Veganism is the most effective way to combat climate change. A popular slogan used by proponents of the vegan diet.
One click on the internet and you can see Hundreds of headlines and news articles saying how huge chunks of Land are cleared everyday to make areas for Cattle farming and grazing.
As a result, a movement known as veganism has emerged.In dietary terms it means abstaining from all products derived partially or wholly from animal sources ( The vegan Society ) .
Veganism started as a fringe movement but in a short period of time it gained momentum and is mainstream now. Vegan or Veganism is usually a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment.
Vegans are frequently seen arguing that dairy and cattle production are harmful to the environment, some of the adverse effects Dairy farming have on the environment are air pollution ( greenhouse gases) , water pollution , resources uptake and deforestation but are not limited to this.Thanks to years of advancement and study( mostly done by vegan food producers). Veganism has now become a mainstream idea and so has vegan food.
Milk, one of the most popular and staple beverage in many parts of the world, is starting to fade with the advent of vegan milks like cashew milk, oat milk, almond milk, hemp milk( the most recent) and many more but one may ask how nutrient dense these products are and how credible they are as a source of balanced food. The doubt is genuine , The FDA itself had trouble using the term milk to refer to vegan milk in 2018.
The recent trend in the rise of vegan milk consumption is also due to :-
Concerns about inflammation
Concerns over antibiotics and hormones
Inflammatory bowel syndrome and much more.
Most non-dairy milk options tend to have lower calories (except soy, which has comparable calories) , less fat content (coconut milk is an exception) , more water content compared to dairy milk ( so might help with hydration but at this point it is irrelevant) , less protein ( except for soy milk).
Most of the non-dairy( vegan) options need to be fortified before they can be put on shelf for the consumers.
The main consumers of milk today are children and infants. One cup of milk (250ml) typically supplies us with 7- 8g of high-quality protein with a complete amino acid profile that most non-dairy alternatives lack. In addition milk is also a great source of calcium and vitD which is essential for the growth in toddlers .
A study ( Association between non cow milk beverage consumption and childhood height) revealed the relation between non-dairy milk consumption and shorter height in kids. There was an average height difference of 0.4 cm between non-dairy milk consumers and cow's milk consumers. ( Marie-Elssa Morency, Catherine S Birken, et. all , 2017).
Most proponents of the vegan diet also argue that dairy-free milk is good for the planet and uses fewer resources. Soy is one of the oldest and the original non-dairy options. It has a nutritional value comparable to that of milk, but the problem with soybeans is that it needs large land masses to grow, hence deforestation, and another problem with soybean production is the monoculture system. Under this system a single crop is grown year after year ensuring higher and stable yields . Soy doesn't require nitrogen as a fertilizer but it uses huge amounts of phosphorus fertilizer which can runoff and create dead zones in water bodies.
Almond milk, another alternative that is experiencing an increasing trend in consumption, comes from tree-grown nuts. 80% of the world's almonds are grown in California and this production and Consumer demand has increased several times over the past ten years.Almonds usually need to be pulverized , blended with water and then filtered to make almond milk.In theory, this seems like a healthier option for the planet since there are no associated greenhouse gases, but unfortunately, these nuts require large amounts of water to grow and produce milk.
These thirsty nuts have a huge water footprint and the real problem is these nuts are grown in California, a state with drought-like conditions. On an average an almond takes up to 3.2 gallons of water . I'm not saying they're worse or really bad, in fact it's a good option over dairy, but the problem is it uses a resource that is already scarce in an area. Another problem with almond milk is that though almonds are a dense source of nutrients , the process of turning it into milk involves a process that ends up eliminating most of the nutrients that were grown using the precious water. A resource already scarce. So at the end of the day, you drink a product that is little more than water and is nowhere near milk. My opinion would be to eat almonds in moderation
Oats milk is yet another option for vegans , it has been around for 3 decades now and in comparison uses less water and less landmass to grow , can be grown using 60% less energy required to produce cow milk and results in 80% less greenhouse gas emission . From a nutritional point of view it is more dense than almond milk but not as dense as soy , pea or hemp milk. The only issue related to oats is Glyphosate ( a herbicide). Farmers spray this on crops right before the harvest and its traces in food can be dangerous. Glyphosate is a known carcinogen ( can cause cancer) , can damage liver , kidneys and skin cells. Most of the brands that make oats milk do not use organic oats and even if they did the cost of the product would far exceed what the customer wants to pay at the moment. Now it might be a great option for the planet as it utilizes lower resources and comes closest to the texture and flavour of milk but it just can’t save the planet if consumers do not buy it.
There are a few more alternatives like hemp milk , rice milk ( also require huge amounts of water to grow rice) pea milk ( a dense nutrient source but tasteless). Now, if you compare all alternatives and cow's milk, you realize that too little research has been done from authentic sources and most of the studies and claims supporting vegan options come from the manufacturers themselves.
So my suggestion would be to choose cow milk if your aim is growth , if you have an infant at home, go for cow milk. Vegan options are great but they only help sustain life and cannot add value. They're helping to fight the climate crisis, but it's definitely not the #1 thing you can do about climate change, as many producers claim in their slogans.