Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Saving water, a bite at the time ...

The drought across North Carolina and much of the Southeast seems to have water conservation on everyone's mind. As a Journal story Sunday pointed out, the recent rains, although helpful, do not mean we should stop thinking about conservation. It really needs to become a way of life.

So it's great to realize that in addition to all its other benefits, going veg is also an effective way to conserve water.

How can this be? It comes down to the staggering amount of water needed to produce animal products – much more than is required to produce vegetarian food. As Peter H. Gleick wrote in a Scientific American article, "Making Every Drop Count,"

"Even our diets have an effect on our overall water needs. Growing a pound of corn can take between 100 and 250 gallons of water, depending on soil and climate conditions and irrigation methods. But growing the grain to produce a pound of beef can require between 2,000 and 8,500 gallons. We can conserve water not only by altering how we choose to grow our food but also by changing what we choose to eat."

And the U.N.'s recent report on Livestock’s Long Shadow includes a chapter on "Livestock's role in Water Depletion and Pollution."

This exhaustive account of all the ways animal agriculture contributes to the depletion and degradation of water supplies points out that, for example, it takes an average of 990 liters of water to produce a liter of milk.

A nifty place to see the effect of a vegetarian vs. a meaty diet is at If you use the "quick calculator," you can see the difference in the amount of water that it takes each year to sustain the average American vegetarian lifestyle, or the average meat-eater or heavy meat-eater.

For example, my vegetarian “Water Footprint” is 1,754 cubic meters of water a year. If I decided to chuck it all and become an average meat-eater, that footprint would grow to 2,230 cubic meters of water per year. So, according to these figures, I'm saving 476 cubic meters of water each year simply by eating a vegetarian diet. Or to put it another way, if meat eaters went veg, they could cut their water consumption by more than 20 percent, just like that.

These figures are for vegetarians – they would be even more impressive for vegans. So, friends, let's proudly wear our veggie burgers as a badge of honor! (But not literally. We'd waste water washing the ketchup out of our shirts....)


At 11/02/2007 12:31 AM, Blogger Seiji said...

Hmm, I've never really considered the amount of water used in the mass production of meat. It reminds me of something I saw the other night in Richard Linklater's fictional film version of Fast Food Nation. In one of many horrible scenes at a slaughterhouse, one worker was hosing rats off a concrete platform while his frightened co-worker watched. Given the number of rats that were power washed, it appeared that a large quantity of water was used. Imagine this little activity going on daily at hundreds of plants across the country. And it's only a drop in the bucket (so to speak) when you look at overall water consumption in the industry.


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