All life on Earth is possible because of one miraculous liquid: water. But less than 3% of the world’s water is freshwater, and less than 1% of that is available for use. And the well is drying up. The water supply is dwindling in communities across the United States as a result of the human-caused climate catastrophe. So for World Water Week (Aug. 23 to Sept. 1), let’s take inventory of our water footprint, starting with what’s on our plates.
We are often reminded to do our part to conserve water by taking shorter showers or not watering the lawn, especially since drought and wildfires are ravaging the world this summer. Yet the meat, dairy and egg industries significantly affect our water supply — more than our individual daily water usage. Raising animals for food uses nearly 55% of the freshwater resources in the United States. So why do government agencies and interest groups encourage us to bathe less but not ditch meat, dairy and eggs? Let’s expose the real villain behind the water crisis: animal agriculture.
Going vegan is the best thing we can do to mitigate the climate catastrophe and conserve water. Around the world, people consume an estimated 5.2 billion gallons of water daily. Compare that to cows raised for food, who require 45 billion gallons of water every day. It takes up to 2,400 gallons of water to produce just 1 pound of cow’s flesh, which equates to more water than 50 baths. So it’s easy to see how a vegan saves over 1,100 gallons of water every day. Eating vegan foods is something that anyone can do to have an immediate impact — and we shouldn’t waste any time, because we don’t have a moment to spare.
Satellite photography reveals that our superheated world is simultaneously on fire, dehydrated and flooded. As groundwater resources shrink and contaminated reservoirs are abandoned, sourcing freshwater becomes a priority. Numerous states have begun restricting their water supply, and countless communities fail to satisfy drinking water safety regulations, leading to unacceptable levels of lead, arsenic, PFAS chemicals and other toxins. Yet these restrictions don’t include the consumption of animal-based foods, even though the excrement and wastewater from animals on factory farms can pollute water with parasites, dangerous chemicals and heavy metals.
The Earth is sick — and so are we. Exposure to contaminated water can have human health consequences like digestive system diseases, skin sensitivity and respiratory conditions, according to the CDC, and nonvegan foods can harm our health in other ways. A study from the National Cancer Institute suggests that vegans have the lowest risk for cancer, heart disease and hypertension as well as higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Ditching animal-derived foods won’t just alleviate our water woes: Eliminating animal agriculture represents “our best and most immediate chance to reverse the trajectory of climate change,” according to research published in the journal PLoS Climate. This new model — developed by scientists from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley — shows that a worldwide shift in the next 15 years would have the same effect as a 68% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions through the year 2100. And let’s not forget that choosing vegan meat causes 100% less needless suffering and death than eating a burger made from ground-up animal parts.
We are having a water emergency, and we must do more than skip baths or spend less time pre-rinsing our dishes. If we genuinely want to protect and preserve the world’s water systems, we must go vegan.