True sustainability doesn’t just require conservation of energy or a restriction of carbon emissions. Those are important, but in many ways they pale before water.
Have you ever considered your water footprint? We’re talking not just the water you use at home, but also how the number of gallons needed to produce the food that you consume and the things that you buy?
In a recent National Public Radio story, Renee Montagne spoke with Samuel Sandoval, an assistant professor of water resource management at UC Davis, about some of the water footprints in agriculture. He brought up the fact that water issues are at a critical level in California’s Central Valley, where 50 percent of the nation’s produce is grown (this includes 90 percent of the nation’s grapes, broccoli, almonds and walnuts).
Suck on this: It takes a gallon of water for one almond or pistachio, but a walnut requires five gallons. A single pound of blueberries takes 48 gallons. And the NPR story didn’t even address the water footprint for livestock.
Professor Arjen Hoekstra, creator of the water footprint, is the expert when it comes to worldwide livestock water usage. He says cattle take up the lion’s share. He points out a big component of the water usage in livestock is the water needed to grow feed. His reports also show a water-usage disparity between countries. In the Netherlands, for instance, it takes 264 gallons of water to create five ounces of beef, but in the US the same amount of meat requires more than twice that amount–600 gallons. Hoekstra suggests governments get together and set global footprint caps and equity.
Michael Pollan, the author of several books on food, talks about animal production in the documentary Cowspiracy. “It’s a brutal system at every level,” he says in the film. “There is no way to support nine ounces of meat per person per day, which is what Americans eat. We don’t have enough world to produce the grain to generate that much meat. A plant-based diet is the most sustainable.”
Of course, Pollan admits that he doesn’t think the world would ever go meat-free. In Cowspiracy, filmmaker Kip Anderson ultimately decides that he can make the biggest environmental impact by going vegan, saving 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forest, 20 pounds of CO2 and one animal’s life a day. (If you want to see Cowspiracy you can get it on their website: http://www.cowspiracy.com/infographic/ or Down to Earth Kahului will be doing a screening April 25th at 7pm; https://twitter.com/downtoearthfood)
I decided to take a tour of the different kinds of protein alternatives we can find here on the island. Maui Taro burgers was one of the first companies on Maui to start making a vegetarian burger (they started in 1997). Founder Robert Mitnick’s goal was to offer a soy alternative and use Hawaii-grown produce as the staple ingredients. The burger uses the entire taro plant, from leaves to root. I bought three different versions at Hawaiian Moons in Kihei, original, Asian Ginger and Hot and Spicy. All were tasty, and gluten-free, too. (Catch them at the upcoming East Maui Taro Festival on April 25 and 26th)
At a recent trip to Down to Earth in Kahului, I was greeted at the door with samples of vegan crab cake and vegan shrimp, made from yam and seaweed. The flavor and texture was that of fried shrimp. Down to Earth also stocks Beyond Meat’s Beyond Chicken–lightly seasoned, grilled strips of fake chicken. At first glance they looked incredibly like a grilled and cut chicken breast. I bought some, and made Beyond Chicken tacos and burritos. They too were delicious.
I called Ethan Brown, the creator of Beyond Meat, to find out more about his products. (https://twitter.com/beyondmeat)
“I’m not a chef,” he said. “Originally, I worked in fuel cells–hydrogen-powered fuel cells. But I continued to really think about livestock. It came down to four different reasons to do this. One, animal welfare–the process that large scale agriculture implies for animals. Two, human health, diabetes and cancer–the correlation between these two epidemics and meat consumption are significant. Three, climate change–the impact of livestock on climate change. I think this is something many people aren’t aware of, that livestock is the largest single contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the world. The fourth is the natural resource issue with water and land. All of those things tied back to consuming meat from animals rather than plants. If I could change the three or four ounces at the center of a plate from animal to plant protein, I could make an impact on all four of those areas.”
Beyond Meat works with the isolated proteins of plants like pea and soy, then heats and pressurizes them to create their products. They have a line of beef-free crumble that is gluten- and soy-free, and was a hit with everyone who recently tried my meat-free spaghetti marinara.
Life Foods is a growing Maui company that’s also working to create a new model for plant-based proteins. They’ve created the Life Foods line of burgers, spicy Italian crumbles, breakfast patties, mung bean tempeh and fermented dressings and salads. I order a Life Foods burger at Wailuku Coffee Company several times a week, and enjoy their tamarind ketchup immensely. (https://twitter.com/LifeFoodsInc)
Founder Azeem Butt says he started the company to create a better, more nutritious vegan product for kids, but he also wanted to disrupt big food production with a better way. He’s currently signing a lease for a 14,000 square-foot facility in Sacramento to provide Northern California with Life Foods burgers.
“We don’t believe in shipping our product from here,” Butt told me. “We have farm to shelf philosophy: 400 miles in four weeks. We don’t source more than 400 miles away from a production facility, and only distribute within 400 miles. That gives us the ability to work with farmers–not highly industrialized farmers, but the local boutique farmers. That allows us to take cilantro, for example, and turn it into a product within four weeks and have it on the shelf, all the time keeping the certified non-GMO and organic certifications in place. That way, when you walk into Whole Foods and buy our product, you don’t feel like it came from a facility that you don’t know about. Hawaii is our pilot. This is where I show this is doable–that you can have a local facility that produces and makes money locally. Generally, food production has traditionally been, Let’s make a million burgers in a central location and ship them out to all over the us without any connection to local farmers or consumers.”
Another alternative to large scale agriculture processing is the farming of animals at the local level. A good example of this is Royal Hawaiian Venison, which is harvested on Molokai. You can find it at Alive and Well in Kahului in ground form, loin rack, sirloin and loin chops.
“Our philosophy is that it’s a wild meat that’s able to graze sustainably,” said Darren Jones of Alive and Well. “They are allowed to be hunted because they are not be best thing for our islands. They are certainly a great protein source that is super low in fat. It’s a pure, dry, great protein. It doesn’t have a gamey flavor the way bigger deer or venison have. It’s light. I’m of the belief that we don’t need to be eating that much protein. We don’t need a 30-ounce steak for dinner, so just a few ounces of venison is a great choice for dinner.”
You can also find Royal Hawaiian Venison at Morihara Store, The Market by Capische, Hanzawa’s and Rodeo General Stores, for more info go to www.mauideer.info.