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Rationing Meat Will Save Water, Vegetarians Say

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of vegetarian activists think they should be able to flush their toilets, wash their cars and water their lawns as they please, even if mandatory water rationing has arrived in Los Angeles.

Want to know why, meat eaters?

“By not eating beef one day a week for a month, you will save 10,400 gallons a month,” said Aaron Leider, organizer of a program called “Meatless Monday,” which encourages Los Angeles residents to do without beef on at least one day of the week.

Leider and two dozen vegetarian activists toted placards at a news conference Friday on the steps of City Hall urging water conservation through vegetarianism. The demonstration marked the first day of city-imposed restrictions on household water consumption.

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The activists targeted beef as the food to eschew because, they said, the cattle-raising industry is “the No. 1 water user in the state.”

Using figures presented in “Diet for a New America,” a reference book for environmentalists, Leider said 5,200 gallons of water are needed to produce a pound of edible beef--more water than is needed to raise pork or poultry, he said. By contrast, a strict vegetarian’s diet requires 93% less water to produce than beef, Leider said.

A spokesman for a state cattle-ranching lobby said the statistics are hogwash.

Jim Jelks, director of government relations for the California Cattlemen’s Assn., said the vegetarians included in their totals all the water used to grow grazing pastures in the state, most of which receive some natural rainfall.

“Holding the cattle producers responsible for all the water needed to grow hay and grain isn’t very realistic,” he said. “They are making such generalized statements, it’s basically misinformation.”

According to a spokesman for the National Cattlemen’s Assn. in Colorado, fewer than 300 gallons of water is needed to produce one pound of beef.

Still, the vegetarians say they are upset.

“Those of us who are vegetarian resent being asked to ration our water,” Leider said. “We are already doing nine times more than anyone else.”

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Leider, a financial analyst, is a member of an environmental group called Sunset Greens. He helped developed the Meatless Monday program to raise public awareness of what, he said, have been misdirected efforts to curb water use.

For years, he said, the beef industry has lobbied successfully for water subsidies from the government.

“The best thing we can do is reduce the demand,” Leider said.


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