A One-Sentence Pitch For Vegetarianism

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

This pitch has nothing to do with ethical treatment of animals, which of course is a compelling case of its own; and is different from earlier vegetarian pitches we have shared, also compelling. It is suddenly meatless Friday. Thank you for this clear, simple pitch, vox:

California’s devastating drought is focusing attention on the water footprint of various foods — particularly delicious, delicious almonds, which require about a gallon of water each.

But as various analyses show, red meat is far worse than even almonds on this score. It takes almost twice as much water to produce a calorie of beef as it does to create a calorie of almonds. Any discussion of how to eat to best preserve water needs to begin with this sentence:

the water footprint (WF) of any animal product is larger than the WF of a crop alternative with equivalent nutritional value.

That’s from an analysis water expert Arjen Y. Hoekstra published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. He goes on to explain that the average water footprint per calorie of beef is 20 times larger than for cereals and starchy roots. In fact, 40 percent of the world’s cereals are grown to feed animals being raised for food.

Almonds are getting a lot of attention because California is in drought and California produces a ton of almonds. But in terms of global water supply — which is a much bigger deal than California’s water supply — almonds just don’t matter that much, and for the obvious reason: people don’t eat many almonds, so the world doesn’t produce that many almonds.

It’s grains, meats, and starches that dominate global diets and thus global water use. You can see this in a paper Hoekstra co-authored on water footprints. Together, cereals and meat account for 49 percent of global water consumption. Nut production is so small that it’s tucked away under “other.”

It’s not just water

Of course, water isn’t the only resource we should worry about agriculture using. Fossil fuels are another — and, given their contribution to global warming, perhaps a more pressing one. But the story here is much the same. “An average of 25 kcal of fossil energy is required to produce 1 kcal of animal protein, which is ten times greater than in the case of plant protein,” writes Hoekstra…

Read the whole article here.

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