It’s true that shortening our showers and turning off the sink while brushing our teeth are good ways to save water, but 34-76 trillion gallons of water are used annually for an unsustainable purpose that often goes unacknowledged, and therefore unchallenged. Those trillions of gallons of water are used by the animal agriculture industry. Compare that to only 70-140 billion gallons used by hydraulic fracturing, or the process of retrieving our drinking water. The water ban conversation has left out a significant way to lessen our water footprint. For example, the fact that showering for five minutes uses 12 gallons of water is posted outside of most showers in dorms, but it goes unmentioned that 660 gallons of water are used to make one burger. That’s like 32 showers worth of water compiled into one item.
Producing meat takes an excessive amount of fresh water; that is, 2,500 gallons per pound of beef. That’s an astonishing amount of water for such small product outcome. Although the other methods of saving water, including less frequent toilet flushing, shorter showers, and turning the sink off, are all helpful, food production makes a much more significant impact on our water use. Compare the 55 percent of water consumed in the United States for animal agriculture, to the 5 percent consumed by private homes. Animal agriculture is responsible for 20-33 percent of all fresh water consumption in the world today. This should be very alarming in that water shortages are very common, and water scarcity affects over 2.7 billion people for at least one month each year.
You may be wondering how and why this much water is used in the process of producing these animal products. The more processed your food is usually means the more water used to get to your plate. Livestock feed, such as grains and corn, require high levels of water in their production. The animals themselves require water for drinking, and processing the meat products also uses water. All of that water could be going to much more sustainable sources that produce greater product outcomes with much less water waste.
For example, per pound, potatoes require 60-180 gallons of water, rice 228-600 gallons, and soybeans 132-240 gallons. In addition, the amount needed to produce one pound of lettuce, wheat or tomatoes is 25 gallons or less. These products require a lot less water to be produced than animal products, and can be produced in greater quantities for lesser costs of water, as well as many other factors like carbon dioxide and land use.
If there wasn’t already enough of an urgency for change, eating animals isn’t just draining our water supply. Today animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction. You might be wondering what you can do to help. Reducing your meat consumption can have a significant impact, and one person really does make a difference. For example, someone who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50 percent less carbon dioxide, and uses 1/11 of oil, 1/13 of water, and 1/18 of land compared to someone who follows an omnivore diet. A 2009 study found that an omnivorous diet uses 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticide than a vegetarian diet. There are many factors at stake when it comes to the daily food decisions we make and the companies we are giving our money to. Let us be educated and choose wisely.
This information yields the conclusion that our world can no longer withstand the standard American diet. There are much better alternatives that generate a lighter footprint on our earth. Making small changes to your lifestyle can be easy—and even enjoyable—with proper education. If you’d like to learn more about adopting a sustainable diet, below are some helpful websites and accounts to look into the information I have presented. We have one world, let’s take care of this beautiful earth! Together we can make an incredible difference.
If you’d like to find out more about how animal agriculture affects the environment, I highly recommend the documentary “Cowspiracy,” found on Netflix.