Our Love of Pizza Is Taking a Toll on US Groundwater

'New York Times' explains how farmers need irrigated crops to feed all those cows; same with chickens
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 31, 2023 9:31 AM CST
Our Love of Cheese, Chicken Taking a Toll on Groundwater
Americans love their pizza, and all that cheese has to come from somewhere.   (Getty / Cami Schefer)

A previous New York Times investigation revealed that America's groundwater is being depleted at a fast rate all around the country. A new story in the Times explains how Americans' love of cheese and chicken is a big reason why. Consider first the broad shift in our diets: The typical American today eats twice as much cheese as in the 1980s, with pizza the big factor. Americans also eat twice as much chicken as they did four decades ago, up to 100 pounds annually on average. The problem as it relates to groundwater is that all those chickens and cows also need to eat, write Christopher Flavelle and Somini Sengupta. Consider that "Idaho, long famous for potatoes, is now America's largest producer of alfalfa to feed the cows that supply the state's huge cheese factories," notes the story.

Alfalfa, however, is a water-intensive crop, which helps explain why 80% of Idaho's monitoring wells have seen significant decreases since 1980, and about the same percentage have fallen to record lows in the last decade. And in Arkansas, soybean fields needed to feed the state's approximately 1 billion chickens now dominate the agricultural landscape, having easily supplanted tobacco as the state's main crop. In both states, farmers are aggressively tapping into aquifers to irrigate their fields. And in terms of the environment, "water usage in food production is still an aspect that is not widely discussed," says Mesfin Mekonnen, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Alabama. Read the full story. (Or check out other longforms.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.