Monday, October 6, 2014

Watering your Diet

Over the past 3 years working at Ithaca Dining Services as a sustainability intern, I've seen a lot of Meatless Monday facts and have done a great deal of research on the resources it takes to produce meat. However, I'm still always shocked when I see the numbers. For instance, I recently came across this graphic:

The amount of resources that it takes to produce meat as compared with vegetables is huge. In fact, when you look at our earth's water footprint, 27% of our water usage goes towards the production of animal products, whereas only 4% of water usage can be attributed to water use at home (kitchen, bathroom, etc.). This means that a slight change in diet can have much greater impact on conserving water than water saving precautions we take at home such as shorter showers. 

When comparing the meat versus vegetarian diet, it's clear to see the differences in resource usage. For instance, the average carnivorous diet requires 3,600 L of water per day, whereas a vegetarian diet only needs 2,300 L of water per day. This is a 30% decrease in water consumption from not eating meat. You can only imagine the magnification of these numbers when more people start to eat meat free - even one day a week!

What is most interesting, is the breakdown of why animal production needs so much water. Your first thought may be that animals need a lot of water to drink. Thinking about the million of animals in production - that's a lot of drinking water! But actually, drinking water only contributes 1% to the total water usage of animal production. The biggest factor is actually the amount of water it takes to grow the animal feed: 98%. Because this feed is then eaten by animals, only 10% of the potential energy from that feed is transferred to the animal. This process of energy loss as you increase in trophic levels explains to us why it is more efficient to consume lower on the trophic level (such as plants).  Humans directly eating plant material, instead of eating animals that have eaten the plant material first, is an efficient use of resources.  But again - balance is key! Check out this diagram below explaining trophic levels and the loss of energy:

But what about the days when you do eat meat? Still conscious of your water resource consumption? Different types of meat actually have varying levels of water required to produce them: 

Being informed about the food choices you make is so important. I hope that you can take these facts and figures, and turn them into something meaningful for your diet! 

Happy Meatless Monday, 

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