Fact: switching to a plant-based diet is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint. Fortunately, today, we have more plant-based alternatives than ever, which makes the transition relatively easy.
But a plant-based label doesn't always equal healthy or even completely eco-friendly. Everything comes with its pros and cons. If you're making an effort to reduce your meat and dairy consumption for the good of mother earth, make sure you're doing it right.
Agricultural farming for livestock uses up a lot of the earth's resources. It contributes to the destruction of forests and wildlife habitats and uses up a lot of water. That's why going vegan is so great for the planet.
A very simple vegan diet will result in a greatly reduced carbon footprint. Unfortunately, most of us want a little bit more. That's where plant-based alternatives come in. They allow us to consume tasty replicas of our favorite meat and dairy products, but sometimes they can be problematic. Case in point: non-dairy kinds of milk.
There are many different kinds of non-dairy milk. Almond, cashew, soy, coconut, rice, hemp, and oat are the most common. Eating any of these items in their regular form is unproblematic in general. But turning them into milk, especially on a mass scale, can cause issues.
Take almonds, for example. You wouldn't normally eat more than a handful of almonds as a snack, so eating whole almonds isn't inherently harmful. But one glass of almond milk requires around 92 almonds and a little over 70 liters of water to create! Couple that with the fact that most almond trees grow in drought-stricken California, and you're looking at a rather unsustainable product.
So, what milks are the best to consume? The truth is that they all have their pros and cons. Any crop that is mass-produced can cause environmental issues, so you'll have to make your choice with a grain of salt.
But keep in mind that whatever plant-based milk you choose, you're still making a more positive choice than dairy. Dairy milk creates about three times more greenhouse gas emissions and consumes nine times more land per glass than any plant-based milk.
Cons: Uses up a lot of water and produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other non-dairy milk. Its production also pumps out methane into the atmosphere and pollutants into the water.
Pros: Farming coconuts has a low impact on land and doesn't require a lot of water.
Cons: It can sometimes be unethical. Coconuts generally come from tropical countries where farmers aren't necessarily paid a fair wage. Make sure you're buying fair trade coconut milk.
Pros: It doesn't require much water to produce, and greenhouse gas emissions are quite low.
Cons: Soy is often used as feed for livestock for meat and dairy production. This leads to deforestation and displacement of indigenous people, especially in the Amazon. You can still find sustainable soy, though. Look for soy milk made from organic beans grown in the USA or Canada.
Macadamia, hazelnut, and cashew milk
Pros: Don't require as much water as almonds since they often grow in places where water is plentiful. Hazelnuts come from the notoriously rainy Pacific Northwest of North America, macadamia nuts come from the rainforests of Hawaii and Australia, and cashews come from India.
Cons: Depending on the type of nut, ethics, and the treatment of workers can be an issue. Cashew milk is probably the worst for this.
Hemp and flax milk
Pros: You don't need a lot of water or land to grow. It's also surprisingly nutritious.
Cons: Not as commonly found. Hemp and flax are known as ‘niche' crops, and the demand for hemp and flax milk still isn't very high compared to other non-dairy kinds of milk.
Pros: Low water use, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions for production.
Cons: Oats are sometimes grown with pesticides. So oat milk is probably the winner, although hemp and flax milk are seriously underrated. But whatever you choose is still an excellent choice!