Guest Column: Water waste and the cost of meat


When I was in high school, I used to babysit on the weekends. It was always fascinating to me to see how other parents raised their kids—what snacks I was allowed to serve, the amount of TV they were allowed to watch and what time they needed to be tucked in, lights out. But the thing that drove me crazy was when the kids were brushing their teeth and they kept the water running. Is it that hard to turn the water off and then back on two minutes later? What kind of parent allows his child to waste gallons of water for absolutely no reason?

I used to think it was just the careless parents. Now I realize it’s just about everyone.

Maybe you were raised to turn off the tap, but I’m not looking at the faucet anymore. I’m looking at your plate.

The truth is, the part of our daily schedule that consumes the most water isn’t showering, brushing teeth, or filling up our Nalgenes—it’s the food that we eat. More specifically, the meat that we eat. While we lose about four gallons of water by letting the faucet run during that two-minute toothbrushing session, it takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of animal protein. That means that you could skip brushing your teeth altogether for an entire year and still be in the red compared to the four quarter pounders you ate last week. Sound too disgusting to fathom? Instead, you could go a month without showering.

More than half of the water consumed in the United States is used for feed crop irrigation. Direct human use is one-tenth of that. Why are we channeling our energy into the societal norm of conserving water by taking shorter showers or watering our lawns less frequently when the major culprit is our insatiable appetite for meat? Why is it okay to waste thousands of gallons of precious water resources for the sake of prime rib?

Jonathan Safran Foer, author of “Eating Animals,” said “there is no ethical difference between eating meat and throwing vast quantities of food in the trash.” The sheer amount of waste associated with meat production is astounding. We allowed 30 percent of the earth’s land surface to be used for livestock production. We dump 50 percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States into animal feed before the animals even get sick since it is so inevitable that their overcrowded conditions will produce disease and infections against which their immunocompromised bodies cannot fight. Two-thirds of our grain supply feeds livestock instead of humans, while almost a billion people suffer from the global hunger crisis. On top of all of this, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions-more than transportation.

We cannot possibly continue justifying meat consumption at our current rate. So the next time you find yourself wandering the aisles of the supermarket or scanning a menu at a restaurant, vote with your fork. Choose the meatless option and support our environment. And if this still seems like a huge sacrifice, be my guest—throw away your toothbrush instead.

Christie Brydon is a Malibu native and currently a Stanford University student