Did you take note of it being World Water Day this week, March 22nd? Being that it is such a critically important issue, it seems like it is worthy of more than just one day to think about it, and there are many additional issues that overlap with water scarcity.
In 2006, I attended State of the Planet 06: Is Sustainable Development Feasible? put on by Columbia University’s Earth Institute. While there were many excellent thought-provoking presentations that day, it was famed animal ethics expert Peter Singer that really got my attention. It was the first time I had heard that switching to driving a Prius (decidedly a good environmental decision) would be of less benefit in terms of global warming than switching to eating a vegan diet. I have never owned a big car, and I decided that day that giving up eating all animal products was important and something within my power to do.
I have continued to eat a strictly vegan diet ever since that day in 2006. That means I eat a plant-based diet (e.g. fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, etc.) and do not eat any animal products. Contrary to the scene you may recall in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I don’t eat lamb either. : )
Since that time, I have tried hard to never become the “food police”. Food is personal and finding that other people having opinions about what you choose to ingest easily can cross a line into being intrusive or judgmental. Therefore, I seek to tread lightly here, as much as I can, and still speak up about something I think is of critical importance.
There are many things in the US that we cling to as part of our freedom. Included in that is our right to choose how we live, especially with respect to what we eat. And in touting our liberty, we can lose perspective on how sometimes our choices don’t just impact our own solo individual life. We impact each other and this earth in many ways, and that includes how we choose to eat.
In addition to the role that consciousness of global warming played in converting me to veganism, there are many additional considerations and benefits to be considered for anyone aspiring to be a healthy or ethical eater, or responsible citizen of the world.
Let’s start with the worst culprit. As far as diet is concerned, eating cows might be one of the worst things you could do, not only in terms of global warming, but also in terms of the amount of water it takes to grow a cow.
There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres. -- UN World Water Day
Raising other animals for food consumption likewise require a lot of water, far more than growing plants to eat, but the cow, is indeed the worst offender from a water consumption perspective.
Now, if concern about global warming and our global water crisis isn’t enough, what about how eating red meat dramatically increases risk of early death?
Any amount and any type — appears to significantly increase the risk of premature death, according to a long-range study that examined the eating habits and health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years. — All red meat is risky, a study finds: Eating any amount or type increased the chances of early death among adults tracked more than 20 years
In contrast, the longevity studies known as Blue Zones identifying the five regions of the world where people live the, animal products are never the main dish, merely the garnish.
A large body of evidence suggests that vegetarian and plant-based diets provide exceptional health benefits, including a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer, and increased longevity. …[and] is associated with reduced risk of development of type 2 diabetes and lower risk of complications in those with existing diabetes.– American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, “Vegetarian Diets and Diabetes”
…veganism is now being seen as a mainstream lifestyle choice that could drastically alter one’s health. Studies have shown that vegans maintain a healthy weight more easily than those on more traditional low-fat diets. Diabetics have better glucose control and lower cholesterol on a vegan diet. There’s reason to believe a plant-based diet can prevent serious diseases like cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.– Why Bill Clinton Went Vegan (VIDEO)
World Water Day reminds us of the crisis. We take so much for granted here. It can give us a false sense of security to be able to so easily take a long leisurely shower and pretty much never lack access to enough clean water for drinking, cooking, clothes washing, etc. To date, water shortage in the US has only been experienced at a very minimal level. We must not get lulled into complacency as many others are already suffering greatly.
Refugees in South Sudan provide us with merely one example.
In Jamam, Upper Nile State, a dried up watering hole has now become a bowl of cracked, springy clay. Women submerged in small pits spend hours each day scooping up dirty water.
Macda Doka Waka, 19, says her family fled here two months ago when the bombs fell on her village of Kukur, in Sudan’s Blue Nile state. Her husband is one of the rebel soldiers that President Omar al-Bashir has been fighting in Blue Nile since September, after violence spread in June from neighboring South Kordofan. Since then, no aid has been allowed into these states. Harvests have failed and routes largely have been cut off. These refugees are now relying on international charities in South Sudan for survival.
Kukur says she and her mother spend three hours at this watering hole, digging in the sludge to fill one jerry can with grayish water.
“We know that this water is not good,” she admits, “but it is because we do not have water there. We used to make lines and take water from the tap, but since two days we have not had water and that is why all of us shifted here.” – Charity Workers Say Time Running Out to Help South Sudan Refugees
To the ever growing long list of reasons to re-examine our diet, I must add one more: the treatment of the animals that are raised to become our food. I don’t want to get graphic or traumatize you with images here, so, to be perfectly honest, I am hoping you have already seen traumatizing images of animal mistreatment somewhere else. Then you can blame someone else for that, not me. : )
In all seriousness, somehow, long ago, doctrine got established into our culture to seemingly make it okay to exploitively dominate the earth and all its animals. I cannot see how we can perceive ourselves to be compassionate beings and continue to allow living, breathing animals to be raised as if non-living, non-feeling possessions. Our heavily meat-consuming culture often rationalizes this cruel fact or merely blocks it out in denial. Our treatment of animals in industrialized factory farming offends me beyond words and is absolutely akin to slavery. In my opinion, we have absolutely no right to participate in eating animals if they must lead a life of constant suffering, day in and day out, merely to be groomed for slaughter and dinner plate.
Anyone who has ever owned a cat or dog is well-acquainted with the feeling states, emotions, intelligence and all around being-ness of these animals. Yet, we can’t bear the thought of eating them because we have relationships with them and they become family. I would suggest to you that cows, pigs, and others are the distant family members you have never met, equally love-able if you were to only get to know them and form a bond. These animals are suffering needlessly and it must stop.
Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living creatures, man himself will not find peace. — Albert Schweitzer
We are creatures of habit and sometimes changing the way one eats can feel like a daunting challenge. Sometimes there is a learning curve involved, and the need to set aside enough time to plan ahead. Making changes in any area of life is effortful and benefits from mindfulness. Over time, taste buds change so that healthier choices actually become preferred, and require less thought as to how to accomplish them. The hard part is just getting started and then sticking it out in these early phases. We must be patient and forgiving of ourselves as we seek to find our way to making lasting changes.
Our world cries out for change in so many areas. Realistically, changing what we eat is undeniably beneficial to our health, and the health of the planet. It is one of the areas of life where we actually do have the ability to “make a difference.”
And if you need any help with tasty vegan recipes, call my sister. She has far surpassed me in the area of creating delectable vegan culinary delights. : )
Barbara English is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Certified Bioenergetic Therapist with over 20 years of experience. She is the Executive Director of Living Ubuntu, a non‐profit organization founded in response to her concern about the effects of mass trauma on populations around the globe. Much of her training has centered on Early Development, Infant Mental Health, and how to recover after abuse or trauma. She is a 2009 Carl Wilkens Fellow with Genocide Intervention Network.