Thursday, July 2, 2015


                            by Fireweed for  The Island Word, July/August edition,  2015

Coconut Bliss - one of many delicious dairy-free alternatives!
     Given that hot summer days are known to scream: “ice cream!”, it's a very good thing that delicious dairy-free alternatives are now so widely available. Vancouver Islanders and others in the Comox Valley Regional District heeding the call to voluntarily reduce water usage under our current drought conditions, may or may not appreciate knowing that an estimated 159 litres of water go into a single scoop of ice cream. Or that approximately twice that amount goes into an equivalent serving of frozen yogurt! Calculating the water footprint for any one animal-derived food item must take into consideration not only the water requirements of the animals over their lifetime, but of the crops raised to feed them.

      For far too long mainstream media attention around the severity of the drought in California has been highlighting almonds as problematic while completely ignoring the elephant in the room. Social media campaigns like “Truth or Drought” and the popular documentary “Cowspiracy” are helping raise awareness about the reality that animal agribusiness is by far the biggest consumer of H20. The fact that a significant percentage of the alfalfa grown in California is shipped to China to feed animals there reveals how complex calculating agricultural water usage has become.

     “Virtual water” is the total sum of water used in the production of a good or service. And “virtual water trade”, explains Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, “refers to the embedded water transferred across borders when these goods or services are internationally traded.” According to the Council's 2011 report, “Leaky Exports”, Canada's export of water-intensive commodities (including cattle and livestock products) has resulted in a virtual water deficit of just under 60 billion cubic meters – enough to fill the Rogers Centre in Toronto 37.5 thousand times (the Council's report notes that this figure was already quite dated at time of publication, so it would be much higher now). The document contends that over the past few decades the Canadian government has pursued a trade and development agenda that continues to put our country's fresh water resources at serious risk. It's shameful that so many communities are facing some sort of water crisis today yet nowhere is our groundwater adequately mapped. Policymakers continue to emphasize the significance of household water consumption while paying little attention to the water-intensive industries that have led to water shortages and contamination.

     Water-wise food choices (animal-product free) are not enough, but for those of us with the privilege of choice they are part of highlighting the priceless value of clean water, responding pro-actively to global warming and countering public apathy that impedes the potential for systemic change. No less important, of course, are the other environmental impacts of raising animals for food and the lives of the animals themselves.

     “No one injured”, declared part of the headline about a devastating barn fire that killed more than 250 cows on a dairy farm in Monteregie, Quebec in early June. Canadians for the Ethical Treatment of Farmed Animals (CETFA), quickly encouraged the general public not to tolerate such insensitive reporting. The CBC was actually swift to oblige – their online account of the event has been adjusted to read: “Only a handful of cows managed to survive fire on dairy farm”.

     The National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) has been far less responsive to pressure from
CETFA and its supporters. In an ongoing petition
6/9/15-  dairy barn fire kills over 250 cows in Quebec
that has collected nearly 29,300 signatures to date, CETFA continue to ask the NFACC to develop barn fire codes which would better protect Canada's 700 million farmed animals from preventable tragedy. Meanwhile, barn fires continue to inflict tremendous suffering from one end of this country to the other – CETFA counted almost 60,000 animal lives lost this way in one year alone! In the three weeks that have passed since the Quebec fire, and in addition to the Courtenay tragedy where more than 60 heifers died on June 14th, dairy barns and others have burned to the ground in Falmouth, N.S., Bellville, Ont., Abbotsford, B.C., Gananoque, Ont., and Truro, N.S. Many more animals have perished and I don't dare to imagine what the predicted long dry summer has yet in store.

     It seems to me that an honest accounting of animal ag's water footprint should not ignore the massive quantities of water required to contain and thoroughly extinguish the barn fires that seem to come with the territory. Please visit CETFA online and support their important work @ For additional links and references related to this article, please see JUNE 2015/Related Links, on the right hand side of this blog!

Keeping well hydrated will help you beat the heat this summer! Cucumber is a wonderful vegetable to include in a water-wise, 100% plant-based diet - it is rich in vitamins K, A, and C and minerals like phosphorous, magnesium and calcium. I don't grow my own cukes, so am always thrilled when an organic local supply becomes seasonally available. They are an integral part of the spicy red gazpacho I make all summer long- until I run out of home grown tomatoes! But there is just something about the fresh color green that exudes that 'made in the shade' summer feeling…so I hope you enjoy this variation on a theme!

Cool as a Cucumber Green Gazpacho
with thanks to Angela Thompson for the original recipe

Green Gazpacho- photo credit:
Ingredients (organic preferred!):
1 English style cucumber
1 yellow bell pepper
3 yellow tomatoes
1/4 small sweet white onion           
1 ripe avocado
1 cup vegetable stock
2 tsps. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 T. Olive Oil
3/4 cup cilantro
1 clove garlic
1 Thai chili (or to taste)
1 tsp. Salt and a pinch of pepper
optional garnish: croutons, nasturtiums

Peel, seed and chop your veggies in chunks and add to your Vitamix or blender with the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth, and chill for a few hours to enhance flavor. Correct seasoning, garnish and serve. Bon appetit!

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