I've spent all this time worrying about how much water I was using washing the dishes, taking showers, or brushing my teeth. I've thought about how much water is used to grow crops like coffee and cotton, and how much is used in apparel manufacturing. What I failed to consider is how much water is needed to grow crops whose only purpose is to feed livestock, and just how much of those crops the livestock need to eat.
Cowspiracy, a film made by the same folks who made What The Health, presents some alarming facts about how much water the meat and dairy industry uses. For instance, it takes 660 gallons (factoring water needed to grow crops to feed the cows, and the water the cows drink) just to produce enough beef to make 1 burger.
If you implement every possible measure to cut down on water use at home - installing low-flow toilets and shower heads, turning off the water when brushing your teeth, cutting down on dish washing water, taking short showers, foregoing watering your lawn - you're saving, at most, about 47 gallons of water per day. Have one burger and you're in a greater water deficit than you can possibly make up by any other means.
I have some special fears around water, especially after living in India for almost a year, where water shortages are very real. The amount of water it takes to raise livestock is literally turning whole areas of the planet into deserts, and acres of rainforest are being wiped out every day for the purpose of grazing livestock and growing feed crops for their sustenance. When we get rid of the rainforests, we destroy biodiversity that has taken thousands of years to develop. It's as scary, if not more so, than the rapid decline of marine species due to plastic pollution in the oceans.
As I've mentioned before, cows, by nature, produce a ton of methane, which has been shown to contribute greatly to the global temperature increase. The film argues that the livestock sector produces more greenhouse gases than the transportation sector. I'm not sure if that's true, but in any case it's a lot of greenhouse gas (14.5% of global emissions according to the FAO), and it's not good. This combined with the reasons above should be enough to make us stop and think.
IGNORING THE ELEPHANT (ER... COW) IN THE ROOM
I started this blog because I was inspired by all the zero waste bloggers in the world who cut plastic and unnecessary waste from their lives. I still feel that refusing single-use plastics is incredibly important for the health of the planet. Most plastics are made from petroleum, whose industry is also detrimental to ecosystems and biodiversity. They also take hundreds of years to break down, and in the mean time they poison our oceans and our bodies by leeching harmful chemicals into them.
But how can I give up plastics for the sake of environmentalism while ignoring the fact that by eating meat, eggs, and dairy, I support an industry that is using far more than its fair share of water and natural resources, to the detriment of the environment?
I won't even touch on the animal cruelty issue, though I think it's worth considering, because the environmental impact alone of raising meat animals is enough to make me pause and rethink my behavior.
AM I ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE?
I'll be the first to admit that I've rolled my eyes more than once at people I perceived to be self-righteous vegans. Don't get me wrong, I still think there are vegans who are self-righteous. However, I'm entertaining veganism not so that I can lord it over others and make them feel guilty for their choices, but because I feel that my other efforts to minimize my impact on the planet would by hypocritical if I ignore my one behavior that likely has the greatest impact.
So Mat and I are giving veganism a try, and I'll continue to post vegan recipes like this one, in order to prove to everyone, myself included, that being vegan doesn't have to mean feeling deprived, and that it can be as delicious as it is rewarding.
Who's with us? Any takers?