How to prepare a festive dinner with a small water water footprint

The experts at Water Footprint Implementation (WFI) are usually helping companies, NGO's or even governments to reduce their water use. But recently, WFI expert Sameer Safaya (also known from One Planet Kitchen) developed a Water Footprint calculator for consumers. This is why the WFI team visited Sameer in Amsterdam to help him cook a festive dinner with a small water footprint. I was invited as their embedded reporter and recorded the process.

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1. Calculating the shopping list: this is Sameer behind his laptop, looking at the beta version of the Water Footprint calculator. He is calculating the amount of water which was used to produce the items on our proposed shopping list. Sameers’ consumer- calculator is based on the worldwide known Water Footprint concept of his former professor Arjen Hoekstra. Hoekstra was the first to map the water use of products from field to factory to supermarkt. A very basic rule: usually, the amount of water used for meat or dairy products is higher than the amount of water used for vegetarian choices.

2. Going shopping: The label 'organic’ is a good indicator for responsible use of soil and water resources management, according to Sameer. He took us to Odin in Amsterdam, an organic food cooperative. But most supermarkets will have organic choices. Organic is not the only way forward: Innovative ways to grow food with less water like hydro-or aquaponics are becoming more common. But they are not included in any consumerlabels yet. In the photo on the left, Sameer is doing the shopping while Tine te Winkel (WFI) takes charge of the shopping list.

3.Location, location, location! The Water Footprint of a product is related to the water resources in the location where it was produced. If a crop takes only 10 liters of water to produce but comes from an area with very scarce water resources, its’ water footprint will be bigger than the waterfootprint of a product which takes 100 litres to produce but comes from an area with abundant water resources. This means there are two ways to reduce the waterfootprint of a country, government, company or product: reducing water use for production and improving water resources management in the local area.

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4. A pressure cooker process (literally): although cooking is a very small part of the water footprint of a product, it is something you have control over as a consumer. Here, Sameer is using a pressure cooker. This is an efficient way of cooking, in terms of both energy and water use.

5. Answering difficult questions: The atmosphere in Amsterdam was nice, the food tasted fine but I was feeling the pressure. I am not that driven and certainly do not always make responsible choices or take the time to find out if my food comes from a good source. Can I still have a life please? “ This is not about being a saint, Sameer answered. It is about having insight into how our food is produced. Only then can we make changes in the food production chain and work on the innovations needed. And you do not have to change all your habits at once. Take small steps. If you like to eat meat, do not become a vegetarian overnight but have one or two meatless days a week.” Of course I already knew this. But it felt good to hear it from an expert.

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6.On the menu: Sameer and Tine (WFI) prepared a pumpkin soup with an Indian twist (Kumin!) and a casserole of Brussels sprouts, potatoes, sundried tomatoes and a little grated chase. There are menus with an even smaller waterfootprint, but it also had to be a little festive at this time of year.

7. The math: this was the amount of water used:

8. The way forward: Sameers’ Water Footprint calculator for consumers is still a beta-version that only lives inside his laptop. He is looking for partners who can help him develop the data into an app for consumers. Contact him directly if you are interested. Companies wishing to reduce their water footprint can contact the WFI team. They have advised hotels, cooperations of union farmers, governments, beer brewers, the clothing industry so they can probably also help you.

9. Have a happy and sustainable 2019, best wishes from the WFI team: Jaap Feil (founder of WFI, today responsible for peeling the potatoes), Arjen de Vries (co-founder, otherwise engaged), Tine te Winkel (WFI, took charge of shopping list and casserole) Johan Oost (co-founder, responsible for dishwashing) other team members and Sameer Safaya (head chef and calculator)

author: Christina Boomsma