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The Weekday (Vege)||(Pesce) tarian

This post IS NOT about promoting vegetarianism, veganism, raw vegansism, or eating more healthy.

This post IS about how to make your impact on long term sustainable food consumption in a way that you can...sustain...long term. If eating more healthy is a ::ahem:: 'healthy' ::ahem:: side effect of this, then great!

I found the premise of the Weekday Vegetarian TED video interesting when I first watched it years ago. When trying to improve the efficiency of a system, getting a 5/7 (70%) increase is usually a pretty good deal (especially when you are capped at a 100% potential increase). While I won't argue much on the ethical or health benefits of reducing meat intake, the environmental resource benefits are convincing (at least until meat grown in petri dishes goes mainstream).

The idea is to eat within a certain set of resource conscious guidelines on weekdays when you have more control. When you are more social on the weekend, you can relax these guidelines. In the off-chance you need to eat meat during the weekdays, you can make an exception here and there too. Over the last year or so following this approach, some unintended benefits I've found are:

  • When you do eat meat on the weekends, you may be more willing to splurge on sustainably raised red meat/chicken at stores/restaurants since its more of a treat and not a daily cost anymore.
  • When you do eat meat on the weekends, you may find yourself eating less of it and pairing it with more resource friendly foods.
  • If you have a long term goal (I don't right now) of being a vegetarian/pescetarian/vegan, this might be a good a stepping stone to get there.
  • Some weekends you might find it not so difficult to skip meat entirely, going beyond the 5/7 resource consumption improvement.
  • Traveling and your diet aren't incompatible as you can still immerse yourself in a different culture's cuisine without beating yourself up for breaking a rigid rule you created.
  • Meat flexibility with meal preparation becomes the default as you learn to cook more vegetarian meals. When you are cooking large meals you can choose to cook with vegetarian items first and add meat back later if desired. This works well when simultaneously cooking for vegetarians and meat eaters. It also works well when cooking a large batch of food for the week. 'Just-in-time' meat additions to dishes might mean adding a pan fried chicken breast or chicken sausage to your vegatarin eggplant marinara spaghetti leftovers on Saturday night when you have guests over.

So as an eater who feels full only when its too late, how do I go meatless during the week?

Below is the water footprint of various foods and the price differences between organic vs non-organic items. I only look at the base foods needed to pull of a meal (not a nutrition label listed serving, but a meal that actually makes me feel satisfied) and a glass of milk or cup of tea/coffee; presumably all the extra fixings would be relatively similar, whether the base is meat, seafood, or vegetarian. The numbers below are adjusted from the raw data to practically apply it to how I eat a meal. For example, articles will cite the water footprint of a pound of dried legumes from a crop, but when served hydrated and cooked on my plate that pound of dried beans turns into roughly 3.5lbs. For prices, I'm using prices from Trader Joe's unless otherwise noted because....well...I love them:

Dollar and Water Resource Costs

Vegetarian base serving - [ water in gal / price non-organic - organic]
1/2 15oz can of beans - [ 70 / $.40 - $.50 ]
1/2 8oz package of tempeh - [ 80 / ? - $1.00 ]
2 eggs (100g) - [ 90 / $.33 - $.63 ]
Average - [ 80 / $.58 - $.71 ]

Vegetarian fortifier - [ water in gal / price non-organic - organic]
Spoon of chia seeds (.5oz) (Costco organic) - [ 15 / $.11 ]
1 Spoon of shelled raw hemp seeds (.5oz) (Costco organic) - [ 15 / ? - $.29 ]
3 spoons of greek yogurt (5oz) - [ 90 / $.78 - $1.25]
Average - [ 40 / $.39 - $.55 ]
Note - I couldn't find water info for chia seeds, so I will assume its comparable to hemp seed.

Pescetarian base - [ water in gal / price non-organic - organic]
1 4oz can wild caught skipjack tuna - [ 65 / $1.50 ]
1/4 lb wild caught tuna steak - [ 65 / $2.00 ]
Average - [ 65 / $1.75 ]
Notes - I couldn't find any clear information on the water impact for tuna, I would imagine its actually negligible if its not artificially farmed and wild caught. Nevertheless I was extra conservative and used the water impact of feeding farmed fish.

Meat base - [ water in gal / price non-organic - organic]
1/4 lb frozen chicken breast - [ 130 / $.80 - $1.50 ]
1/4 lb pork - [ 180 / $1.25 - $1.75 ]
1/4 lb beef - [ 460 / $1.25 - $1.87 ]
Average - [ 257 / $1.10 - $1.71 ]

Drink (tea + almond milk) - [ water in gal / price non-organic - organic]
1 8oz glass of almond milk - [ 4 / $.37 - $.46 (Whole foods organic)]
1 cup of black tea - [ 7 / $.04 - $.06 ]
Average - [ 5.5 / $.21 - $.26 ]

Drink (coffee + milk) - [ water in gal / price non-organic - organic]
1 8oz glass of cow's milk - [ 61 / $.19 - $.44 ]
1 cup of coffee - [ 34 / $.10 - $.17 ]
Average - [ 48 / $.18 - $.31 ]

Rudimentary Weekly Cost Analysis

I take an average of all items in each category (assuming you would rotate your food options within a category equally on average) and multiply for 3 meals a day (2 drinks a day), and 7 days for the week:

Water cost of x: gal/wk - gal/yr (x gal saved/wk - x gal saved/yr / % savings)
Water cost of eating meat 3x/day : 5397 - 280,644 (0 / 0% )
Water cost of eating meat 2x/day and vegetarian 1x/day: 4438 - 230,766 (959 - 49,868 / 18% )
Water cost of eating vegetarian base + fortifier 3x/day : 2520 - 131,040 (2877 - 149,604 / 53% )
Water cost of eating vegetarian base + fortifier 2x/day and fish 1x/day : 2135 - 111,020 (3262 - 169,624 / 60%)

Water cost of drinking dairy milk 1x/day + coffee 1x/day: 672 - 34,944 (0 / 0%)
Water cost of drinking almond milk 1x/day + tea 1x/day: 77 - 4004 (595 - 30,940 / 89%)

Finding the right balance

Water cost of x: gal/wk - gal/yr (x gal saved/wk - x gal saved/yr / % savings)
Daily meat eater + daily dairy milk + coffee drinker: 6069 - 315,588 (0 / 0% )
Weekday vegetarian/pesceterian + weekday almond milk+tea drinker: 3314 - 172,328 ( 2755 - 143,260 / 45% )
Daily vegetarian/pesceterian + daily almond milk+tea drinker: 2212 - 115,024 ( 3857 - 200,564 / 63% )

Dollar cost of x: $/wk / $/yr
Dollar cost of eating meat 3x/day during the week (non-organic / organic): $23.10 - $35.91 / $1201.20 - $1867.32
Dollar cost of eating vegetarian base + fortifier 3x/day during the week (non-organic / organic): $20.37 - $26.46 / $1059.24 - $1375.92
Dollar cost of eating vegetarian base + fortifier 2x/day and fish 1x/day during the week (non-organic / organic): $25.83 - $31.92 / $1343.16 - $1659.84

So there you have it - I save roughly 143,260 gallons of water a year and can sustain this savings long term. I still eat meat, drink dairy milk, and have coffee (all great options to have when traveling to different food cultures), but I just choose to enjoy these on the weekend ... sometimes.