Our unprecedented drought has everyone talking about water conservation. Of course, to conserve water we need to know what the largest consumers of water are.
While shorter showers are certainly a good start, it isn't the shower or even the lawn that uses the most amount of water in our households.
It's the food, specifically animal products. Just one hamburger has enough embedded water to supply one person with one month's worth of showers. It takes more than 1000 liters of fresh water to make one liter of cow's milk. In comparison, it takes less than 300 liters of water to make one liter of soy milk. And, don't get me started about the water footprint of meat and eggs.
Ten billion animals, mostly chickens, are raised in the U.S. every year. They not only consume a lot of water directly but indirectly through the corn, soy and other grains grown for animal feed. If fed to people directly these crops could feed more than 800 million people, about two and a half times the population of the U.S.
A hundred billion gallons of water is exported from California to China every year in the form of animal feed that Chinese animal agriculture needs because of their increasing adoption of a Western diet.
Animal agriculture is also responsible for more than half of greenhouse gas emissions, according to World Bank environmental advisers, if auxiliary sources such as refrigeration of animal products and deforestation to graze or grow animal feed are taken into account. Climate change, driven by these greenhouse gases, will only worsen the types of extreme weather we are experiencing.
I used to consider myself an environmentalist until I realized that my food made a bigger environmental impact than any of my other lifestyle choices. I did not think I could ever give up consuming animal products. That is, until I started imagining the amount of embedded water in the meat and cheese of the pizza that had become a Sunday dinner tradition and how all that water would be enough to completely fill my dining room and drown me.
With a Perspective, I am Kamal Prasad.
Kamal Prasad is an information technology specialist and a human and non-human animal rights activist. He lives in Santa Rosa.