In the earliest posts of this blog, I talked about the virtual water in your food, and drew attention to an often-documented fact – meat is far more water-intensive than almost any other kind of food. If you’re going to get serious about saving water, you’re going to have to get serious about giving up meat. I grew up in Iowa, raised by my parents who, in turn, trace their heritage through the American Midwest. In other words, I’m the product of generations of meat-and-potato-style diets. So I know, more than anyone, how much you start missing a good double-bacon hamburger once you commit to a vegetarian (or near vegetarian) diet.
The short answer to this question that titles this blog post is, it depends on how much water you want to save. The difference between water needed to produce a pound of beef versus a pound of vegetables can be anywhere from ten-fold to a hundred-fold. A true commitment to using the absolute least amount of water possible might just mean giving up meat altogether.
However, there is good news for the water-conscious carnivore. When Governor Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency in January 2014, he called for all Californians to reduce their water consumption by 20%. Saving twenty percent of your water is really, really doable. If one out of five meals don’t include meat, you’re already saving twenty percent. That is, if you typically have meat with every meal. If you’re used to having meat every day, just one or two meat-free days per week can be enough.
You can use that one out of five ratio to calculate your savings no matter how much meat you typically eat. Do you already do Meatless Mondays? Make it Meatless Mondays and Tuesdays. If you usually eat meat every other day, keep that up on week days and make your weekends vegetarian.
Another bit of good news comes from the fact that many vegetarian meals I’ve discovered are hearty, and, dare I say it, meaty-tasting, although they don’t include actual meat. Even if you’re not a fan of tofu and tempe, I dare you to taste some chickpea tacos and not mistake them for real chicken, or to try some egg fried rice and not think it’s complete all on its own. I hate tofu, and have no love of beans or tempe, but I’ve been able to get along on some very pleasant stir-fry vegetables and pasta dishes, cut with lentils and eggs.
Still want to eat meat? Go ahead. Just take an occasional glance at some vegetarian alternatives at a minimum of once a week, combine that with the other water conservation you’re doing, and watch the savings start to add up.