Dietary preference is just that: preference. Someone with a dietary restriction is an entirely different monster. Keeping that in mind, there's no denying the fact that certain foodstuffs doing damage to the environment. Regardless of how you react to certain products (today, we're focusing on milk and cow-milk alternatives), certain things drain natural resources at alarming rates. A prime example of this is dairy milk, and one reason why more people than ever are turning to non-dairy milks as a sustainable dietary preference.
When it comes to keeping Mother Earth happy and healthy, more and more studies show that cows can be almost unbelievably detrimental toward the environment. When comparing a classic cow byproduct, milk, to dairy alternatives, you can't get away from the fact that dairy will nearly always be less sustainable than a plant.
Thus, we've compiled a list of plant-based alternatives to dairy. While, at face level, they're all more sustainable than dairy-based milk, there's no ultimately accurate way to compare which is the "most" sustainable. Considering these options, though, is a great first step toward turning Mother Nature's ever-graying hair green again.
1. Coconut Milk
If we had to guess which milk has the lowest negative impact on our planet's health, we'd probably be inclined to choose coconut.
Growing coconuts doesn't require nearly as much water as cows do, and the greenhouse gasses emitted during the process are fairly benign in scope comparatively. Does it taste like a cow's milk? No, but none of these options will.
2. Pea Milk
Watch your spelling on this one. Milk coming from tiny green peas is here, and it is probably better for the environment than cow's milk. An article on The Guardian issues a warning for arguably the prominent pea-based brand, though.
The brand is called Ripple. They say, "In Ripple's case ... amid its eco-friendly marketing, company's website fails to mention its peas are from France." Peas require less milk than cows, sure, but where dairy-alternative milk is sourced from and shipped to does make a difference.
3. Almond Milk
You probably want to chastise us right now. "Almond milk is killing California! How could you possibly say it's sustainable?" You just answered your own question there. Yes, almonds produced en masse drain a Titanic-sized boatload of water to maintain. If you're purchasing locally sourced almond milk, though, things change a little.
Some sources show that California produces between 80 and 90 percent of the world's almonds. Don't get your almonds from California unless you live there, and you'll be cutting down on that massively scaled, water-guzzling production as well as the detrimental aspects associated with shipping. Supporting your local growers is pretty awesome, too.
4. Sheep Milk
Sheep's milk ain't baaaaaaad. (Couldn't resist an awful joke, there.) The Ecologist states that:
"Sheep are among the most useful of domesticated animals, producing a sustainable supply of milk, meat and wool. A hardy species, sheep thrive on hillsides unusable for agriculture, and, like goats, produce far less methane than cows. Their milk contains up to twice as many minerals (including calcium, phosphorous, zinc and the important B vitamins) as cow's milk."
Sure, it may be a little fattier than cow's milk, but sheep will go places cows will not. Literally. When you factor in the other products you can shave off of a sheep's body, they seem like quite a great, green alternative.
5. Buffalo Milk
When we saw this, we couldn't not include it. The Ecologist has this to say about milk from our friend Tatanka:
"Buffalo milk might sound a bit gimmicky, but unlike the modern dairy cow, buffalo can thrive without the need for high levels of concentrated, hormone-infused feed. Grass, clover and hay make up the bulk of a buffalo's diet; with bone meal, fishmeal and genetically modified feed rarely making it into their troughs."
Water isn't the only way to train our planet's resources. Natural food fueling the buffalo's diet ensures that we're not wasting natural resources in facilities intended to process unnatural feed.
Long story short: If you drink non-dairy milks, make it local. If you're drinking an animal's milk, make sure the beast is raised as naturally as possible. If the buffalo lives next door, that's even better.