Like water? Who doesn’t? But if you really like it, you might want to also start liking lentils, kale, nuts, and bread—and pretty much anything that doesn’t come from an animal.
A new report from the Stockholm International Water Institute suggests that the world’s limited supply of freshwater cannot sustain the world’s ever-increasing consumption of meat, particularly if every other country continues to mimic the modern American diet, in which we get 65 percent of our protein from animal products. In order to quench such a meat-heavy appetite, farmers would use up nearly all the world’s freshwater resources in the next 40 years.
Why? It takes a ridiculous amount of water to grow the grain that feeds the pigs, chickens, and cows that we eat every day, says Robert S. Lawrence, M.D., director of Johns Hopkins University's Center for a Livable Future, which researches the human and environmental problems associated with modern agriculture. It takes 110 gallons of water to grow a pound of corn, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, and it takes as much as 11 pounds of grain to raise a pound of beef. When you factor in the water that cattle need to drink, the amount can skyrocket to 4,000 to 18,000 gallons of water per pound of beef.
Then consider the sheer numbers of animals we eat, Dr. Lawrence says. “Right now, we’re raising 50 billion animals a year for human consumption on this planet. In the U.S. alone we consume 8 billion.” When you think that 1 million chickens are slaughtered every hour, he adds, you start to see where things are getting out of control.
The Stockholm researchers say that we’d all need to reduce our meat consumption to no more than 5 percent of total calories in order to sustain water resources. Cutting meat consumption by 60 percent may sound extreme, but even cutting back by 15 percent—about one vegetarian day per week—can do wonders for your health and for the rest of the world.
Keep reading for a few of those benefits to convince you it’s worth it: