Belly of the Whale: Bottled Water — Surprisingly High in Calories Feb11

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Belly of the Whale: Bottled Water — Surprisingly High in Calories


a blogumn by Howard Leder

plasticbottleLately, I’ve been obsessed with plastic water bottles, particularly those ubiquitous little 16-ounce jobs that seem to have taken over what it means to drink water.

I’ve been reading the book Food Matters by Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times and the author of the book How to Cook Everything.  One of his key concerns in the book is the interconnectedness between our daily, individual diet and the economy & environment at large.  For instance—and maybe I’m the last person to learn this—agricultural livestock production accounts for 1/5th  of all greenhouse gasses.  I’ll write more about this book at a later time: it is by and large a prescription for eating a lighter diet, higher in traditional plant foods, but he connects this to the bigger idea that we simply cannot maintain the style of eating to which we’ve grown accustomed in the West.  Put quite simply, if the entire world were to eat the way we eat, it would destroy the planet.

When it comes to water, he pulls out an incredible statistic.  He compares the amount of energy it takes to produce various foods: one calorie of corn takes on average about 2-3 calories of energy to produce (in the amount of energy needed to water, fertilize, harvest & transport it).  One calorie of beef, by contrast, requires about 40 calories of energy to produce (when you factor in feed, grain, fuel for transportation etc.) The staggering statistic for me, though, came when he started talking about water: a one-quart plastic bottle of water—which has zero calories—takes 2400 calories of energy to produce: The bottle alone.  Bittman says:

Overproduction drives overconsumption…but these negative effects can be diminished by more moderate consumption, which in turn will eventually lead to lower production.  This is where we come in: Every time you drink a glass of tap water instead of bottled water, you save the calorie equivalent of a day’s food:the 2400 calories it takes to produce that plastic bottle.

In my own home, I’d grown completely lax about the Brita.  In fact, it had languished on a shelf high up in one of my kitchen cabinets.  But I pulled it back out, dusted it off, plugged in a new filter & was back in business.  I’m just one person, though, and I’m rarely home.  What about the rest of the time?

This all harmonized nicely with something that happened a few days later at work.  I started a new gig recently—on a TV show that shall remain nameless—and at the first production meeting, the show’s creator announced that from now on they wouldn’t be buying any more water in individual plastic bottles.  Instead, she had decided to provide everyone on the show with a reusable water bottle & to place water coolers throughout the set & offices for refilling them.  This was, she pointed out, considerably more expensive, but she couldn’t condone the waste she was seeing––and the amount of waste on the average TV show is pretty shocking, particularly in paper. 

I’ve begun implementing other changes that Bittman talks about in his book.  But so far, this has been the main one.  I guess I’d challenge other readers here in the coming weeks to look at how you consume water and see if there aren’t ways to cut back on the number of plastic bottles you go through.