shower and it will prompt them to remember to take 60 seconds off [their] shower” (Louie).  The bathrooms in the Campisi residence hall have reminders in the showers that a minute shorter shower can help save 912 gallons of water per year.  For those of us who were not attending Santa Clara during the actual campaign, these posters serve as a reminder to take shorter showers.

Although shorter showers conserve water, according to Angela Morelli, an Italian information designer and an ambassador for virtual water and water footprint research, the average person eats 3,496 liters (about 924 gallons) of water daily while other daily activities and goods only make up 304 liters (about 80 gallons) of water (“Discover How”).  With an approximate number of 5,000 undergraduates that comes to a total of 6,935,000,000 gallons of water yearly. Santa Clara reports that they recycled only 570,257,180 gallons of water from April 2003 to October 2004 (“Recycling”). In comparison, the amount of water saved by using recycled water in one year is nowhere near the amount of water SCU has been spending each year and should not be considered a great feat in terms of sustainability. In 2012, Morelli was named Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. In her TEDx Talk from 2011, Morelli discusses the power of knowledge of virtual water, all the water used indirectly in our everyday lives.  After twelve months of research, Morelli finished her thesis-a 900-page book entitled The Global Water Footprint of Humanity, in which she expressed that an understanding of virtual water can better allow us to use water by knowing what amounts of water go into products we are eating.  She described that pigs are usually brought up for ten months in which they must be fed and their living environments maintained and “at the end of the 10 months, we have used 540,000 liters of water to produce on average 90 kilos of pork meat which means 6,000 liters of water to produce one kilo of pork meat” (Morelli).  Morelli goes on to say that one kilo of beef uses 15,400 liters of water.  With our populations increasing, she stresses the importance of getting a better understanding of virtual water to manage our water usage, as water is a fixed resource, that impacts every aspect of our lives.  SCU’s efforts to reduce water consumption in our showers may be beneficial, but it does not come close to the difference our diets make to our water footprint.

The Bon Appetit Management Company, the caterer of Santa Clara University’s slogan is “Food service for a sustainable future” (“Sourcing”). They define food service for a sustainable future as “Flavorful food that’s healthy and economically viable for all, produced through practices that respect farmers, workers, and animals; nourish the community, and replenish our shared natural resources for future generations.” Going through their website, there are no tabs, pages, or extensions that address the amount of water consumed from animal agriculture.  Strange for a company who succeeds off their promotion of sustainability. Is this due to pure ignorance, or are animal products too big of a profit attractor to give up?

To find out how educated the Santa Clara student body is on virtual water for animal agriculture, we decided to conduct a small survey based on the main question, How many gallons of water do you think it takes to produce one hamburger patty? The aim of our survey was to see whether Santa Clara students are aware of how much water they are consuming in one day just by eating two to three meals with meat a day. We felt that, as students of the Jesuit education model, we were not being educated fully to the sustainable aspect of the vision of Santa Clara University which intends to “educate citizens and leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion and cultivate knowledge and faith to build a more humane, just, and sustainable world.” Personally, before reading and watching our class materials, I had no clue we were using as much water as we are per day just due to the growth of animals for food.

Survey answered by students at Santa Clara University

Our survey was made up of three questions: How often do you eat meat? How willing are you to go meat free on Mondays? And our critical question, How many gallons of water do you think it takes to produce one hamburger patty? Of our sixteen responses, no one chose the correct interval of 600-800 gallons for the last question. Our responses reveal that 12.5% thought it was 0-200 gallons, 56.3% said 200-400 gallons, and 31.3% chose 400-600 gallons. So is SCU responsible for educating its students on the immense water footprint we leave behind or if not, who is?

Santa Clara University advertises their sustainable campus to future students and continues to do so to their current students in emails and flyers around campus. But is that all Santa Clara University can really do? After conducting our survey, it is clear there is more we can do to educate the student body the number one problem of water wastage. People are actually likely to go meatless for one day of the week and if we don’t take concrete actions to this catastrophic water use through food on campus, nothing will change. Some say ignorance is bliss, but ignorance is destroying our environment.

Works Cited

Andersen, Kip, and Kuhn, Keegan. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. , 2014.

“Discover How Much Water we Eat Everyday.” Angelamorelli.com. Angela Morelli, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2017. <http://www.angelamorelli.com/water/&gt;

“Facts on Animal Farming and the Environment.” One Green Planet. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.

Hallock, Betty. “To Make a Burger, First You Need 660 Gallons of Water…” Los Angeles Times. N.p., 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.

“How Much Water Does an Olympic Sized Swimming Pool Hold?” (n.d.): n. pag. Patagonia Alliance. Patagoniaalliance.org. Web. 29 Jan. 2017. <http://www.patagoniaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/How-much-water-does-an-Olympic-sized-swimming-pool-hold.pdf>.

“How Much Water Does it Take to Make One Streak?” PETA.org People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2017. <https://www.peta.org/videos/meat-wastes-water/>

Louie, David. “College Students Spread Drought Awareness through Humor.” Abc7news.com. ABC Inc., 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 18 Jan. 2017. <http://abc7news.com/news/college-students-spread-drought-awareness-through-humor/677408/>

Morelli, Angela. “TEDxOslo – Angela Morelli – The Global Water Footprint of Humanity.” YouTube, uploaded by TEDx Talks, 21 Jun. 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p8YHa1W_neI.

“Recycling of Water.” Scu.edu. Santa Clara University, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2017. <https://university-operations.scu.edu//facilities/sustainability/recycling-of-water/&gt;

“Sourcing Practices – Bon Appétit Management Company.” Bon Appétit Management Co., http://www.bamco.com/sourcing/.

University, Santa Clara. “Conserve Water.” Conserve Water – Take Action – Sustainability at SCU – Santa Clara University. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.


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