The inherent wastefulness of eating meat is making its way into the public consciousness. It’s hard to ignore the overwhelming scientific evidence, including the 2006, 390-page United Nations report, Livestock’s Long Shadow. This landmark study noted that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined.
Less cited, however, is the tremendous amount of water used for both meat and dairy production. With drought conditions in the Southeast reaching critical proportions, it’s time we take a look at how dietary choices affect the water supply. Cornell University scientist David Pimentel has shown that “producing a pound of animal protein requires, on average, about 100 times more water than producing a pound of vegetable protein.” Even more remarkable is the amount of water required to produce milk. The same UN report mentioned above notes that, “On average 990 litres of water are required to produce one litre of milk.” I knew that cycling tremendous amounts of food and water through animals was incredibly inefficient and that mostly we get back feces and urine in return, but I was truly shocked to learn just how much water is wasted by dairy production.
The official handbook for Live Earth, the global-warming concerts that Al Gore co-organized, says that “refusing meat” is the “single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint” (emphasis in original). Not consuming animal products is also a powerful way to conserve water. Pass the fruits, veggies, soy milk, juice and beer!
— Stewart David