Regular readers know that the unofficial theme of the Drought Diaries is virtual water. While we don’t write about it every week, most of our posts focus on the invisible water that’s used behind-the-scenes to grow, produce, and ship everyday goods and products. Regular readers also know the general conclusions we reach in every post about virtual water: avoid meat or animal products, avoid processed foods, cook for yourself. So how can the crew of The Longest Straw justify making our own beef jerky in anticipation of production?
First, let’s back up. We’ll begin by talking about our film. Our crew is backpacking over 400 miles in 70 days up the Los Angeles Aqueduct. We’re doing this to help our viewers form a connection with their water. No matter what city you’re in, your water is imported from somewhere else, and every time you turn on your tap, you could be impacting communities hundreds of miles away.
Next, let’s examine another assumption. We’ve said on multiple occasions that reducing or eliminating meat from your diet will have major water savings. That’s because over a third of California’s water is used in animal agriculture. To get serious about saving water, you need to go beyond taking shorter showers or installing a low-flow faucet. What’s on your plate could add up to thousands of gallons of water per day.
So why is our crew eating jerky on their hike? To put it simply, we want to keep our crew happy, healthy, and safe. An average backpacker will burn 600 calories per hour. Staying healthy long-term means eating enough calories and enough nutrients to keep your body going. Since our crew will be carrying everything on their backs, their food must be portable and lightweight. Jerky is a high-calorie food that fits all those criteria.
So how do we justify our jerky intake in times of drought? First of all, we’re making it ourselves. That may not seem like it would make a difference, but cutting out the processing plant will save, since we’re eliminating wasteful industrial processes and the transportation to and from the factory. Also, we’re making jerky from a variety of meats. Sure, beef is water-intensive at 15,400 liters per kilogram, but we’re also making chicken jerky (4,330 liters/kilogram) and bacon jerky (6,300 liters/kilogram). Sure, we’re leaving a larger water footprint than if we didn’t eat animal products at all, but we’re all about taking steps to ensure that our virtual water usage is conscientious.
We know not all of our readers are going to go full vegetarian or vegan no matter what the numbers say, and that’s OK. Even just cutting back a little can make a big difference, and we’re focused more on the impacts long-term changes than a jerky-making cheat day (or cheat months). We hope that our water usage will be offset by other green practices our crew will employ (like giving up showers, washing machines, clean clothes, and deodorant for two and a half months!)