Raise a glass to your host, wet your whistle, then pause for a second to recall that the solid foods you're about to dig into embody 1,000 times more water than is in your glass.
We could go further. Your dinner has sucked up about 10 times more H20 than was used all day at work, and 10 times more than you poured, showered, laundered, hosed and flushed to meet your daily household needs.
This is the world of "virtual water" that we, with our bodies that are 72 per cent water, live in. And by 2025, if UN experts have it right, two-thirds of the world's people will lack a clean source of the life-sustaining liquid.
In the real world, solids, liquids, energy and space earth, water, fire and air, as the ancients had it are just different ways life's vital juices morph. But in the world of economics and politics, each force is a separate economic sector, with a separate government department, a separate customer base and separate ideological flair.
That's why our mind's eye doesn't "see" the water in food-- the 3,000 litres a day per person it takes to make edibles under the current agricultural regime.
When water is blue (or, rather, when it looks like it's blue in a lake) or falls from the sky, it is almost universally recognized as having sacred qualities that make it a "public good." It's considered that we share this precious resource in common, and it is generally owned or closely regulated by the public sector, not put up for sale to the highest bidder.
But when water is in an edible container that imparts extra flavour and nutrients what we commonly call food it is no longer considered sacred, but has become a private good or commodity that is barely regulated.
We had enviro campaigns for clean water and air legislation decades before we had campaigns for clean food, and we have lefty campaigns against water privatization centuries after food was privatized.
Because water and the water that's virtually in food exist in two mental solitudes subject to two different standards, we seldom recognize that all food issues including economic development, trade, environmental, social and ethical issues linked to food are just disguised water issues.
This understanding is central to the new paradigm around water that's emerging in global debates. It comes via the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Development Program (UNDP) and at the Stockholm-based International Water Institute.
The long-overdue shift among global experts, who now plan on the basis that food and water are intimately linked, comes from the cold shower of thinking ahead to the looming scarcity.
The new worldview includes Asia, where problem-plagued irrigation systems prop up high-volume rice production. It also focuses on Africa, where drought-ridden drylands render high-production agriculture almost impossible. The new generation of planners see an urgent need to develop ways to get "more crop for the drop."
The new view begins with the understanding that agriculture is the 900-pound gorilla of water management and water pollution. According to a 2004 FAO report, 3 per cent of the world's water is used by cities, 4 per cent by industry and 93 per cent by agriculture. This sector pays minimal water bills and is responsible for jeopardizing ecosystems by altering the flow of rivers and damming waters for irrigation.
Likewise, farming is the leading polluter of water. In ideal circumstances, agriculture would be a healthy element in the hydrological, or water, cycle. Rain would fall on a pasture, a cow would slurp up the water when it popped up as grass, the cow would answer nature's call, and its manure and urine would be welcomed by tens of thousands of tiny creatures that feed on the rot that enriches soil.
But over the past 50 years, agriculture has changed the way the water cycle works. This is mainly because of radically increased amounts of meat, especially beef, that have been produced for what's called "the livestock revolution" the increased consumption of meat and dairy products by people who abandon traditional plant-based peasant diets in favour of Americanized diets.
To produce 1 kilogram of boneless beef, according to a definitive 2004 UNESCO study on the "water footprint of nations," it takes 6.5 kilograms of grain, 36 kilograms of roughage (coarse grains and pasture) and 155 litres of drinking water.
Since the grains and roughage also require water, there's enough to float a destroyer before a steer gets to the slaughterhouse. One hamburger, according to the UNESCO report, embodies 2,400 litres of water, the unsung source that does it all for you.
It's not like this water returns to the water cycle as pure as it started. Rain that falls on a pasture may seep into the water table or flow into a creek laced with toxic pesticides as well as livestock urine and manure laden with residues from antibiotics and other drugs.
Steers dump 40 kilograms of manure for every kilogram of meat left behind. Plopped on wide fields, that's fine. Unloaded into creeks, the manure overloads water systems with nitrogen, organics, drug residues and pathogens that can't be absorbed. That's why livestock are frequently sources of water-borne disease.
"Minimizing the amount of water taken to produce food must now become a priority of global food policy," say the British vegetarians who sponsor Compassion in World Farming.
Those who want to be mindful of the Age of Virtual Aquarius can choose water-efficient crops. For carbs, potatoes (at 500 litres of water per kilogram) beat out wheat (at 900 litres) which beats out rice (at 1,910 litres). Aquarians can learn to alternate servings of potato gnocchi with pasta. Brown ricers will mourn the loss of their moral superiority, just as wine drinkers (120 litres a glass) will regret their loss of social standing to beer guzzlers (75 litres).
Aquarian ag officials will promote pasture-raised over grain-fed livestock and look to cities as prime livestock habitat. We already have livestock in the city. They're called pets. Unlike edible livestock, they're mostly carnivores and therefore heavy-duty water users in their own right.
They need to be counter-balanced with herbivores that can turn urban "waste" (veggie scraps and "wet waste") into both fertilizer and protein instead of garbage. Herbivores can also crop grass and weeds that otherwise have to be cut by lawnmowers, among the worst polluters on the planet. Here, Bessie! Fetch, Bessie!
I've dealt with a lot of drips in my life, so I'm grateful to at last have a cause that lets me dream I can save the world one drip at a time.