By Sam Schipani
More and more, ecologically minded milk consumers are turning to nondairy products to minimize their carbon hoofprints. Sales of almond milk shot up by 250 percent between 2011 and 2016. Meanwhile, consumption of dairy milk has plummeted 37 percent since the 1970s, according to the USDA.
This is because animal agriculture consumes 2,422 billion cubic meters of water annually (about one-fourth of the global water footprint), 19 percent of which is related to dairy cattle. The Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the dairy industry contributes 4 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions—52 percent of which is methane, which can trap up to 100 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
In recent years, however, popular milk alternatives like soy and almond have come under increased environmental scrutiny. Besides the controversy surrounding soy milk's health effects, many soy products are produced with high-spray, intensively farmed and genetically modified crops—some of which are grown in tracts of the Amazon Rainforest that were razed to meet demand for soy. Meanwhile, each nut in almond milk requires 1.1 gallon of water to grow, most of which is sourced from the drought-susceptible state of California.
The good news is, there are some exciting new milk alternatives in town. Sierra sampled the taste—and sustainability bona fides—of seven such alternative milk varieties: flax, macadamia, pea, coconut, cashew, hemp and oat. Each milk was tested according to the four ways in which it's most likely to be consumed: directly from a glass, swirled into coffee, dunked with a cookie (for the purposes of this taste test, Uncle Eddies Vegan Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Cookies, recommended by the attendant at Whole Foods), and poured over cereal (Annie's Homegrown Organic Berry Bunnies).
A disclaimer: The data on the ecological integrity of alternative milk varietals is not robust, and much of what exists has been put forth by the producers themselves. Nevertheless, all plant-based options are more ecofriendly than dairy, and many new alternative milk products are sourced with eco-sustainability in mind. Whether you're a lifelong vegan looking to mix it up or a reformed dairy guzzler trying to reduce your carbon footprint, this taste test will guide you through the most cutting-edge milk alternatives on the market.
Good Karma Flax Milk
Though somewhat thinner in consistency than a glass of conventional dairy milk, Good Karma's Original Flax Milk had a pleasant, slightly sweet smell and taste. Flax milk blends nicely into coffee—it mitigates some of its natural acidity and leaves no discernible taste. However, it proved fundamentally incompatible with carbs—the dunked cookie could only be described as "damp," and mixed with cereal, this flax milk assumed a less-than-appetizing grayish tinge. We could, however, certainly drink a full glass of Good Karma's Vanilla Flax Milk, which is slightly more flavorful than the original and provides a complete daily dose of omega-3s. As for the company's Unsweetened Plus Protein version—an all at once chalky yet soapy concoction—not so much. However, the latter would, perhaps, be less offensive mixed into a turbo-charged protein smoothie.
Milkadamia Macadamia Nut Milk
Rich and thick, with just a hint of that creamy macadamia nut flavor, Milkadamia's Macadamia Nut Milk is the crème de l'alternative crème. Arguably the hottest new alternative milk to crack the market, it poured with an almost perfect, milklike consistency and appeared velvety white and slightly flecked, like a fancy vanilla bean ice cream. The dunked cookie was subtly softened and slightly sweetened; the cereal echoed its solvent's notes of vanilla. Milkadamia's Barista Formula is arguably better than regular milk in coffee—you'll enjoy the rich caramel hue, not to mention the hints of shortbread that linger on the tongue.
Even better, Milkadamia is especially focused on the sustainability of its product. The nuts are sourced from Jindilli Farms in Australia, which according to the company, boasts "abundant rainfall, ample sunshine, rich soil and low-impact farming." Milkadamia claims its focus is regenerative farming, which aims to rebuild soil health. Its macadamia nuts grow on so-called free-range trees that do not require irrigation. Transporting the product to California from Down Under, however, surely generated its own set of environmental impacts.
Ripple Pea Milk
Once you've stopped giggling over the phrase "pea milk," there are some serious environmental benefits to consider here. Yellow peas (cue stray giggles) grow in areas that get lots of rain (in Ripple's case, France, so some shipping considerations should be taken into account), meaning they need little or no irrigation. As legumes, they also naturally fix nitrogen in the soil, which helps set the stage for the next crop without the use of artificial fertilizers. Ripple, which also makes its bottles from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic, is using venture capital to lead the pea milk revolution.
Unfortunately, these taste testers are not joining in. The viscous, beige liquid smelled musty and tasted mustier. If you can stomach those thick, slimy dregs, the burnt rubber aftertaste should be enough to put you off of pea milk. Its unfortunate taste came through even stronger on cereal—not even trusty Berry Bunnies could save our taste buds. The bunnies looked blissfully buoyant at first, but the gritty taste somehow permeated every one of their pores. In coffee, the pea milk separated like the oil and water in a grade-school science experiment. The milk begins marbled, and slowly floats to the top (not unlike your soul separating from your pea-milk-drenched taste buds). Somehow, it was least offensive on the cookie. It's hard to taste the pea milk in the spongy dipped bits—but where is the joy in dunking a cookie if you can't finish the glass?
So Delicious Coconut Milk
Not to be confused with canned coconut milk used in curries, the Unsweetened Organic Coconut Milk beverage from So Delicious comes in a carton nearly indistinguishable from its lactose-laden brethren in the supermarket's refrigerated aisle. Unlike dairy farming, coconut farming is relatively low impact, and coconuts may be able to sequester carbon in the soil and offset carbon dioxide production in the atmosphere, according to the Philippine Coconut Authority. Coconuts also require little water to produce, but they are often sourced from tropical areas and thus incur some impact from transportation.
If only this coconut milk could have transported us to a tropical island. Alas, this watery drink, which quickly separated into chalky particulates, has a flavor that can best be described as "aggressively neutral," and the milk itself leaves a dustlike coating on the glass—in lieu of "legs," an actual sommelier term for the streaks that form within drinking vessels. The cookie refused to retain any of the liquid from its dunk test. The strange metallic taste this milk bestowed on cereal rendered the Berry Bunnies nearly inedible. And it not only soured coffee, but also compromised its aesthetics by contributing sketchy-looking floating white flecks. Categorize this milk under "Does not play nicely with others."
Forager Cashew Milk
Cashews taste of salvation for awkward writers at fancy parties—"Oh good, a delicious snack for me to keep my hands busy"—but Forager's Unsweetened Plain Cashew Milk bucks the trend. It manages to be simultaneously smoky and bland, with a chalky aftertaste that coats the tongue. The blue-grayish tinge is amplified in the cereal, which became soggy and flavorless. Cashew milk made for a thin, watery, and flavor-compromising addition to a morning cup of Joe. The cookie escaped relatively unscathed, save for too-light saturation. But cashews, unlike almonds, grow in regions that are less water-scarce than California, and they thus exert less stress on the land. Also unlike the almond, the cashew is not technically a nut—it's a drupe. By this fact, and by once-lofty expectations for cashew milk, we feel duped.
Tempt Hemp Milk
The misguided mid-century disdain for hippies centered mostly on a perception of their outsized affection for trees, propensity for flower crowns, and sartorial predilection toward hemp. That cartoonish image is right in one regard: hemp's eco-credibility makes it a good choice for any tree hugger. Hemp does not require intensive farming. It is hardy, grows quickly, naturally suppresses weeds, resists many diseases, and requires little watering. This 20th-century hippie, however, couldn't stomach hemp it in its liquid form. Tempt Hemp Milk tasted slightly of grass (no, not that grass—hemp milk won't get you high) and leaves a lingering, sooty aftertaste. In coffee, without continuous and vigorous titration, it separates into a curdled, pock-marked suspension. The cereal and cookie are both overwhelmed by the taste. While we can't help but hug every tree we see (and who doesn't love a good flower crown?), we won't be adding hemp milk to our dairy-free rotation any time soon.
Oatly Oat Milk
"Wow, no cow!" boasts Oatly's expertly branded packaging. The marketing-savvy Swedish company combines humor and logic to tout the sustainability factor of its bovine-free milk—but can the taste compete with the cheek? Oat milk poured with the consistency of milk, but had a distinct and initially off-putting beige hue. Alone, oat milk tasted like the milk left behind at the bottom of a bowl of Cheerios. Naturally, it paired perfectly with cereal. It also complemented the cookie's sweetness. The barista version, which supposedly steams very well, was especially nice in coffee, with just a hint of wheat and a warm, coating taste reminiscent of hot oatmeal on a chilly morning.
We hope this guide has proven helpful for your quest to quench your ecofriendly milk fix. In any case, we propose a toast to celebrate the ever-expanding array of options to meet your alternative dairy needs. Cheers!
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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