How Stuffing Our Faces Tapped Cape Town Dry

Oh the joys of a choppie on the braai. As much as eating ourselves into a semi coma is seen as a Cape Town pastime, the reality is, it’s not water-wise.

This summer the City of  Cape Town spend thousands of rands in educating residences and tourists on the importance of saving water. Even the New York Times pitched in. And although most of these campaigns focused on reducing household consumption, the truth is the majority of our water is slurped up by our food obsession.

To put this in perspective, here’s a few numbers on how much water is needed to produce one litre of our favourite drink:

  • Bottled Water – 1.39 litres
  • Soda – 2.02 litres
  • Beer – 4 litres
  • Wine – 4.7 litres
  • Spirits – 34.55 litres
  • Milk – 1 020 litres

Now who knows how many G&Ts I knocked back this holiday and lets not talk about that festive feasts. Food can be rather thirsty. Animal agriculture now accounts for a THIRD of all freshwater consumption in the world of which 56% are used for cultivating fodder crops for these animals. If you ever wondered who’s drinking all the water, is not Dave Matthews, is the damn cows.

Water needed to produce 450g of meat.


Below is a list of popular food items and how many litres of water are needed to produce one kilogram:

  • Chocolate – 17 196 litres
  • Beef – 15 415 litres
  • Lamb – 10 412 litres
  • Pork – 5 988 litres
  • Butter – 5 553 litres
  • Chicken – 4 325 litres
  • Cheese – 3 178 litres
  • Olives – 3 025 litres
  • Rice – 2 497 litres
  • Pasta (dry) – 1 849 litres
  • Bread – 1 608 litres
  • Pizza – 1 239 litres
  • Apple – 822 litres
  • Banana – 790 litres
  • Potatoes – 287 litres

Compare these to household water consumption and it’s clear, we’re eating ourselves dry.

The water required to produce 1 hamburger is the equivalent of taking a 4 minute shower every day for 2 months.

Skip meat for a month and you’ll save 75 680 litres of water. That’s the equivalent of 79 bathtubs of water.


Current recommended water use per person in Cape Town:

  • Shower maximum of 2 minutes (20 litres);
  • Drinking water (2 litres);
  • Brushing teeth, washing hands etc. (4 litres);
  • Dishes and laundry (23 litres);
  • Three toilet flushes (27 litres).

The above usage totals to 80 litres per day.

Where’s my water at?

The total capacity of Cape Town’s 6 major dams are 898 221 Megalitres, with Theewaterskloof contributing to 53,4% of this. Today 1,2 million of the 4 million people living in Cape Town have access to it in the form of piped water. But with an increase of 18.9% since 2011 as well as a lower than average rainfall over the last two years, Cape Town’s growing middle-class all of a sudden has something to panic about.

Cape Town rainfall since 2009

Salt is the new fresh.

As much as we want to believe the earth is an unlimited ball of liquid, it’s sadly not the case. Even though 71% of the planet’s surface is water-covered, only 2.5% is fresh water.

The below video demonstrates beautifully the total volume of water available to us.

Even if we suck all the water from the ground or collect all the rain from the sky, one thing is certain, desalination is the future. It’s therefore encouraging to see that the City of Cape Town is actively pursuing this, although the ecological effect of removing mass amounts of salt water from the sea is something future generations will have to untangle.

Since comets and asteroids carried it to the planet millions of years ago, we were always water dependent. Henceforth it’s been the cornerstone of every civilisation.

You just need to drive through South Africa’s countryside to see the desperation of earlier settlers in the naming of towns. Bloemfontein, Matjiesfontein, Koffiefontein, Kruidfontein, Potfontein, Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein. Any fontein was ok as long as there was some hope of water at the very end.