Are you ready for a $35 burger?

And much higher than that if the beef industry had to pay for water.

Like ours, Mr. Brown's book features a single apple on the cover. And like our apple, his tells a story.

Like ours, Mr. Brown’s book features a single apple on the cover. And like our apple, his tells a story.

               Water excerpt from Lester Brown’s book

Although many analysts are concerned about the depletion of oil resources, the depletion of underground water resources poses a far greater threat to our future. While there are substitutes for oil, there are none for water. Indeed, modern humans lived a long time without oil, but we would live for only a matter of days without water.

Not only are there no substitutes for water, but the world needs vast amounts of it to produce food. As adults, each of us drinks nearly 4 liters of water a day in one form or another. But it takes 2,000 liters of water— 500 times as much— to produce the food we consume each day.

(That’s mainly because we’re eating the wrong food.)

How much is water worth? Depends on how thirsty you are and how much demand there is for water. If a gallon of water were auctioned off to a group of extremely thirsty, super-wealthy Americans, it might bring a million dollars or more. Just depends on how thirsty they are and how much water is available. It’s all about supply & demand.

What's the most you ever paid for a quart of Evian?

What’s the most you ever paid for a quart of Evian? Maybe five bucks?

So, what’s the story on water? Is it our most precious natural resource? I would say it has to right up there with the air that we breathe. As Lester Brown says, we lived for centuries without oil but could only live for a few days without water. I learned a few years ago, that there has been the exact same amount of water on the planet for millions of years. All generations of creatures have always consumed the same water.

Water reserves in trouble. The fresh water that we drink comes from rain, snow and underground wells and aquifers. The quantity of water remains the same, but the location of that water is changing—lakes, rivers, streams, reservoirs, and underground aquifers. Although many of those bodies of water are in danger, the one that is most scary is the last one—the underground aquifer. Here’s what Lester Brown said in chapter six of his book:

If the pumping surpasses the sustainable yield of the aquifer, aquifers are depleted. When this happens, the rate of irrigation pumping is necessarily reduced to the aquifer’s natural rate of recharge.

At this point, grain production declines too. The resulting water-based “food bubbles,” which create a short-term false sense of security, can now be found in some 18 countries that contain more than half the world’s people. In these countries, food is being produced by drawing down water reserves. This group includes China, India, and the United States.

Forty percent of world irrigated area is now dependent on underground water. As world demand for grain has climbed, farmers have drilled more and more irrigation wells with little concern for how many the local aquifers could support. As a result, water tables are falling and millions of irrigation wells are either going dry or are on the verge of doing so.

How yummy is this going to look when it costs $60? FYI, cheese production is a HUGE waste of water as well.

How yummy is this going to look when it costs $60? Cheese production is also a HUGE waste of water.

Cap & Trade. We have “cap and trade” for oil; why not have it for water? Back to my question, what is water worth? Well, if you buy it in a quart plastic bottle, you might pay $10 or more per gallon.

But what about that quarter pound burger? Let’s say we charged the beef producers just one cent per gallon for that water. Sounds reasonable enough, right?

How much would that add to the price of that $5 burger? Would you believe thirty dollars? Now we’re talking a $35 burger. Too much of an increase too soon you say? Then let’s start out charging them just one cent for TEN gallons of water. That only adds $3 to the price of the $5 burger. And that 60% increase would probably be enough to cut the demand of beef by 25% or more in less than a year.

By the way, we’re not just picking on the beef industry. The pork, chicken, turkey, dairy and egg industries are also going to have to start paying the same amount for their water. Are you ready for a $50 Egg McMuffin? Compare that to a healthy bowl of oatmeal with flax milk, blueberries and banana for three or four bucks. (That’s what I had four hours ago and I’m just now getting hungry.)

Full of water-wasters. The bacon, the cheese and the eggs.

Full of water-wasters. Bacon, cheese and the eggs.

People everywhere would be searching for alternate sources of protein—and calories in general. They will do internet searches and will quickly learn that there is plenty of protein in all kinds of vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. And they’ll soon start enjoying that delicious oatmeal and fruit for breakfast much more than they ever enjoyed that water guzzling and artery clogging Egg McMuffin.

Should we also start charging the potato and fruit farmers for water? What would that one cent for ten gallons do to a quarter pound of potatoes? It would add 1.5  cents. So what would happen? Dairy, beef and chicken farmers would soon be growing potatoes, apples and a host of other health-promoting, planet-nurturing, plant-based foods.

The Bottom Line. A global disaster is not far away if we don’t start making some seriously radical changes in how we’re using this planet and her finite natural resources that we need to make food—WATER, LAND and ENERGY. The global solution to a host of problems could be as simple as two words. SELL WATER.

Forget trying to get people to choose healthier foods to save themselves and the planet. As Sal Liggieri says, “that ain’t working.” Just sell the water and 80% of the world’s food calories would be coming directly from plants in less than ten years (my estimate). Want to shoot for 95%? Just raise the price of water.

Just think of the “ripple effect” (no pun intended) of benefits that would ensue: healthier people, lower cost of health care, global warming is curbed, finite fossil fuels last longer, water shortages are a thing of the past, world hunger ends, rain-forests are restored and the suffering of billions of animals in factory farms is almost non-existent.

Give Chelsea the microphone and her proud parents will help her fix the biggest problems in the history of humankind.

Give Chelsea the microphone and her proud parents will help her fix the biggest problems in the history of humankind.

Selling water around the world is the kind of powerful global initiative that Chelsea could champion with the full support of her very influential father and mother, perhaps the next president of the United States.

Soon, they would have the HUGE financial support of the Gates, Buffetts and Jobs of the world and we’d be up and running. In a few years, they can add one more ex-president to the “dream team.”

Sell Water — Get Healthy — Nurture the Planet — Save Grandchildren

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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3 Responses to Are you ready for a $35 burger?

  1. Sal Liggieri says:


    Since you were first interested in WFPB, what changes have you seen that make you so optimistic that world change will happen?

    More books, more articles, more spokespeople and yet more obesity, more sickness, more apathy. Where is the change? The only change I see is that more of the world is being corrupted by Americas SAD.

    All the kings men can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

    Change will only happen when the world is on the brink of extinction and even then I doubt it.

    Let it happen.

    • CJ says:

      Hi Sal,
      I always appreciate the realism / pessimism in your posts, so I had to reply on this one, as this topic of the fate of the future generations and the planet is so interesting to me. I agree with you, I like to be optimistic (as that fosters some action), although I’ve become more of a pessimist and I agree that we are likely “screwed”, as people won’t really act until we’re environmentally backed into a corner. It’s that old story of the frog in the hot water who doesn’t realize it’s too hot until it’s too late.

      I think you’re right on that the spread of the SAD diet around the world is incredible.
      Can I ask what you think is the major problem with people’s mindset, is it just plain cultural — “I don’t want to change because this is the way everyone eats, I don’t want to stand out”?

      At least some good news is with the Kaiser report, their closing line is that the culture must change in order for people to “get it” and take the steps necessary to change. That may take a while. ; )

  2. CJ says:

    Jim, if only the true environmental price of these wasteful food products were built in! Thanks for reminding us of the important work of Lester Brown. His most recent book you mentioned is definitely on my reading list. I think you’ve written about it a few times but just want to mention his excellent work related to his work “Plan B” which provides a plan for combating climate change and the problems you mentioned, for Mr. Brown, Food = Civilization. Climate change and environmental destruction create the food shortages of the future and increases the likelihood of the collapse of civilization.

    A great documentary with these concepts was presented a couple years ago by PBS in its excellent “Journey to Planet Earth” series. Mr. Brown and other important thinkers of the day contribute to the “Plan B: Mobilizing to Save Civilization” episode. Full show here: It’s really excellent.

    Finally, a good summary of Plan B ideas is found here from the Earth Policy Institute:

    Hope Chelsea and family are watching. ; )

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