It takes 717 gallons of water to raise just one pound of pork, and only 25 gallons to grow the same amount of potatoes.
That is according to the nonprofit Eat for the Earth’s new exhibit, What’s on your fork?, now on display through the end of January on the first floor of the Santa Cruz County government building. This factoid joins dozens of others intended to show how meat consumption in the United States drives climate change and affects the environment as a whole.
“As a person who is plant-based, I know the power of diet to make changes,” says Rev. Beth Love, founder of Eat for the Earth. “I want people that see the exhibit to understand that their dietary choices do make a difference.”
“Alternative” diets are often the source of derision and pity in America. Yet more and more people across the country are deciding to forgo animal products entirely. A report by a retail analysis company found that in the last 15 years, 290,000 more Americans became vegans, bringing the national total to 9.7 million people. Most of these plant-based converts list the environment as one of the biggest drivers for dumping meat.
Through What’s on my fork?, Eat for the Earth intends to show visitors to the county government building exactly how diet impacts the environment. Through pie charts and bar graphs, the exhibit looks at the difference between growing fruits and vegetables versus raising livestock in terms of land use, greenhouse gas emission, and water use.
Love’s own decision to go plant-based nearly 20 years ago was inspired by her need to respond to the climate crisis. “I was aware that my diet was probably the largest single contribution I could make as an individual to averting climate change,” she says.
For most of the next two decades, Love was content to make plant-based food for herself, her husband, and her friends while working on a vegan cookbook. But she soon found herself growing frustrated by what she saw as climate inaction. In an interview with Good Times, Love cited a 2019 study that found that moving away from red meat, along with other agricultural reforms, will be necessary to meet the goals set by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
So in January 2019, Love launched Eat for the Earth in the hopes of encouraging others to adopt plant-based diets. For the first months of 2019, this meant going to festivals, plying people with vegan food, and talking to them about the cost of meat-based diets.
“The formula is to give out the food and then give them the education,” Love says, adding: “There is nothing more compelling than giving people a free food sample.”
But with the pandemic, Eat for the Earth had to rethink its strategy.
One of the outcomes of that reframing is What’s on my fork?. Love says that before the pandemic, she could see people reacting with surprise and concern when they saw the cost of meat-based diets. Love wants to tap into that energy in the future, and she thinks that visual representations of the data are the best way to do that.
To that end, the county building is only the first stop for What’s on my fork?. As soon as the world opens back up, she plans on taking the exhibit on the road. In the meantime, Eat for the Earth is also offering online classes and resources to people transitioning to plant-based diets.
“It’s not enough for people to be educated about why something is important,” Love says. “They also need to know how to do it.”