Introducing Drought Friendly Recipes – Tick-Tock Drip-Drop

Grab yourself a cool glass of water and take a seat.

You’re gonna need it. And not just the seat. I’m talking about the water.

Last week, Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, wrote an Op Ed in the LA Times stating that we have only 1 year of water left in our California reservoirs.

I say “we have” and “our California reservoirs” because this problem reaches beyond California. Far beyond.

According to the California Water Science Center USGS (data from 2010), California uses 38 billion gallons of water each day – equivalent to draining the Shasta Lake Reservoir (California’s largest) once every 40 days.

lakeShasta_Feb-Oct_comparison

The majority of that water, a whopping 74%, is used for agriculture.

Agriculture that is grown and shipped all over the United States, as well as overseas.

California grows over 400 commodities, a 46.4 billion dollar business. Around 50% of what is grown in California is exported according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

California leads the nation in growing and supplying over 75 crops to the rest of the country. Meaning, if you purchase, for example, US grown: kale, tomatoes, lettuce or strawberries, to name a few, there’s a pretty good chance that it was grown in California.

However, if you purchase US grown: almonds, figs, kiwi, raisins, grapes, clover seed, dates, artichokes, peaches, pomegranates, dried plums, sweet rice, walnuts, or pistachios, there’s a 99% chance that it was grown in California. (Now that I’ve mentioned almonds, I  can’t exclude the fact that 70% of the worlds almonds come from California!)

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So, now we’re talking a big problem. A 50 – 99% of the rest of the United States kind of drought problem. And we’re not just talking about your local grocery store, we are talking restaurants, hospitals, schools, businesses… the list goes on.

As of now, there’s no real plan in California for when the water runs out and no real rationing or accountability for reduction of water.

Practically speaking, once the reservoirs are empty, we will be using groundwater. (Using underwater aquifers, wells, etc.) The problem with this is that 1. We have no idea how much water we really have and 2. Our groundwater is depleting… and fast. In some areas of California’s central valley, it has completely dried up.

As of the end of 2014, 5% of the 27 million acres used for crop farming had gone fallow due to the drought, including ¼ of rice fields. (And don’t forget that 99% of US sweet rice and majority of wild rice is grown in California.)

A tire rests on the dry bed of Lake Mendocino, a key Mendocino County reservoir, in Ukiah

So, where does that leave me and you?

I’d like to introduce you to the phrase (or remind you of the phrase): Water Footprint.

Water Footprint is the “amount of fresh water used in the production or supply of the goods and services used by a particular person or group.” (Oxford Dictionary)

According to the Nature Conservancy you, my fellow American, have a water footprint of 32,911 gallons of water a day.

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Let’s take a closer look at this. Did you use a piece of paper today? Perhaps print something or scribble a note? That one sheet of paper took 3.4 gallons of water to produce.

In the market for a new pair of jeans? That’ll be 1,800 gallons of water for the cotton to grow for those jeans.

Need a new car? That’ll be around 40,000 gallons of water.

But the truth is, regardless of a big purchase here and there, a large part of the water you are consuming each day is through the food you eat.

Here’s a sample of the water footprint of some common foods. Foods that are primarily grown in California and are exported to feed the rest of the country.

Lettuce:          28 gallons per pound

Carrots:          33 gallons per pound

Onions:          46 gallons per pound

Lemons:         77 gallons per pound

Peaches:         109 gallons per pound

Wild Rice:      299 gallons per pound

Milk                 640 gallons per pound

Walnuts:         1,112 gallons per pound

Beef:                1,847 gallons per pound

Almonds:        1,929 gallons per pound

(Note: There is a range in variability. Each business or company or farm differs in how much water they are using. That said, these numbers represent a global average published by the Water Footprint Network, an NGO founded in 2008 with a mission to “promote the transition towards sustainable, fair and efficient use of fresh water resources worldwide.”)

I also want to bring your attention to the water wasted through food waste. 40% of all food that is grown in the US is wasted. This happens on all levels of the food chain. From the farms to transportation to grocery stores to restaurants to our own homes. Inherent in that 40% is approximately 11 trillion gallons of lost water. That’s the amount of water we need to get out of the drought in California! (Granted not all of the 11 trillion gallons originated from California, but we could guess that it would be around 50% of that, or 5.5 trillion of wasted water from California. Water we desperately need.)

So, as people who eat food from California we have two responsibilities:

  1. Reduce our water footprint through our food choices
  2. Eliminate our food waste

That’s why we (Super Sous and I) have started working on creating Drought Friendly Recipes. Recipes that have a low water footprint and are delicious and doable for the home cook.  (Look for #droughtfriendlyrecipes on social media as well as this blog.) We’ll also be sharing water conservation tips in the kitchen. Coming soon.

If 74% of California’s water is caught up in agriculture then all of us who are chef’s and all of us who cook and all of us who go out to eat and all of us who eat food can make a difference in this drought.

It’s our drought. We are all in trouble. We are all California. Facing the unknown. Facing possible food shortages. Facing rising costs of food.

We have to do something.

We’ll be posting more about this topic on the blog as well as the list we have compiled of crops and their water footprint – once we complete some more research.

Right now, we are in drowning (pun) in research and articles.

It’s a sobering issue and things are not looking pretty. But we need to talk about it. We need to share with one another. Discuss our concerns and our ideas. We are beyond just crossing our fingers and hoping for rain. Until a plan is put into place to bring water into California, we all need to take action. We can’t make it rain, but we can use every drop we have wisely.

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Tick-tock-drip-drop.

Now, about that cool glass of water by your side. Thirsty?

Pizza to Write Home About

Chicago deep dish pizza. It’s really a must have when you visit the city. (Similar to the obligatory slice of New York pizza when in town.)

Super-sous had long been talking about our “must” rendez-vous with Lou Malnati’s pizza during our down time (from shooting Good Food America) in Chicago. I once had a slice many years ago when in Chicago (a faint memory from decades ago) and one of my friends originally from Chicago but who now lives in L.A. had even had the pizza shipped out to him in times of desperate cravings (yes, Lou Malnati’s ships their deep dish pizza partially baked and flash frozen all over the United States).

Off we went last night, after a long day of shooting. We kept it simple. Small, plain cheese deep dish pizza with butter crust.

The pizza was even better than we remembered. Each bite offered just as much mozzarella cheese as it did deep dish crust. The sauce? If they sold jars of it, I would have a couple already packed in my suitcase.

Super-sous and I made a quick trip to the kitchen to see how it’s all done. 7 pizza ovens with 6 shelves to an oven line the kitchen with a nice-sized prep area. Each pizza cooks for 30-35 minutes at 650 degrees! That’s a LONG time. In comparison, my pizza recipe  (granted, it’s thin crust) from my cookbook cooks at 500 degrees for 8 minutes. The manager told us that each year Mr. Malnati himself goes to California (yeah!) to pick out the tomatoes for their sauce. He wouldn’t reveal the crust recipe, but we did find out that it does not contain any sugar or salt.

Thank Latte we ordered a small which gave us each 2 hearty slices but did not leave us overstuffed. Had we ordered a medium we would have been beyond full, because there’s no way you can let any of that pizza go to waste.