Today is World Water Day. It is also the day that Brussels, Belgium suffered attacks for which ISIS is claiming responsibility. These two issues are not unrelated – water shortages in Syria have contributed to the unrest and instability there over the past decade. So I wanted to share a quick post about the water situation and some really easy things we can all do to save water and do our utmost to avoid more instability in the future.
Anyone who lives out West knows what a historic drought California has had for the past four years. We visited Yosemite in 2014, and it was dusty, hot and really sad – those iconic waterfalls were no more than a trickle. There is plenty of blame to go around – from vanity lawns to our addiction to almonds, but the best thing we could do to save water in CA is to grow less alfalfa for cattle and raise less meat. This holds for the Midwest as well, where the Ogallala Aquifer that feeds the Great Plains is being used up to grow corn and soy for cattle production. (See this article in Scientific American that advocates returning much of that land to grasslands that could be grazed or used for wildlife preservation and carbon storage.)
Raising beef takes at least four times as much water as raising chickens, and eating plant-based foods uses vastly less. This makes sense considering that we must grow plants for animals to eat (assuming they are not totally pasture-raised in a place with adequate rainfall for pastures). If we just eat the plants directly, we save all the water used in raising, slaughtering, and transporting those animals. LiveVegan.com (a program of the Farm Animal Rights Movement) reports that a person can save 1.3 million gallons of water per year by adopting a vegan diet. From deforestation to water and soil depletion as well as methane release, there are many environmental reasons to avoid meat.
At our house, we are not vegan or vegetarian, but we eat a plant-based diet with only a little cheese, butter, fish, and pasture-raised meat (mostly poultry) around the edges. Between food allergies, sensitivities, and concerns about other food sources, it’ll take me many posts to explain our food choices. But I fully support anyone who can stay healthy on a vegan diet, and I think we all have a responsibility to consume less animal products to save water, if not for other reasons.
First Steps towards Plant-Based Eating
In Seattle, a wonderful resource is the Vegetarians of Washington. Their annual VegFest is coming up on April 9-10 this year at Seattle Center. This festival gives you the chance to taste over 500 of vegetarian products, learn about vegetarianism, and get all kinds of goodies when you join the club. New this year is an evening medical seminar for medical professionals.
Another great way to get started is by adopting a habit of Meatless Mondays. You can eat anything that’s not meat, but over the years, I’ve come to believe that the secret to successfully adopting healthy, vegetarian habits is getting to know beans.
Save water: Eat Beans
You can easily buy bean soup, refried beans, baked beans, hummus, and other bean products ready-made. My brother-in-law’s father (a Maine native of French-Canadian descent) makes Boston Baked Beans every Sunday – yum! At our house, we have home-made beans every Monday. I put them up to soak Sunday night and then cook them on the stove or in the slow cooker with the best secret ingredient – a 3” piece of kombu seaweed. I learned this trick from the book Feeding the Whole Family by Bastyr University educator Cynthia Lair. I don’t like sea-tasting things, but you don’t get any fishiness with this stuff. It just makes the beans extra flavorful while breaking down the sugar molecules that can cause gas and adding important minerals to your meal.
You soak the seaweed in cold water for a few minutes while you drain the soaking beans and put them in fresh water in a pot (about 3:1 ratio of water to the original volume of dried beans that you soaked), then drop it in the pot. A dried Chipotle pepper in the pot also does wonders for Mexican-style beans. Don’t add salt until they’re almost done. Cook until you can mash a bean easily on the roof of your mouth using nothing but your tongue!
I’ve posted a big list of bean dishes from around the world to add to your repertoire, but I’d love to hear your favorites, too!