Research has proven time and time again that following a plant-based diet is the single biggest way to reduce your impact on climate change. Whilst no one can deny that the worldwide dairy industry has a substantial impact on the environment, we must remain conscious of how our plant-based choices affect the planet too.
From nuts to plants to seeds, the resources that are grown to produce your favourite milk alternatives still require land and water, as well as energy to process them and then transport them to your fridge.
So when it comes to the dairy alternatives you have to choose from, which vegan options fare better than the rest? Let’s take a look at some of the most popular varieties:
Even though most brands of almond milk only contain a small percent of almonds, the amount of water required to grow these almonds is considerable. They are also usually grown in places like California and Andalucia, who have suffered bad droughts in recent years. It takes one gallon of water to grow just one almond!
With its distinctive taste and texture, most people either love coconut milk or hate it.
One thing to love however, is how low its environmental impact is. Aside from requiring very little water to produce coconuts, the trees they grow on help to filter carbon dioxide and combat greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on where you live, transportation will play the biggest part in its carbon emissions, as they are grown in more tropical climates .
Perhaps the closest in taste to tradition cows milk, rice milk is a popular dairy alternative worldwide.
Like almonds, rice requires a lot of water to produce and also emits the largest amount of emissions behind dairy. Although there have been more initiatives put in place to tackle the impact rice farming has on the environment, it is still one of the least sustainable options.
As well as being one of the more nutrient dense milk options, hemp production is also considerably eco-friendly. The plant itself is more durable and resistant to weeds, so less pesticides are required during production, whilst the plant helps filter out carbon dioxide too.
Almost every part of the hemp plant is usable in other forms too, making it a far less wasteful plant overall.
If you frequent trendy cafes for your caffeine fix, chances are you’ll have tried oat milk with your java.
Although it requires a lot of land and energy to process oats into its milk form, they require far less water to grow and contribute less carbon to the atmosphere than other plants, making it a more sustainable option.
Perhaps the most popular of the dairy alternatives, soy provides a great range of macro- and micronutrients.
Not so great, however, is its environmental impact. Soy requires a huge amount of land to grow, and this has impacted large areas of the already endangered Amazon rainforest in facilitating its production. It is also often genetically modified or doused in pesticides to withstand conditions, so it is important to know where your milk is sourced from and whether it is organic.
Lesser known in the world of vegan milks, this nut-free alternative requires 85% less water to grow than almonds, and has a much lower carbon footprint too.
It also contains more protein and calcium than most other plant-based options too.
Although some vegan options are better than others, simply switching to a dairy-free diet makes a considerable difference. By understanding where your food is sourced, how it is produced and the means of it reaching your kitchen table, you can make better informed decisions about what is best for your body and the planet.
In the meantime, you can raise a glass of vegan milk knowing you are helping to tackle climate change already!
Roisin is a regular contributor to Let’s Go Vegan Australia.