To Deal with the Drought, Impose Beef Restrictions

This piece is going to be about the historic drought ravaging California, so an ideal opener would be statistics of just how historic it's been. But, enough of that. You're sick of reading it, I'm sick of writing it. It's a really, really bad drought, is the point.

The drought is a two-fold issue. First, there's no rain coming down. That's a climate change issue, making it a worldwide issue, meaning no state regulations are going to solve that. But secondly, despite not having as much water as we're used to, we're still using plenty of it.

This, we can change.

Story continues below

On April 1st, Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order to include a series of mandatory water restrictions for those living in California. It was the first time that residents, along with businesses, were hit with such restrictions. The goal is a reduction in water usage by 25% over the next nine months, accomplished through a series of regulations (including steep penalties for breaking said regulations) and higher costs to the consumer in the hopes that hitting the pocketbooks will kink the hose.

This isn't enough.

While getting people to stop keeping their lawns nice and green -- and, certainly, getting them to stop watering their cement -- is a worthwhile goal, even if every citizen follows the new rules, it's still a (pardon the pun) drop in the bucket when it comes to actual water usage. The state's agricultural industry utilize over 80% of the state's water, yet they were left out of Brown's restrictions.

The reason why is easy to understand: The almond crop alone, a huge siphoning of our water supply, adds $11 billion to the California economy. And where there's money, there's power. But if you truly want to end the crisis, that's where the restrictions must be aimed. Which is why I'm proposing restrictions of another sort:

Beef restrictions.

The Pacific Institute says that 47% of California's water footprint comes from the meat and dairy industry. As this interactive graphic shows, a whole lot of it goes towards the cultivation of beef:

106.28 gallons of water [are] needed to produce one ounce. An 8-ounce piece of steak requires 850 gallons of water -- by far the most water-hungry protein. One ounce of beef is roughly 10 times more water-intensive than chicken and consumes more than double the water of pork.

Needless to say, however much you water your lawn isn't going to match how much water it takes to produce beef. (If you want to get even angrier about this, remember Rancho Feeding Corporation's recall of 8.7 million pounds of beef back in February of 2014? That was basically flushing 631.6 million gallons of water down the drain.) It's tough to take Brown's restrictions or "water-saving tips" like low-flow toilets or fixing leaks in your home seriously when you can save 425 gallons by simply not eating a quarter-pounder.

It's time for Governor Brown to call on Californians to put down the burger for the summer.

Will he or any politician ever take a stance like that? Of course not. The beef industry is too powerful for him to take on alone. But until Brown makes a declaration that curbs our state's beef consumption, our water conservation efforts will have little effect.

Want recipes and food news emailed directly to you? Sign up for the new Food newsletter here!

We are dedicated to providing you with articles like this one. Show your support with a tax-deductible contribution to KCET. After all, public media is meant for the public. It belongs to all of us.

Keep Reading