In March of 2018, the United Nations published a report in association with the World Bank that said 40 percent of the world’s population is affected by water scarcity.
After two years of research, they came to these conclusions: (1)
- 700 million people are at risk of being geographically displaced by 2030.
- More than 2 billion people are drinking unsafe water today.
- More than 4.5 billion people do not have safe sanitation services.
Perhaps even more concerning is the quality of the water people are drinking today.
Data derived from the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) tap water database—which compiles water quality test results for nearly 50,000 public water systems nationwide—revealed that the treated water supplied by some 22,000 utilities serving over 170 million Americans contained the known carcinogen, radium. (2)
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The scope of these concerns is eye-opening. The president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, discussed the urgency of this matter, saying “The ecosystems on which life itself is based – our food security, energy sustainability, public health, jobs, cities – are all at risk because of how water is managed today, the world can no longer afford to take water for granted.” (3)
Sadly, we do not hear about this from our news media these days, but there are things we can do to reverse this trend.
A new study just came out in the Nature Sustainability journal suggesting that if we were all to eat a healthier diet, we could reduce the water consumption worldwide by 11-55 percent. (4,5)
The study evaluated the impact a healthy diet would have on water usage in three countries, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. In 43,786 geographical areas, researchers assessed the water footprints from different diets; looking at healthy meat-eating diets, healthy pescatarian diets, and vegetarian diets. They concluded with the following:
A healthy diet containing meat and more plant-based foods reduced water footprint by 11–35%. Larger reductions were observed in healthy pescatarian diets (33–55%) and healthy vegetarian diets (35–55%).
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“In other words, shifting to a healthy diet is not only good for human health, but also substantially reduces consumption of water resources, consistently for all geographical entities throughout the three countries.” (5)
Clearly, replacing grain-fed beef with grass-fed beef along with reducing overall meat consumption would have a dramatic impact on our water footprints.
Replacing meat as a protein source with fish, such as salmon or sardines, which are both very low in mercury with low water footprints, can boost water savings up to 55%.
Being a vegetarian had the lowest water footprint.
For thousands of years, meat was a delicacy and only the rich, wealthy, and “unhealthy” consumed large amounts of meat. Livestock production is the main consumer of water with the greatest impact on our natural resources and ecosystems. (4)
Studies show that western diets are plagued with over-consumption of food. (6) This not only burdens our water supply, but negatively impacts our carbon footprint, available fertile land for growing food, and the amount of energy we consume. (4)
A healthy, low water footprint diet would contain less sugar, fewer vegetable oils, less meat and animal fats, and more vegetables and fruit.
With developing and non-western nations now consuming more meat than ever before, the science is clear that we will run out of clean water and fertile land for our children.
It is time that all of us do our part in reducing the meat we consume and the water we waste.
We must take responsibility, lead the way, and send the message to developing nations that heavy consumption of meat significantly contributes to the global water crisis while being associated with health concerns and compromised longevity. (7,8)
Learn From the Okinawans
The Okinawans, who were once one of the revered centenarian cultures in which folks regularly lived past 100, have changed their diets from mostly beans and vegetables to a diet of fewer vegetables and more meat.
In the last 20 years, their longevity rates have dramatically decreased. Sadly, the Okinawan people are no longer known for their longevity. (8)
If you cannot go without meat in your diet daily or at each meal, start by replacing a meat meal with either fish, nuts, seeds, nut butters, eggs, cheese, or yogurt.
From there, slowly reduce your animal protein intake with the goal of allowing only 10 percent of your diet to be from animal sources. The remaining centenarian cultures consume very small amounts of meat—to the tune of 10 percent.
The key to making this work is the vegetables. Make half of your plate green veggies. This will slowly reduce your cravings for meat. Do it for your health, and for the planet!