The unfortunate truth is that I am no friend of the environment. I’m too lazy to recycle, I use regular ol’ plastic bags at the grocery store, and when my batteries die, I just throw them in the trash.
I was hanging out with my husband earlier today, laptop in hand, while he was watching one of his documentaries on TV. He has a thing for documentaries. I usually just play around on my computer while he watches his stuff. Occasionally something will spark my interest and I’ll pay attention.
It turns out that he was watching an episode of VICE on HBO called “Meathooked and End of Water”. The episode was phenomenal, and it scared the shit out of me.
After watching the documentary, I started doing some research.
I’m now sitting here thinking we’re in the end times, and it’s all those bastards who insist on mass-producing meat’s fault!
The basic premise is that the current demand for meat, coupled with climate change and a growing world population isn’t sustainable. The food chain starts with the crops we grow – mainly corn – to feed the animals we ultimately slaughter and use for meat. In places like California and Brazil, we’re seeing unprecedented droughts and water shortages, so the crops (and the rain forests) are drying up. The farmers are losing produce, the people who raise cattle can’t keep them fed, so they’re always looking to use the cheapest, nastiest ingredients just to get by. Some say by 2050, if nothing changes, we’ll be in post-apocalyptic times.
Um… that’s pretty soon. Really soon, actually.
The demand for cheap meat has risen, which increases the need for water. The average American, I learned, requires about 4,200 gallons of water a day to sustain their diet. It seriously takes that much water to irrigate the crops we feed to the animals awaiting slaughter. This is also the water it takes to keep the animals hydrated while they’re still alive, to process the food once it’s ready for market, to wash it and prepare it. In fact, producing one pound of California beef requires almost 2,500 gallons of water.
A vegan, in contrast, requires about 300 gallons of water a day to sustain their diets.
Next, we deal with the problem of waste. It was quite a bit easier to dump animal waste in the days before mass farming was a thing. Back then, the earth and the atmosphere simply absorbed it with little-to-no consequence to the rest of us. Now, with single operations feeding thousands upon thousands of animals a day, the planet is physically incapable of absorbing all that shit. Literally, it’s shit, and there’s a whole lot of it. These livestock farming operations produce more than 130 times more waste than humans do.
Gassy livestock that belch and fart dump a huge amount of methane into the atmosphere, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. In fact, one ton of methane has the same effect on global warming as 23 tons of carbon dioxide. It’s linked to the diet of humans, and the level of methane rises and falls as the global demand for meat rises and falls.
Methane isn’t the only concern, either. Nitrogen is another one, and livestock waste is dumping so much nitrogen in the water supply that entire species of marine life are dying off. There’s an area in the Gulf of Mexico that cannot sustain any aquatic life at all because the nitrogen from animal waste sucks all the oxygen out of the water. It’s an actual dead zone, and it spanned 7,700 square miles back in 1999.
How big do you think it’s grown to today?
In the US, it is estimated that livestock waste has polluted more than 27,000 miles of our rivers.
Basically, we are royally fucking ourselves, people.
All this for the ability to get a burger for a dollar at McDonald’s. A burger that doesn’t even taste that great to begin with.
It isn’t worth it. Not to me, anyway.
So what can a regular ol’ person like myself, and my family do?
I’m so glad you asked!
First, we’re cutting back on the amount of meat we consume. We will never be vegetarians, but there are plenty of benefits to committing to one or two meat-free days a week. If the four of us eat a vegan menu two days a week, that’s 7,800 gallons of water per person, per week we won’t be consuming. Multiply that times 52 weeks, and we will have reduced our water intake by 405,600 gallons per person in a single year.
That’s significant. Now imagine what can happen if we all took this challenge, just for a year.
The second thing we’ll do is only consume high-quality meat when we do eat it. No more fast-food burgers or chicken nuggets. Wherever possible, our beef will be grass fed and organic. Our chicken (and eggs) will be free-range, with no hormones or antibiotics added to the diet of the animals. Similarly, our fish will be wild-caught or responsibly farmed.
Yes, our grocery bill will be higher, but thankfully, we can afford it. This will be one of the ways we, as a family, will give back.
What will you do?