The Real Culprit

I used to think that sitting down to a meal was to satisfy my hunger or, as is often the case, to celebrate an occasion with friends. Now I know it to be a political act as well.

In the abstract entitled A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System discussed on PlantBasedResearch.org, it is noted: “How we produce and consume food has a bigger impact on American’s well-being than any other human activity. The food industry is the largest sector of our economy: food touches everything from our heath to the environment, climate change, economic inequality, and the federal budget.”

So much for just sitting down to lunch. Two things have happened since my last blog entry. One, my brother and sister-in-law from California came to visit and we had lots of conversations about the hot weather and water restrictions there. And two, I finally received a copy of my favorite magazine, VegNews. In an article entitled Truth or Drought, Mark Hawthorne asked why we aren’t talking more about the largest contributor to the water crisis in California: animal agriculture and specifically the meat, dairy and egg industries? There has been a lot of media attention in California about the amount of water used to produce almonds – almonds!? – and about reducing residential and commercial lawn water use. I think this is a smokescreen. Nobody wants to talk about the real culprit.

My money is on politics. And behind politics, of course, is money.

I have other family out in California: cousins, a nephew, a very dear aunt. They are all very socially conscious and, I am sure, watch their water consumption. Most of us now know it takes less water to shower than to take a bath (42 gallons of water for a ten minute shower vs 70 gallons for a bath) and most of us are careful about our water use while brushing our teeth and doing the dishes. It makes us feel like we are doing something, right? In an article entitled Drought by the Numbers: Where does California Water Go?, D.J. Waldie wrote that “about 14% [of water] is poured into bathtubs, toilets, and washing machines or sprayed over residential lawns.” But home water consumption is not the real problem.

I’ve spent days reading statistics. From #imagreenmonster, I learned that on average a family of four uses about 450 gallons of water doing such things as showering, dishes and laundry, watering their plants. But if they were to go out to eat and buy four cheeseburgers, they would up their water consumption to 7,000 gallons! Yes, that’s “virtual” water, meaning the amount of water scientists and statisticians have figured out it takes to grow the food to feed the animals, hydrate them and keep the factory farming facilities and slaughterhouses clean.

Ninety-nine (99) percent of all farmed animals are now raised in a factory farm situation. Very few picturesque, old-fashioned farms where animals roam outside, exist anymore.

In California, alone, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the total water use for all agriculture is 80%, of which animal agriculture is more than half at 47%. The beef, dairy and egg business is huge – HUGE- and very politically savvy. They want us to think that almonds are the culprit.

Look at these comparisons, again from VegNews:
It takes about:
14 gallons of water to produce a pound of carrots
36 gallons of water to produce a pound of kale
But 47 gallons of water to produce just 2 large eggs
145 gallons of water to produce a pound of avocados
And, yes, 304 gallons of water to produce a pound of almonds
But 660 gallons of water to produce a pound of pig flesh
And 1,062 gallons of water to produce one 10-ounce steak

California is experiencing a formidable drought but the drought is not just in California. It’s in Australia, China, India, Iran, Brazil, Thailand, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda. We now live in a global world. We already learned that what we do in the US, affects others (the global financial crisis of 2007-08, for example). The same is true about what we eat. According to Mark Hawthorne, Californians use more water to grow alfalfa than any other crop (even my personal favorite, grapes!) and “alfalfa is grown to feed farmed animals worldwide.” That means Californians are using up a lot of its water to export grain worldwide.

California is not the only state using its precious water supplies to feed animals. John Robbins wrote in The Food Revolution that “half of the water used in all of the US goes to raising animals for food.”

It’s unsustainable. California is now resorting to using the water from their aquifers. It takes thousands of years to fill these aquifers. Without the snowmelt and rain, they cannot even be replenished. Todd C. Frankel wrote in The Washington Post that “twenty-one of the world’s 37 largest aquifers — in locations from India and China to the United States and France — have passed their sustainability tipping points, meaning more water was removed than replaced.”

We have to start talking about the real culprit. The use of land and water for animal agriculture is a worldwide problem. It makes a lot of money for a lot of people. We won’t change their minds but we can reduce or eliminate our consumption of meat and other animal products. I think that is the solution. And it may just save our planet.

When I see steaks wrapped neatly in plastic wrap in the grocery stores or look at all the ice cream for sale in the dairy aisles, I thank every vegan and vegetarian for their personal and political choice not to support these industries. Who knew a plant-based meal could be such a radical act?

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