Then three years ago, on April 1st 2009, an LJ friend exposed me to this chart, and it turned me vegetarian:
(click to enlarge)
[it did NOT, however, inspire me to give up coffee -- it'd take a much worse impact for me to give THAT up]
It shows in visual examples the amount of one resource -- water -- that goes into production of various consumable resources. My friend explained that ze felt as I did about plants, and chose to be vegetarian because fewer lives were sacrificed for zirs that way: "...I realized, statistically speaking, many many million fewer plants die to feed a vegan than an omnivore. for example, in order for a cow to gain 1g of weight, it must eat 8.3 grams of soy protein. that means rather than choosing 'do I want one plate of animal or 1 plate of plant to suffer?' we're really choosing 'do 9 plates of living things to suffer or one plate of living things to suffer?'" I was blown away by this and felt instantly that this was a good reason for me to be vegetarian. I wanted to cut down on the resources I consume and I saw that I could cut out a TON of my water use by changing my diet.
At first I cut out all farmed meat, and purchased only wild-caught meat because I figured most of the use of resources went into raising them. The meat I ate worked out to be Trader Joe's canned tuna (I contacted them to find out if it was wild-caught) and every now and then some other wild-caught fish. I'd also eat meat if it would otherwise go to waste, because for me this decision is about my impact on demand, not actually about what goes into my body. But at some point there was a few month gap between meals with meat in them, and after that when I ate it, I could smell it in my sweat and taste this horrible bitterness in my mouth for days after, and it'd give me diarrhea as well. At that point I decided to just forgo all meat. The other day I tried some salmon after probably at least two years of no meat at all, and I had muscle pain and painful skin hyper-sensitivity that freaked me out a good bit because I've never experienced it before. My body has decided that meat is inappropriate for me to eat at all. (Also, after making out with both vegetarians and meat eaters, I much prefer the taste of vegetarians ;-))
related: if you want to eat meat more sustainably, here's another pretty chart:
(click to enlarge) -------------->
Even people who need to eat meat do not need it every meal or even every day. I've heard many different statistics, the most common being about a handful 2-3 times per week. (This is not to say that everyone can do that, because the availability of cheap and quick proteins is not the same across the board, and you're supposed to have 40-50g of protein a day according to current recommendations)
For the first six months of this I told NO ONE except my partner at the time, because I was terrified that I would "fail" at it and then be faced with my own hypocrisy not only at every meal but in the minds of everyone who knew me. I had nightmares about eating meat and then realizing what I had done. But I ate plenty of protein in other forms and after a while of no ill effects I decided that I would be fine without it. The nightmares abated as I impressed upon myself that the goal is not perfection, but improvement.
There are some things I eat which are quite resource-heavy; cheese is one. I don't intend to do the absolute best thing all the time; I just want to reduce strain on the earth in ways that I can. I think if I were to give up dairy I'd be unhappy, as there are only three foods I really love -- cheeses, tomatoes, and peppers. This is a hypocrisy I am comfortable with (though ultimately I'd like to have my own dairy goat(s) both to cut out packaging/shipping and for more loved food).
And on the topic of conserving water, this is why my house lets it mellow if it's yellow --->
I also shower only every 2-3 days (unless I got super sweaty or dirty), and brush my teeth without running the water, and drink water instead of soda (look back at that first chart!) though that one is partly because I'm not very fond of sugar. I only run full loads of laundry and I scrub the dishes without running the water (but use running water to rinse because the idea of reused rinse water grosses me out too much).
These are fairly easy sacrifices for me; I think it's not necessary for everyone to be perfect, but it is necessary for everyone to find places they CAN sacrifice, and make those sacrifices.