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Published on Friday, June 29, 2001 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Eating More Veggies Can Help Save Energy
by Simone Spearman
WHILE WE bemoan the energy crisis, pointing fingers at Gov. Gray Davis and the big utility companies, some even looking to nuclear power, an ancient and less-than-radical practice presents itself as a viable solution: vegetarianism.

The meat and dairy industries depend on inordinate amounts of natural gas, electricity and fossil fuels to house, warm, ventilate, water, feed, clean, transport and slaughter billions of animals destined for our dinner tables.

People in this state are preparing to read by candlelight and wash clothes by hand. Understandably, many Californians are demanding to know who the biggest energy hogs are. Agribusiness should be definitely high on that list.

Washington state, Oregon and California lose 17 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity to livestock production. With this kind of power, every home in the United States could leave the lights on for a month and a half.

John Robbins, author of the book, "Diet for a New America," reveals some interesting statistics on America's production of animal flesh and fluid:

  • If humans switched from a meat-based diet to a plant-based one, the world's petroleum reserves would last 260 years, as opposed to 13.

  • Raising animals for food requires more than one-third of all raw materials and fossil fuels in the United States. If we all adopted a vegetable- based diet, only 2 percent of raw materials would be used.

  • The creation of a single hamburger patty (often containing the flesh of up to 100 different cows) uses enough fossil fuel to power a car 20 miles and enough water for 17 warm showers.

  • More than half of the U.S. water supply goes to livestock production.

  • If water used by the meat industry were not subsidized by taxpayers, common hamburger meat would cost $35 a pound. You need 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat -- 2,500 gallons to generate a pound of meat.

This is ridiculously wasteful.

The Environmental Protection Agency identifies 60 percent of U.S. rivers and streams as having impaired water quality, and wastes from animal agriculture create three times more organic water pollution than all other industrial sources combined.

This, all for bacon, eggs and a glass of milk?

In a letter to Davis, the California Cattlemen's Association and the Western United Dairymen, among others, plead for special consideration regarding the energy crunch. They have asked the state to consider using "available electricity supply sources," and they have encouraged the "refining of diesel fuel within the state by easing restrictions and providing tax incentives."

These groups and companies have admitted to their hog status -- insisting that energy is "more vital" to food production than to most industries, and that "this is compounded by the fact that agricultural cultivation and husbandry often require a number of necessary steps that are energy-intensive."

These "steps" include extreme measures to house and maintain factory-farmed animals. No longer do animals frolic in green pastures on small family farms. Instead, most animals are kept in confinement, while conveyor belts bring in food and water and remove waste.

Poultry and dairy workers must wear gas masks to avoid breathing dangerous methane and ammonia fumes. To keep chickens alive and breathing in these toxic facilities, egg producers must blow chilled air constantly.

There are so many energy-wasting practices connected with eating animals. We can ease some of our own burden by adopting sensible eating habits.

Simone Spearman is a freelance writer who lives in San Francisco. She also has taught English at Sequoia High School in Redwood City.

©2001 San Francisco Chronicle


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