In an amazing example of the difference between “talking the talk” and “walking the walk,” Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times columnist who has wrung his hands about the animal cruelty inherent in factory farming, turned his sights on the California drought and… and… and… can you believe it? Animal agriculture!
YAY! Finally somebody at the Gray Lady is going to tell the truth about water use in our state!
On your marks, get set, go, Nicholas!
He starts off strong with a quiz:
Which consumes the most water?
A) a 10-minute shower.
B) a handful of 10 almonds.
C) a quarterpound hamburger patty.
D) a washing machine load.
Yup, it’s the burger!! Ding, ding, ding.
The columnist explains carefully that the shower might use 25 gallons. The almonds? A gallon each. The washing machine uses 35 gallons per load. And the burger uses around 450 gallons.
He goes on to talk about the California drought and what a freaking bummer it is, especially when he and his daughter are out hiking and see how the streams and lakes are all dried up.
He even explains how meat, dairy and egg production stack up against plant foods in terms of water. He writes, “A mandarin orange consumes 14 gallons of water. A head of lettuce, 12 gallons. A bunch of grapes, 24 gallons. One single walnut, 2 gallons.”
In an impressive burst of truth-telling, he goes on to write: “… a single egg takes 53 gallons of water to produce. A pound of chicken, 468 gallons. A gallon of milk, 880 gallons. And a pound of beef, 1,800 gallons of water.”
Woo hoo! Go Nick, go. Tell it! Tell us all if we want to save the habitability of the planet we need to go vegan, now. Save the animals! Save the water! Strike a blow against climate change!
But as he comes into the home stretch, our hero Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times stumbles:
“Like most Americans, I eat meat, but it’s worth thinking hard about the inefficiency in that hamburger patty — and the small lake that has dried up to make it possible. Maybe our industrial agriculture system is beginning to change, for we’re seeing some signs of a food revolution in America, with greater emphasis on organic food and animal rights.”
Buy organic and give Walmart a big pat on the back as well for joining the “humane meat” bullshit brigade.
Think, baby, think.
Umm. I’m thinking if I should still keep reading the Times.
When I heard “You’re all under arrest,” my heart jumped in my throat. I flashed on who-will-take-care-of-the-dog-what-about-babysitting-I’d-promised-I’d-do-tomorrow- and what-about-the-cat-and-what-about-all-the-work-due-for-my-class-this-week- what-if-I-can’t-get-to-my-class.
I’ve never really been in jail before.
It was an “International Respect for Chickens Day” protest. We were in the San Francisco Ferry Building which is a sort of foodie plaza where you can spend all sorts of money on “artisan” cheese, olive oil, nuts, fruit, pricey bread and “humanely-raised” meat.
In fact, it was in front of one of these “humanely raised and cruelly-killed” meat places where two animal rights groups, United Poultry Concerns (UPC) and Direct Action Everywhere (DXE), had joined to cause a disruption.
“HUMANELY RAISED,” shouted long-time activist Hope Bohanec of UPC.
Back to the protest: So we were lined up in front of the meat counter and here was this guy dressed in a uniform saying we were all under arrest.
But I looked around and saw nobody really budging and realized that the guy talking about arresting everyone was actually a security guard – not a police officer. And even if he had been a police officer we would have to be given a reasonable amount of time to leave.
The guard sort of laughed and shook his head when he heard we were protesting the cruel treatment of chickens. Conventional belief is that chickens are stupid, if not ridiculous.
Scientists have discovered that chickens recognize and remember human faces, they communicate with other chickens, they learn from each other and they teach their young, new behaviors. And when they’re happy and safe, chickens purr.
Yet chickens are, according to Bruce Friedrich of Farm Sanctuary, the most abused of all farm animals. Of the 9.1 billion land animals killed for food in the U.S. during 2013, over 8.5 billion were chickens, according to the USDA.
And being raised “free range” and/or “humanely’’ means little or nothing for most. “Humane,” “Sustainable,” “Cage Free” are basically advertising slogans designed to increase sales and prices while reassuring troubled consciences.
Cage free means, in most cases, thousands of birds stuffed into a darkened filthy shed. Cage free also means that male layer chicks which are of little use to industry are ground up alive or suffocated in garbage bags shortly after they’re born. Backyard chicken farmers please know, this is what happens to the male chicks you don’t buy.
“Free range” broiler chickens are also stuffed by the thousands into these same types of sheds. Those chickens are so deformed and maimed by selective breeding to have huge breasts or “drumsticks,” they can barely move. Experiments have shown that broiler chickens are in nearly constant pain.
It’s a horrible, horrible scene, which is why I just kept standing there with everybody else holding my sign in front of this meat counter listening to the DXE speakers.
One of the butchers wearing a bloody apron came out from behind the counter and got in front of me and said, “Don’t you have something better to do?” which I thought was a very interesting question given the circumstances.
I just stared into the distance and he went off to ask other people in our group, “Why don’t you go get a hobby?”
As the DXE speakers continued (LOUDLY,) another butcher came out of the back with a spoon and a big pan which he started to beat ferociously to drown out the speaker. It was loud enough to hurt my ears and sounded like one of those “Come ’n’ get it” triangles from cowboy movies.
Foodies from all over the Ferry Building arrived to see what was going on or maybe to check out what there was to eat. (You know, maybe some free samples…)
What they saw was us with our signs and our huge banner decrying chicken slaughter, an upset dude in an apron banging on a pot and security guards fluttering around trying to stop the photography. Eventually though they had to give up on trying to stop the photos, because even the foodie/tourists were filming.
Once the short speeches and the chanting were over, we left. The whole thing must have been 10 minutes, max.
Next location: A “humanely-raised” restaurant with tables on the sidewalk in front of the Ferry Building.
The people sitting at the tables just stared as DXE members spoke to the crowd about the horrors of the so-called humane meat industry. I saw one man eating a hamburger trying to sort of duck down when he took a bite. His companion looked miserable.
I kind of felt sorry for them. I’m sure lunch hadn’t been cheap and after all, these were folks who cared enough about farm animals to try and do the right thing – buy “humanely raised.” Maybe some lights were going off inside their brains. That’s what I hoped.
Security came back, this time with a bright blue plastic tarp which they held up as barricade between us and about four tables in the restaurant. The “barricade,” of course, did nothing to stop the sound and it was too small to block the views of most of the people in the restaurant.
It was silly but I thought there is a serious side to animal rights protesting. I’d read Will Potter’s book, “Green is the New Red,” about animal rights activists who had done nothing more than operate a website and had been sentenced to federal prison for lengthy terms.
DXE founder and attorney Wayne Hsiung explained after the protest ended that out of the many, many animal rights activists only 10 have ended up in prison under the 2006 Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and that animal rights and environmental activists no longer get top priority from the FBI.
Hsiung said, compare what’s happened to animal rights activists to the tens of thousands of innocent Muslims who have been imprisoned in the U.S. under the Homeland Security Act or the millions of innocent African-Americans who have also been imprisoned in the United States or have been brutally killed by police simply because of the color of their skin.
Since Gov. Jerry Brown has announced that the little people now should cut back their water consumption by 25 percent, the folks in the animal food industry must be popping the champagne corks. Not only has Brown declined to ask agriculture, including animal agriculture, to cut back, it looks to me like none of the major American media outlets are focusing on livestock and calling it out for the mega-sponge it is.
Instead, the press recently has managed to suggest the idea it’s fruits and vegetables that are the culprits and if we want to do right we should not only turn off the sprinklers but ditch the almond milk and maybe skip the salad. Ok, ok, we should definitely turn off the sprinklers and phase out those oversized spa bathtubs, I agree. But there has been scarcely a hiccup about animal ag with a few exceptions and that’s a serious bummer.
Animal agriculture deserves more than a hiccup! And hamburgers are costing us way more than $1 a piece. Forty-seven percent of California’s water is used for meat and dairy products, according to a study by the Pacific Institute.
California’s biggest crop happens to be not almonds, tomatoes or lettuce. It’s alfalfa. Michael Pollan said during an interview with phys.org, that about 25 percent of our water is going to raise alfalfa, which is primarily for animal feed – not avocado sandwiches.
And possibly the worst of it is that a lot of that alfalfa is being shipped from California to Asia and the Middle East, areas that have started to glom onto the West’s genius animal-food-heavy diet.
“A hundred billion gallons of water per year is being exported in the form of alfalfa from California,” said Professor Robert Glennon from Arizona College of Law, who was quoted in a BBC article. “It’s a huge amount. It’s enough for a year’s supply of water for a million families – it’s a lot of water, particularly when you’re looking at the dreadful drought throughout the south-west.”
So the animal agricultural water footprint is, yes, the animals themselves, but also growing feed crops for not just California’s meat and dairy industry but that of China and the Middle East.
“Wonderful,” I sarcastically write.
However, I think there may be hope. I’m one of those pesky lefties who believes almost nothing happens in this country unless the mega-corporations want it to happen. Somehow I can’t imagine all the non-animal agricultural corporations standing by and watching this one economic sector, animal agriculture, take us down.
And of course, as consumers of these animal products, we can do something too: not be consumers of animal products. “Changing one’s diet to replace 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers results in a 30 percent reduction in an individual’s food-related water footprint,” wrote James McWilliams in a New York Times op ed piece back in early March. “Going vegetarian, a better option in many respects, reduces that water footprint by almost 60 percent.”
It’s time, New York Times, to, at the very least, run another McWilliams piece.
Wouldn’t you know it? It’s the health food freaks, the almond milk guzzlers who are fueling California’s water shortage. Did you know that it takes a whole gallon of water to raise one almond?
A whole gallon.
Those self-righteous vegans who think they know something!
Since I happened to have a pound of almonds in the refrigerator I decided to count up those little water suckers and see how much water it takes to produce a pound of almonds. It was bad. Four hundred and thirty-three gallons of water.
Four hundred and thirty-three? Wait a minute. How about a pound of beef? (I dare say it’s a lot easier to eat a pound of beef than it is to eat a pound of almonds.) According to the folks at waterfootprint.org it takes between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.
“More than half the entire US water supply goes to livestock,” says the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“It takes a lot of water to grow grain, forage, and roughage to feed a cow, as well as water to drink and to service the cow,” says the US Geological Survey Water Science School.
“Meat processing, especially chicken, also uses large amounts of water,” says the Environmental Working Group.
“The more plant-based foods we eat versus animal-based foods….the less water, energy, and other natural resources we use,” says the San Francisco Water Sewer.
If animal foods are such a big deal in terms of water usage, why, why, why did the New York Times, in their recent mega two-part series on California’s drought, not mention animal foods? Why did they instead focus on the water required to grow almonds?
I have four suspicions.
1) The reporters, like practically everyone on the planet, consider animal food eating “normal, natural and necessary.” (Thank you author of “Why we Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows,” Melanie Joy.)
2) They consider almonds to be maybe normal and natural, but definitely not necessary.
3) It’s kind of a sexy angle to zero in on almonds – almonds seem so innocent, but now we find they’re evil. (“Hey! Did you read this? It’s almonds that are using up all our water.”)
4) Pressure from the animal food industry, particularly the dairy farms which have been facing a serious challenge from the almond milk industry.
One of the big things The New York Times drought stories didn’t mention was water pollution, which by the way, is a rather large water suck. Turns out, according to the EPA, the animal foods industry is THE biggest cause of water pollution in the United States.
California’s Central Valley, which is dominated by huge dairy farms, has suffered serious ground water pollution caused primarily by cow waste. A study by the central valley water board found that 40 percent of the dairies in that area – more than 550 facilities – reported that they had nitrate levels in their own wells of at least twice the drinking water standard and it’s become a health threat to those who have the misfortune of living nearby, especially babies and pregnant women.
No, the Brita won’t take out nitrates.
Also I have to say, that’s an interesting concept: “their own wells.”
When it comes to water pollution, nobody’s talking about almonds as far as I can tell. Still, California is producing a lot of almonds, most of which are exported abroad. I’ve read that 10 percent of California’s water supply is going to raise almonds. And 47 percent of California’s water is going to livestock, according to a December 2012 report by the Pacific Institute, titled “California’s Water Footprint.”
I won’t say whether anybody should drink almond milk or not. I will say, though, people should eat (one of my favorites) lentils instead of meat.
“By making one meal a week with lentils instead of beef, a family of four can save the equivalent of 17 bathtubs of water,” says Oxfam International.
Seventeen bathtubs. One meal.
PS: Despite the holes in their story, the New York Times reporters do deserve some credit though for finding possibly the most intellectually challenged man in the entire state to give his reaction on the water crisis: “I’m not going to stop watering,” said Matthew Post, 45, referring to the gardens around his Benedict Canyon home. “The state does not know how to arrange the resources they have, and so we have to pay for it,” he said. “They say that they will raise the prices because there is a drought, but when the drought ends, will they reduce the prices?”
Ok, fine, Mat, but how about cutting down on the burgers?