Meat or Potatoes, Not Both

Meatloaf and mashed potatoes, burgers and fries, corned beef and hash, steak and scalloped potatoes, and the list goes on. While all of these are delicious (to those who aren’t vegetarianists) there is one main reason not to eat them. Beef. Don’t get me wrong, I like beef. Cows are very cute and they are wonderful producers of methane gas milk for dairy products. And there’s no denying cows are delicious, but they are horrible resource hogs. (Hogs, get it?)

The San Diego Natural History Museum is currently exhibiting Water: H2O=Life and had a couple of interesting facts:

  1. Only 3% of the water on Earth is freshwater, and only 1% is available for use by life on the planet’s surface. The rest of the freshwater is hidden underground, or frozen.
  2. This is the amount of freshwater it takes to grow:
    • 1 lb. potato - 60 gallons
    • 1 lb. rice - 200 gallons
    • 1 lb. beef - 8,000 gallons

In 2007 The US consumed 28.1 billion pounds of beef. That’s 224 trillion gallons of water for 93.6 pounds of beef per person per year at a population of 300 million (that includes babies and people who don’t eat beef, so really, it’s more that that per beef eater). If you assume that you eat 1/4 pound of beef per meal, that’s 374 meals a year. If you ate potatoes instead, you could have had 49,920 meals for the same amount of water. Potatoes are just an example, there are other vegetables, you know. Same goes for cows and other meats.

Freshwater is scarce and is far more necessary to life than oil. Look at the wars fought over oil, just imagine the wars that will be fought over freshwater. Desert areas like the Middle-East and Africa are already arguing over water rights, imagine when those volatile areas become desperate. Do you really need to eat that much beef? Who, ultimately, will really be the one to get slaughtered for that burger.

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One Comment

  1. Candace
    Posted September 22, 2008 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

    See, this sort of thinking raises real questions for me.

    I could be wrong, but I simply cannot believe the ‘8,000 gal of water/lb of beef’ figure, in terms of true water “cost” to the system.

    Potatoes, as far as I know, do not pee. Cows do, and it qualifies as recycling of water. Cow pee percolates down through the earth, being filtered and purified along the way, eventually ending up in the water table again and available for use by living things.

    Cow pee — many, many gallons of it per cow lifetime — contributes (via the nitrogen and other nutrients it contains, as well as the water it returns to the system) to the production of all the earth’s greenery — including, presumably the potato. It’s a neat system, which would be less so without the cow, as well as without the potato.

    I, too, am oversimplifying. But I hope it demonstrates why I am distrustful of attempts to reduce the argument to: potato=good; beef=bad.

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