How does the use of water to produce meat cause problems?
You might think, especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest where it feels like it never stops raining, that water is no big deal. But if you live in a drier place, like California, Arizona, or further afield in parts of Africa, Asia and Australia, water is a really big deal. There are continual debates, arguments, even battles, over how to share out scarce water resources, from local rivers and streams, between different groups of people. Fresh water is needed for basic human needs like drinking and washing. It’s used for industry, agriculture and in some places for hydro-electric power, and it’s used for recreation (fishing, boating) and watering lawns and golf courses. In dry parts of the world, where there is not enough water to go around, major compromises have to be made. Often these compromises are decided by who is willing to pay the most, and so poorer people lose out on what should be a basic human right, access to clean, fresh water.
Watering crops and grassland to be able to feed farm animals is a huge waste of water. By some estimates, it takes 5214 gallons of water to keep all the crops watered to feed a cow, and give it enough to drink, per pound of beef produced. Compare that to growing wheat or tomatoes or lettuce, which need less than 25 gallons per pound of food. When countries choose to raise animals for food, rather than feed their people crops directly, they are wasting precious fresh water which is desperately needed for other uses.
Since meat in western countries may come from many different sources, it’s very difficult to track down where the meat you eat has been raised, and where the crops it was fed were grown. But every time you choose a vegetarian meal, you can be sure that you are saving someone a substantial amount of water, which can be put to a more productive use.