Plant-based milks are a sustainable alternative to cow’s milk because they require less water, produce far less greenhouse gases, contain less additives, and are good for your health. The sustainable decision for plant milk lies in the type of milk that you are consuming and the effects that its transportation and ingredients have on the environment. At the end of this story you will find some recommendations and recipes for your ingredients and by-products.
This topic became of interest to me when I was taking a course at Acadia University called Sustainable Food Systems. During a couple of lectures, we discussed the strengths and weaknesses surrounding food miles, local products, and materials being extracted from other regions. My interest in these topics led me to conducting research on the effects that almond milk and cow’s milk have on the environment. My learnings were shocking and supported the material learnt in class. The most important thing I learnt was that switching to a plant-based milk is better for the environment, if done right! In sequence with the zero-waste movement, plant-based milks can be homemade using local ingredients, stored in a reusable container, and utilize the pulp by-products.
Environmental Impacts of Plant Milk
Plant-based products require less water than animal products. Therefore, one can assume that plant-based milks require less water than cow’s milk. On average, the total amount of water required to produce 1 liter of cow’s milk is just over 1000 liters. By choosing to consume a plant-based milk, you are reducing your water footprint substantially.
The production of plant-based milks creates little to no greenhouse gases and is often dependent on the consumer. The greenhouse gases that are produced occur during transportation of the ingredients. To avoid this, you can create your own plant milk at home using ingredients that are produced locally. For example, creating homemade almond milk in Halifax, Nova Scotia requires an abundance of almonds that are being transported from the state of California to Halifax. Oat milk is a good alternative to almond milk because the oats are produced in Canada, instead of transporting almonds up to 6,000 km away!
Pesticides may be used to grow and maintain the health of a fruit and nut. These chemicals promote food safety, and control weeds, plant pathogens, and insects. Although the chemicals may grow an industrial “appropriate” product, they do harm to the surrounding environment. Pesticides impact the loss of biodiversity, elimination of key species, water pollution, soil contamination, and pest resistance. You can avoid pesticides as an ingredient in your plant milk by getting to know your farmer and learning about their treatment, harvesting, and production procedures.
Good for your Health
You may be surprised to hear that plant-based milks are rich in vitamins and minerals. Some types of plant milks are enriched with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to create a product that only benefits the body. Soy milk is particularly rich in calcium. In addition, plant-based milks are usually lower in sugar compared to cow’s milk and contain more fibre or protein. Fortunately, plant-based milks do not contain an ingredient called lactose that is an allergen to individuals who are lactose intolerant. Therefore, plant-based milks can be used as a healthier alternative during baking or daily consumption for individuals with lactose allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances.
Use an ingredient for your plant milk that is friendly to your local economy and climate. Create your plant-based milk at home to control the water content, additives, and ingredients. Following the production, use the by-products accordingly. Plant-based milks are a great alternative for individuals who are vegan, and for those who wish to reduce their environmental impact and are looking to improve their health.
Plant Milk Recipe
1 cup of almonds, oats, soy beans, coconut…
5 cups of water
1 tbsp maple syrup
- Place the nuts, oats, or beans in a bowl. Cover with water and soak overnight.
- Drain the mixture.
- Add “fat”, 4 cups of water and maple syrup to a blender. Blend until smooth.
- Strain the blended mixture using a cheese cloth or nut milk bag.
- Set pulp remainders to the side and chill the plant milk for up to 2 weeks.
Freeze or store the pulp by-products from the production of plant-based milk. This tip works best with almond, oat, or coconut milk to create almond flour, oat flour, or coconut flour. Add the leftover pulp to a pan, separate the pulp to create a thin layer, and place in your oven at the lowest temperature (100-150 degrees F) for an hour. Dehydrate until the pulp turns into a powder consistent. Store in an airtight container and enjoy your flour for baking!
Do you consume plant-based milk? What is your favourite type?