It takes about 1,800 gallons of water to make a pound of grain-fed beef. That’s the decent stuff, the beef that isn’t fed with detritus like pieces of other cows. Other meat products require less water during production, but all need at least some. With humans increasingly using meat as a protein source and with the number of humans increasing as well, we will use more and more water to produce meat in a world that has less water to spare.

Here is a lot of water surrounding one cow, kind of the reverse of the actual problem. (Photo by indi.ca.)

Something’s got to give — and the best place to cut back is meat consumption. From the Guardian:

Leading water scientists have issued one of the sternest warnings yet about global food supplies, saying that the world’s population may have to switch almost completely to a vegetarian diet over the next 40 years to avoid catastrophic shortages.

Humans derive about 20% of their protein from animal-based products now, but this may need to drop to just 5% to feed the extra 2 billion people expected to be alive by 2050, according to research by some of the world’s leading water scientists. …

Competition for water between food production and other uses will intensify pressure on essential resources, the scientists said. “The UN predicts that we must increase food production by 70% by mid-century. This will place additional pressure on our already stressed water resources, at a time when we also need to allocate more water to satisfy global energy demand — which is expected to rise 60% over the coming 30 years — and to generate electricity for the 1.3 billion people currently without it,” said the report.

Given how tightly entwined meat-eating (and burger-eating in particular) is with the American identity, we will almost certainly not address this problem until forced to. That will be a fun year or two. See you in the rationing line!