Artist Considers Veganism to Help Solve the California Drought

As all of us in California are very aware that we're in a severe drought. But it's not just Californians, or even Americans, who are concerned about the lack of water in some parts of the nation; people around the world and watching to see what will happen, and if and how we'll change our ways to conserve the scarce resource we have.

One of those people is Lithuanian artist Eglė Plytnikaitė, who created "How much water do you eat?," an infographic using stats from The Guardian, IME, Ecology, GRACE Communications Foundation, and the Los Angeles Times to illustrate the amount of water it takes to make the food we eat. Animal-based foods use more water than plant-based foods to produce (although almonds are famously high water users, and Plytnikaitė shows how chocolate also takes lots of water).

With her graphics, Plytnikaitė hopes to encourage more people to reduce their water footprint – and ultimately, eat more plant-based food. 

I wanted to find out more about why this artist across the world was thinking about California's water crisis, so I reached out and asked her some questions.

You live in Lithuania, but your point of reference for this work is California and the severe drought we're experiencing in the state. What made you interested in creating an infographic around this topic? 

Climate change and the other ecological problems are affecting the whole planet. They don’t choose the country or the region where to hit, so I try to see things globally and be aware about all these changes – it doesn’t matter where they are happening. I kept up with the news about the California drought from the very beginning and I was very curious how such an innovative state will solve this problem.

At the same time, I became highly interested in veganism. Even though I’m quite new in this field, I keep discovering more and more advantages of this diet. When I found the statistics of the amount of water that we “eat“ with our food I couldn’t even understand why the meat industry is not banned yet. I read tons of articles written around this topic and I decided to make these numbers more visible. So, I did what I know the best – I illustrated them.

Furthermore, I always saw California as the place where the new, innovative ideas are born and everyone lives slightly more in the future than the rest of the world. Paradoxically, it also became one of the first places to face the rough consequences of the climate change and decreasing water supplies. I believe that California could also be the first place in the world to discuss a vegan diet as a possible decision to these problems and continue leading the world to the better future.

One of the main takeaways from your infographic is that a plant-based diet uses less water than a meat-based one, but the first illustration is of a chocolate bar, which is, technically a plant-based food. Why did you decide to include the chocolate bar and feature it as the first item?

That’s a very nice insight and a great question as well. The main point of this project is to encourage people to eat more plant-based food but even if you become a vegan it doesn’t mean that your water footprint diminishes right away. There is plenty of vegan junk-food, which is technically plant-based food, but its manufacturing requires a lot of energy; the ingredients have to be brought overseas and so on. So, you have to be a little bit smarter if you really want to make a change. Chocolate is a very special example of plant-based food because so many people love it and it’s so harmful for the planet, from its sustainability to the child labour used on cocoa farms. That’s why I put it in the first place.

You studied sustainable architecture, but changed your focus to illustration. How did that happen?

I was simply disappointed by the architecture industry. I’m young, passionate, and I still have a naïve hope to change the world. When I started to actually work as an architect I understood that there is almost nothing I can do. I tried to be creative and innovative but narrow-minded clients, very limited budgets, and endless disagreements with engineers made it extremely hard.

Happily, I had an opportunity to create a tiny house in the woods for my family. There I could realize all my crazy ideas and use all the natural materials that I wanted. When we finished the house I understood that I’m done with architecture. I accomplished my architectural dream and I had to move forward. Fortunately, I’ve never stopped drawing and after a long summer on the construction site I got an opportunity to illustrate a children book, that naturally forced me to study more about illustration and soon I fell in love with this job. Finally, I could release my creativity, be more independent and spread my ideas through illustration wider and easier, just like with this How much water do you eat project.

Are you planning on creating any other illustrations or infographics that focus on sustainability? What will it be about?

Definitely. Even though I’m interested in many topics, sustainability is very important to me. Now I’m thinking about a project dedicated to the forest protection, which was inspired by the magical Lithuanian woods that I live in.

Interview edited for clarity by Sarah Han