When it comes to sustainable living, there’s no one perfect way of doing it. Opinions will come barrelling at you from all directions – that humans are built to eat meat, that eating meat is evil, that dairy is scary, that actually, it’s avocados and millennials that are killing the planet. It can all feel so overwhelming, especially when there’s an argument about it whenever you open a social media app.
For this exact reason, I like to keep open-minded about sustainable living. I appreciate that there are so many limitations when it comes to changing your diet and your lifestyle, like price, health requirements, accessibility, and so on. However, we all have our one pet peeve, and mine is almond milk.
Dairy alternatives are fantastic, and I would personally struggle without oat milk. Being tasty, sustainable, and kinder to my stomach, it’s a great alternative. But not all alternatives are made equal; in fact, it’s genuinely scary how unsustainable almond milk really is.
Before I get into it, I want to say that the biggest issue I have with almond milk is that it dresses itself up to be something it’s not, hence its popularity. It looks nice, tastes good to some (not me), and appears very planet friendly. But beneath its big ballgown is a very shocking truth, so here’s the beef I have with it.
California is home to 80% of the world’s almond supply due to its optimal climate conditions. While that’s a pretty intense statistic in and of itself, it quickly gets worse; one almond requires 1.1 gallon of water to grow. Even though this consumption is lower than cow’s milk, its concentrated growth is causing and contributing to considerable environmental issues, such as the Californian drought (which lasted for nearly a decade). Emine Saner neatly wraps up these issues in her Guardian article ‘Almond milk: quite good for you – very bad for the planet’:
“Last year, an apocalyptic piece for Mother Jones by Tom Philpott, who has long detailed the environmental ravages of this crop in California, summed up the problems: almond farmers drilling thousands of feet down into aquifiers to pump out water has resulted, in some areas, in subsidence of around 11 inches a year, which “threatens vital infrastructure like bridges, roads, and irrigation canals” and could trigger earthquakes. Furthermore, insatiable demand for almonds is harming honeybees, already an embattled species. Almond trees need to be pollinated but bringing in 1.6m hives to California every year, “into an area dripping with insecticides is a recipe for disaster” writes Philpott (up to 25% of the hives were damaged in 2014), including whole colonies killed off; this spring they fared better after guidelines were issued about pesticide-use during the trees’ blooming season).”
The good news is that the drought has ended. But the problems are far from over; in fact, there’s no sign of it slowing down any time soon, with Californian almond production increasing by 63% between 2007/08 and 2017/18. When it comes to bees, Annette McGivney reports:
“A recent survey of commercial beekeepers showed that 50 billion bees – more than seven times the world’s human population – were wiped out in a few months during winter 2018-19. This is more than one-third of commercial US bee colonies, the highest number since the annual survey started in the mid-2000s.”
And so, the story goes on. No choice is ever perfect – even my oat milk flat white has its issues! But I like to think it’s a better option. It’s more environmentally sound (it consumes less water, and is grown globally), it can be made at home (but it won’t be fortified with the vitamins and minerals supplemented by oat milk companies, so do consider this), and you can now buy cheap home brands at Aldi and Lidl for only 89p. But hey – if you find an article that exposes some dirty secrets I don’t know about, do send it my way.