Almonds Are Sucking California Dry

Evidence mounts in the environmental case against these delicious, nutritious nuts

Photo via Flickr user Harsha K R

Say you live in California, which is now going through the worst drought in history, and you’re a good citizen. So you’re taking shorter showers, teaching the kids about conservation, and giving your neighbors the appropriate dirty looks for sprinkler use. You are doing all the right things and sometimes to reward yourself you have a nutritious handful of delicious almonds.

Which means you are still part of the problem, because it takes a lot of water to grow almonds. Actually, that’s a gross understatement. It takes an astronomical, mind-blowing, wait-did-I-read-that-right amount of water to grow almonds—one gallon of water to grow one almond, in fact. One year of almond production in California uses roughly the same amount of water as all the homes and businesses in Los Angeles use in three years. Ten percent of California’s water goes toward the state’s hefty, growing almond industry, which produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds. I don’t know if we need to make any more points here about water and almonds but it’s probably worth mentioning that the part of California where almonds are grown is one of its driest parts. This month, California Sunday published a totally heartbreaking story of how this impacts small farmers in those areas.

Yes, almonds boast protein and good fats, lots of vitamins and minerals. And they even come in handy snack packets. No question that there’s much to like about almonds. But there is more to like about drinking water. And bathing. And not using up all of California’s groundwater. So, next time you want to eat something crunchy and healthy, maybe try broccoli, because it only takes 5.4 gallons of water to grow a head of broccoli. (Of course, in making broccoli remotely as delicious as almonds, you might want some butter, and it takes 381 gallons of water to make a pound of that dairy product.)

Is there any good news here? Of course there is. It takes less water (1847 gallons) to yield one pound of beef than it does to grow one pound of almonds (1929 gallons). So, if you know any smug, almond-butter smeared vegans, you never have to listen to them again. And of course, none of this changes anything about giving the stink eye to your sprinkler-happy neighbor, which remains an enjoyable activity that uses no water at all.

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