Dustin Bajer, Watershed Diet, Saskatchewan River Watersheds

The Watershed Diet

You Are Where You Eat

If you are what you eat and you’re mostly water, shouldn’t we spend more time thinking about the source of that water? Move over 100-mile diet, let’s explore the watershed diet.

watershed is the area of land that captures, soaks up, and channels water toward increasingly large bodies of water. We think about watersheds as wetlands, streams, creeks, lakes, and rivers, but they’re also forests, trees, soils, animals…and you. If you’re sixty to seventy percent water, you’re mostly watershed. Water flows through you via drink, food, blood, tears, sweat, respiration, urine, and excrement. You are a pond with legs. You are a mini-watershed and a part of the larger watershed around you. You’re not a person walking up a hill, you’re water flowing against gravity.

Dustin Bajer, Watershed Diet, Saskatchewan River Watersheds
Saskatchewan River Watersheds (Source: North Saskatchewan Watershed Atlas)

Slow Down, Spread Out, and Store

Water poured onto an asphalt parking lot evaporates and disappears, but water poured onto a forest floor is absorbed by the soil and taken into the bodies of soil organisms and plant roots. Taken in by roots, water moves up trees and enters leaves, where it may be eaten by insects who, in turn, are eaten by birds that defecate and return the water to the soil. Functioning ecosystems, like the forest, cycle water. If a forest uses every drop of water twice, it’s the same as having twice as much water – or needing half as much. In contrast, parking lots are hostile places with few connections and little possibility. Ecosystems, filled with complex connections and relationships, hold onto, pass around, and reuse water. Reusing every drop of water twice is the same as having twice as much water – or needing half as much.

Water is necessary for life, so net reducing in water is a new reduction in a landscape’s capacity for supporting life. Removing water is an hostile act. As a rule, we should aim to slow down, retain, and store water high in the watershed where it can persulate through the system and benefit as many life processes as possible.

What happens when we bring watershed management to the management of our diets?

Dustin Bajer's sketch of the river valley food forest in Edmonton
The Edmonton River Valley Food Forest ss designed to capture and store water.

Food is Mostly Water. Imported Food is Moslty Someone Elses Water

Importing food is importing watersheds. For example, the banana I ate for breakfast was 74% Ecuadorian water. In 2021, Ecuador exported 266,928 tonnes of water disguised as bananas. California, a state plagued with drought and wildfires, produces 75% of the United States’s fruit and nuts which are 80 to 96% water. California thinks it’s exporting food but it’s mostly exporting water.

The global food trade is altering local weather and rainfall patterns. A shipping container of BC Fruit heading to Alberta is thousands of pounds of BC water traversing the continental divide. Is the Colorado River drying up or being exported as food?

Dustin Bajer, Watershed Diet, Canadian Watershed Map
Canadian Drainage Basin Map

Watershed Diet As Local Food

Local food is difficult to define and since food is mostly water, I propose that watersheds might be better tools for defining local food. As a geological feature, watersheds are less arbitrary than political borders or imaginary circles drawn concentrically around your kitchen (see 100 Mile Diet).

In truth, I’m not entirely sure what a watershed diet might look like. I’m not even sure I could tell you what my watershed produces – probably not a lot of bananas. What would a watershed meal taste like and how would it change seasonally? In what ways would the size and shape of a watershed change what it can produce. Might watersheds running North-South contain more growing consideions, and thus more plant and animal varieties? Would food produced low in the watershed (downstream) and consumed high in the watershed (upstream) increase the flow of rivers? – essentially providing more water for more food? If nothing else, the idea of a watershed diet brings up interesting questions.

Tenants of the Watershed Diet

As a half-based idea, here are a few principals that I can see a watershed diet adopting:

  • You are mostly water and a part of your watershed.
  • Food is mostly water.
  • Water is a condition for life (potential)
  • Eating and drinking from your watershed keeps water (and potential) in your watershed. Eating and drinking from outside your watershed removes water (and potential) from another watershed.
  • Watershed care is self-care. Polluting your watershed is polluting yourself.
  • The higher the water is in the landscape, the more potential it has.

I Am My Watershed

If 60% of me is North Saskatchewan Watershed, how does that change my relationship with the North Saskatchewan River? To the wetlands, ponds, lakes, forests, and animals I share it with?

If I’m part of my watershed how does change my consumption habits? Would we be less likely to pollute? How might food produced shift to ensure the health of the local watershed?

Dustin Bajer, Watershed Diet, North Saskatchewan Watershed in Alberta, North Saskatchewan Watershed Alliance
The North Saskatchewan Watershed (in Alberta). My home of Edmonton is as the junction of three sub-watersheds (Source: North Saskatchewan Watershed Atlas)

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