Over recent years you might have come across a typical colourful and intriguing infographic that highlights the concept of a water footprint. You might have been shocked to a single value of 400 litres for a cotton t-shirt or a staggering 15 000 litres for a kilogram of beef. Little that I know when I first saw an infographic like this about two years ago, that it would lead me to start following a meat and dairy free diet.
Simple and thought provoking infographics are typically met with some form of reservation by engineers and scientist, with multiple rightful questions related to their sources. So before quoting your newly acquired provocative facts at the next dinner party, I will always advise doing your own research into the subject matter.
Working in the water field lead me to do some research related to the impacts of the meat and dairy industry has on water consumption and environmental degradation. To summarize, there is a lot of variables to consider such as the sources and availability of water, but the meat and dairy industries are incredibly water intensive, largely due to the agricultural water requirement to grow crops for animal feed. These are sectors with a significant role in a country’s water balance, especially in countries where water scarcity is an issue. So how do improve the situation, do we eat less meat and dairy products? Do we cripple a sector that provides millions of jobs? It’s not a simple problem to address, but with an ever-increasing world population, we can’t keep voicing our support to protect the environment and keep our eating habits constant.
I know many people can’t see themselves living on a meat free diet, because two years ago, I couldn’t consider it myself. In many countries, including my drought stricken home country of South Africa, meat is engraved into our everyday living and culture. A meal without meat is not a meal. But when South Africans are placed under severe water restrictions with increased pricing and urged to save water, the government increases beef exports to China. It’s a logic that might make financial-, but not environmental sense.
I will always urge people to think a bit about where their next meal originates from, a simple task we overlook every time we sit down to eat. Unknowingly your biggest water use culprit could be sitting in your fridge. The choice of diet is a personal one and no one should tell you what to eat. ‘A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.’ – Benjamin Franklin. So, I hope this piece gets you thinking, researching, debating and typing ‘water footprint’ into google to take a second look at that infographic.
A link for some additional reading
Cheers for now!