Grocery shopping these days is freighted with moral, ethical, and environmental issues. At the moment, California seems to be at the heart of the challenge.
I would like to help California. After all I have friends and family there, and they are in the middle of a terrible drought.
An El Niño in 2015 would be a great boon. However, we all know that there is no certainty beyond momentary respite. Things are going to have to shift at the depth of tectonic plates–nationwide. I’ll just come out and acknowledge the message that is rising: For the sake of human health and the environment, we all need to eat less meat and get off dairy products.
Even as I write this, I know someone out there is suspicious. “You just said in your last blog that you can’t stand milk, so this is no big sacrifice for you. And I bet you’re a vegetarian, too.”
True in the former case, but I’m just not a big meat-eater. Anyway, I am thinking not only about California but also the entire world, which is not doing enough about birth control. Wait. I’ve lost my train of thought.
Back to California. the word is that the state supplies about 70% of the top 25 fruit, nut, and vegetable crops, although the nation cares most about its avocados for guacamole. California is also fourth in cattle production, Texas being first, to no one’s surprise. But did you know that cattle, whose beef and dairy products are a primary cause of obesity, are also tremendous consumers of water that would be better invested in fruits, nuts, and vegetables?
According to National Geographic, the production of one pound of beef requires the use of 1,799 gallons of water. For the sake of comparison, one pound of chicken requires only 468 gallons.
Now lets look at how much water dairy cows require for both drinking and sanitation. The California Milk Advisory Board says that California has been the nation’s leading dairy state since 1993, and there are about 1.8 million cows there. Each uses about 25,550 gallons of water per year.
So this is a lot of water usage in a state suffering extreme drought. I wonder how much water the typical California swimming pool holds. This might be relevant, but there hasn’t been any suggestion that they will be condemned. Clearly California is not confronting their water needs head on. The ranchers will keep right on breeding cattle, and the dairy farmers will keep right on pumping milk as long as there is a demand, and that’s where we come in.
For many years, I had a crush on James Garner, who sadly died recently, and I really liked his TV commercials promoting the cattle industry. Unfortunately, however, he had a heart attack and had to quit, and that happens a lot to big beef-eaters. They’re noisy, too, have you ever noticed? In a restaurant that serves alcohol, the men tend to drink one of those brown liquors, talk real loud, and have big waistlines. They’re into bombing whatever.
Nevertheless, a recent National Geographic article suggests that there is a large brain behind those flushed brows that would not have developed in the absence of a human diet heavy on meat. The theory is that cooked meat was easier to digest than a plant diet, which caused a smaller gut to evolve and more energy to be dedicated to the brain. So we have enjoyed the benefit of exceptionally large brains, but the gut is now ascendant and threatening international diplomacy.
So where was I ? Oh, right. California is not going to change as long as beef and dairy continue to sell, so it’s up to the nation at large to ratchet back on consumption. That way the state can adapt slowly and business people can turn to other ways of providing the protein that the human body does, indeed, need.
And here we have to go all the way across the country, to Brooklyn, New York. There a company called Exo, which produces energy bars made out of cricket flour, is enabling the United States to join the fourth of the world’s population that eats insects. National Geographic says the protein in the cricket is twelve times as efficient as that in cattle, whatever that means, and the percentage of fat is comparable.
Anyway, Exo produces a cacao bar and a peanut butter and jelly bar for about $3 each. If you like the energy bar, you might want to try cricket flour cookies from Bitty Foods. Then later, you could get some cricket flour from Bitty and start cooking with the Eat-a Bug Cookbook.
Now back to the water thing. It takes only one gallon of water to produce 1,000 crickets, and there are only 40 crickets in each Exo bar, which contains ten grams of protein. According to Exo, there is almost three times as much protein in 100 grams of crickets as in 100 grams of sirloin. My head is buzzing with all these numbers, so I hope you’re following this all right.
The turn toward insect consumption would inevitably cause the cattle industry to shrink, and a lot of the romance of the feedlot would be lost. However, patches of open land surviving development could become a new kind of zoo. We would drive by in the spring knowing that those cute little calves will grow up peacefully without ever turning into veal or hamburger patties.
As for the California dairies, well, I don’t know what to say. If they belong anywhere at all, it is where there is plenty of water and a low incidence of lactose intolerance. As the water crisis deepens, however, the religious conservationists may get involved: “God made cow milk for calves.” Something like that.
Regarding the crickets, I feel a certain amount of compassion for them as well, but I’m realistic. They eat other insects in addition to plant matter, but if the going gets tough they will also eat each other. I hope we humans don’t come to that, but there are perilous times coming. The moment has come to get real, and that will involve, among other things, thinking outside the barn.