In many places across the globe we now have the privilege of going into the supermarket and getting overwhelmed by the choice of plant-based milk options. From oat, soy, coconut, almond, rice, pea, and even macadamia, there is no longer an issue of a lack of plant-based milk alternatives being readily available to us. Dairy milk production in Australia is at its lowest level in 25 years, with growing concerns behind the ethics, health, and environmental impact behind it making individuals opt for plant-based alternatives instead.

One in six adults over the age of 18 in Australia currently identify as 100 per cent dairy free, and according to Dairy News Australia, sales for milk alternatives have grown by 48 per cent between 2016 to 2019. It is clear that a big change is occurring across the country in how we choose to consume milk, as many of us are prioritising kinder food options over unsustainable ones. Many people cannot tolerate dairy, which isn’t unfathomable as the general public has begun to recognise that dairy is not, and never was, created for human consumption. The purpose of cow’s milk is to grow a baby calf as rapidly as possible, and while dairy milk contains a high level of calcium and protein for humans, there is nothing that we need that cannot be obtained elsewhere. The growing environmental, health and animal welfare concerns around dairy are now recognised as so significant and detrimental to all involved that rejecting dairy milk products is slowly becoming the new norm.

With the abundance of plant-based milks available to us today, it can be overwhelming to decide which dairy-free option ticks all the boxes for us. This is why we have compiled our knowledge on the environmental versus taste and health of various dairy-free milk choices, and will leave it to you to decide what kind of plant-based milk suits you best.

So, how do different milks compare in their environmental impact?

Using graphs originally created by Our World in Data, we have compiled the environmental impacts of various milk options based upon the largest meta-analysis of food impacts to date. In this study, the authors looked at data across more than 38,000 commercial farms in 119 countries and quantified their environmental impacts per litre of milk considering the entire production chain – this extends from land-use change to on-farm production, processing, transport, and also packaging.

We are each responsible for making choices that reduce our impact on the environment. Cruelty aside, the dairy industry is an unsustainable industry that is wreaking havoc on our natural resources. If you are interested in learning the level of impact your daily intake of milk and other foods have on the environment, this Joseph Poore study has been made into a calculator that measures the direct carbon footprint our food choices contribute to the environment.

So, how do plant-based milks compare in their taste?

Oat milk is slightly sweet, with a consistency akin to that of low-fat cow’s milk. It is the perfect alternative in coffee, cereals, smoothies or just to drink! Oat milk has higher fibre than other plant milks available, as well as being a good source of protein. There is an ever expanding range of oat milks available in supermarkets, that can have huge variations in flavour from brand to brand. If you’re not sold after your first experience with oat milk, you may find another brand has a flavour you much prefer.

Almond milk is another great alternative to dairy milk. It is an excellent source of vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant. Almond milk is less suitable as an alternative for hot drinks (like coffee) due to its consistency. There are a vast number of brands that now have almond milk as a part of their range. Though still much more environmentally friendly than cow’s milk, it is worth considering that almond milk is more water intensive in its production than other plant milks.

Soy milk is one of the creamier options out there, and notably one of the most popular. Various studies have found that soy is the most nutritionally sound alternative and is a great source of protein with less saturated fat. Many soy milks are fortified with calcium and vitamins such as B12, making it a more well-rounded nutritional option choice for consumers. Soy milk also uses the least amount of water compared to other milk options, and its land use emissions are relatively low.

Rice milk is made from milled brown rice blended with water, and on average tends to be one of the cheapest plant-based alternatives. The protein content is quite low, and is naturally high in sugars, being twice as sugary as soy milk on average. Rice milk isn’t the most environmentally friendly option of all plant-based milks due to the required amount of water to grow it and its production of greenhouse gases, although it still stacks up better than its dairy milk counterpart.

The ever increasing number of brands producing dairy-free milks, butters, ice creams, cheeses, and yoghurts has made it easier than ever to move away from consuming dairy products. Cashew milk is growing in popularity due to its high fat content being a similar creamy consistency of cows milk, walnut milk for being high in omegas, and even pistachio milk for its flavour and texture. Cows suffer horrifically in the dairy industry, caught in a cycle of continuous artificial breeding, being separated from their calves and eventually being slaughtered when their milk production inevitably slows with age. As well as the harm that the cattle raising industries have on cows as individuals, we are now aware of its significant negative impact upon our environment. The promotion of dairy is also problematic, failing to recognise that many marginalised ethnic groups experience lactose intolerance, leaving them especially vulnerable to poor health after consuming dairy.

Nut milks can also be easier and generally more economical to make yourself at home, and we highly recommend checking out this article by Kitchn if you’d like to make it yourself!

So which milk will you choose? Let us know your choice in the comment section below!

Caitie Wilson

Caitie Wilson (she/her) is the Communications Manager at Kindness Project and also works as the Administrative, Social Media & Fundraising Manager at Farm Transparency Project. She became vegan after her studies at university with lecturer Peter Singer, and writes on collective liberation with the intention of creating compassion towards each other, towards animals and to our planet. Caitie is passionate about zero waste practices, and likes to experiment with vegan cooking in her spare time. She is currently making efforts towards living in an off-grid tiny home with her partner and rescue pup to direct her interest of sustainable living into her personal life.

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