Red meat is destroying California

Dairy cow
We should be cow-shaming, not almond-shaming. Wikimedia Commons

You might’ve heard the news last week that if there’s one food you shouldn’t be eating in the middle of the California drought, it’s almonds.

Compared with many other fruits, nuts, and vegetables, almonds seem particularly wasteful, requiring a whole gallon of water per nut.

But what about the foods we eat that aren’t fruits, nuts, or vegetables?

I’m talking about meat. Red meat, in particular. From raising the cows to washing and processing the meat, burgers and steaks require far more water per ounce than a handful of nuts do.

This chart, from a presentation made by University of California Davis professor Blaine Davis, makes the difference pretty clear:

Skitched california crop chart water usage

Those arrows point to “forages” and alfalfa — crops raised almost exclusively for feeding farm animals. In California, the largest milk-producing state in the US, the vast majority of these animals are cows. “Forages” include the fields that get watered for cows to graze on and the corn and other irrigated crops that later get churned into cow feed.

Both of these use way more water than the almonds and pistachios shown near the top of the chart.

The difference is even more dramatic when you think about how much water is required to produce just one ounce of each food.

A whopping 106 gallons of water goes into making just one ounce of beef. By comparison, just about 23 gallons are needed for an ounce of almonds (about 23 nuts), the Los Angeles Times reported recently.

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