As I child, I detested the taste of plain water.
I was fortunate to grow up in a country where farmers markets were the primary source of groceries. We only had access to what was in season while the heterogeneous geography of Peru’s “costa, sierra y selva” — meaning coast, highlands and jungle — supplied a richly diverse bounty of exotic fruits and vegetables.
I am told that I would accost and flirt with the fruit man for clementine oranges, often making a mess of myself and those around me.
We were always given fruit juices, which resembled more our version of smoothies: chopped seasonal fruits tossed in a blender with some water. Chicha morada, a sweetened drink made by boiling purple corn with a hint of orange was a daily treat, and apple water, made by boiling apple skins, pineapple chunks, cinnamon with added sugar made a regular appearance at the dinner table.
Milk was only served with either sugar or a generous amount of Milo. Plain milk was a humiliating punishment, in addition to threats of dining with the dog.
I was accustomed to sweets and flavor, a preference that even today, makes me run for a cupcake before french fries.
However, access to potable water was routinely interrupted by either breaks in the water pipes as a result of terrorist attacks or contamination due to problems at the source. During these waterless episodes, all our tubs and sinks were filled to ensure adequate supply, and all water meant for consumption was boiled thoroughly.
Water issues in America
I thought my days of worrying about water were over. But two decades later, I am reminiscing.
In the U.S., we are somewhat unaware of issues relating to water shortages. Our personal supply has never been compromised — other than acts of nature and brief episodes of extreme heat.
But like any natural resource, there are severe issues with overuse, abuse and unsustainable practices.
It is unfathomable to consider when you take into account that 72 percent of our world is water — roughly 326 million cubic miles. How can we possibly be running out?
This incomprehensible amount hides a fragile truth: 97 percent is salty and not appropriate for drinking. Of that remaining three percent, 70 percent is locked in ice caps, one percent is accessible, and six countries (Brazil, Russia, Canada, Indonesia, China and Colombia) have 50 percent of the freshwater reserves.
The naked showering PETA girls
Last week, PETA decided to put on a little stunt in downtown Houston. As with all of their recent campaigns and publicity escapades — trying to secure sex.com, the banned 2010 Super Bowl Commercial, the “butcher” girls — PETA's quasi-shock-and-awe strategy placed two naked ladies showering to bring awareness to the eminent water crisis that could plague us resilient Americans if we don’t change our ways.
“Going vegan is a great way to conserve water,” Lauren Stroyeck, PETA campaigner, explains. “It takes a lot more water resources to produce a pound of beef than grain. With so many mock meats and non-dairy alternatives, living vegan is much easier and accessible for those used to omnivore diets.”
With Stroyeck, students Alexander Ramirez, a six-year vegan ,and Renee Dix, who's starting to contemplate a lifestyle change, helped out by holding signs and engaging those of us lurking around.
I certainly did not need convincing. I love my vegan grub and consume a lot of it. Yes, I was aware of the impact on our water supply, but was not cognizant of the rather urgent implications. In a want-it-now get-it-now instant gratification modus operandi culture, we tend to address problems when it directly affects us. Most of the time, it is too late.
Houston, we have a problem
The production of the 10 billion animals we consume yearly is a rather enormous contributor to our water supply crisis. According to PETA, it is estimated that 2,463 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef, between growing the crops to feed the animal and the animal’s own water requirements — roughly, the water needed to shower for six months. Other estimates put this amount at 5,000 and as high as 12,000 gallons.
And Houston, is using more water than is replenished.
But it's not just Houston. According to a report by Tetra Tech for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “over 1,100 U.S. counties — more than one-third of all counties in the lower 48 states — now face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of global warming and more than 400 of these counties will be at extremely high risk for water shortages.”
While I do not agree with PETA’s tactics all the time, they were successful in making me evaluate my somewhat automatic daily routine, noticing (gasp) that I indeed can do better. And coming from a scorching Southern summer, when household water usage can double, the guilt from both my Jewish sprinkled with Catholic background is making me feel like I have violated a moral order that could take my vegan card away.
I leave the water on while brushing my teeth. I take too many baths. For shower comfort, I allow the water to run too long to reach optimal bathing temperature. I do not always fill the washing machine to capacity. I waste too much water while washing dishes, and I have been known to purchase (deep breath) non-recyclable water bottles.
What to do?
Googling and searching the infinite cyberspace, I found many ideas, some simple, some funny, and some complex that could make a difference. Are you in?
- Fill a plastic bottle with sand or pebbles, to weight them down, and place it inside the toilet’s water tank. Doing so can save 10 gallons of water daily or up to 300 yearly.
- Stop shaving. While that would work in an alternate universe, a more practical solution is to remember to rinse the razor in a sink filled with a little water rather than letting the water run freely.
- While under the influence of half-and-half morning slumber, showers take longer. Drinking my tea (or your preferred wake-me-up poison) prior to bathing has helped me ensure my showers are about being clean and not about waking up. Try turning off the water while lathering your hair with and for those of you fond of sex in the shower, try foreplay prior.
- My grocery bags are filled with fruits and veggies. They need rinsing. Using a bowl filled with water rather than running water will do the trick. Use leftovers to water house plants.
- Avoid making emergency washes with only a few garments (or dishes). Not only is this practice smart, but it will save you from running out of delicates or unmentionables and prolong the time between laundry cycles.