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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Zoe South: The water footprint of red meat

By Zoe South

By Zoe South

Have you ever thought about the impact that the food you eat could harm the environment – and the world around you? Let’s talk about the topic of water footprints. Different types of food use different amounts of water to produce them.

Let’s start with beef. I’m sure you enjoy your hamburgers or prime ribs once in a while, but let’s see the water footprint of beef. Beef uses an average of 1,800 gallons of water just per pound. That’s an unimaginable amount, seeing as only 2.5 to 3% of Earth’s water is freshwater. Cleanwateraction.org says, “Producing a single pound of beef takes an average of 1,800 gallons of water to produce, while one pound of tofu takes 302 gallons of water.” That is a big difference.

Beef uses the most water. Even nuts, which use 1,086 gallons, still have a much smaller water footprint than bovine meat, or beef.

And now you are probably thinking, “Well, yeah, but doesn’t grass-fed beef use a lot less water than grain-fed?”

That would be true, except with pasture-raised, or grass-fed, it takes longer to fatten up the cow because the grain fills them more, so they end up drinking more water throughout their lives with grass-fed than grain because they live longer.

Grist.org states, “Studies report that grain-fed cows actually have a lower total water footprint than their pastured counterparts. Why? Because it’s more efficient to fatten grain-fed cows in feedlots than it is for the cows to pack on the pounds grazing on grass. That means grain-fed cows are ready for slaughter sooner, so they eat and drink less than grass-fed cows over their lifetimes.”

Even though it takes less water to grow the grass than it does the grains, it still takes up more water in the long run.

But that’s just beef. Pork uses 576-578 gallons per pound. Turkey uses about 520 gallons of water per pound. Chicken has a water footprint of about 468 gallons per pound.

Meat, especially red meat, wastes so much water, and that really hurts our environment.

But there are ways to preserve water. One way is to become a full-fledged vegetarian or vegan. Studies show that a vegan diet has five times less of a water footprint than a meat-based diet.

Some find that unreasonable, though, so you can also become pescatarian, which is where the only flesh you eat is fish, because it has a much lower water footprint than red meat.

Another thing you can do is to start slowly, lessening how much red meat you consume with a meatless Monday. Make one day a week when you don’t eat any kind of meat all day.

Make sure to tell your friends and family about the water impact red meat has on this world. To learn more, you can go to CleanWaterAction, Grist, Water Footprint Network, Green Peace, World Wildlife Fund, or the US Department of Agriculture.

Zoe South, 10, lives in Spokane.

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