If you’ve recently stopped by the Lion’s Den, LMU’s student-run coffee shop, you may have spotted an addition to the menu: oat milk. As the demand for non-dairy products has drastically increased in recent years, the Den is one of many establishments accommodating to the public's desire and the needs of the diminishing environment.
“We started carrying oat milk just under a month ago and it has had overwhelmingly positive feedback. We order the maximum amount of supply that our vendor can provide and we still sell out each week," said junior dance major and Lion’s Den manager, Gwyn Tanner.
Taste preference and health benefits aside, the national increase in non-dairy products moves the environmental battle in a positive direction as the harmful effects of dairy farms decrease. Dairy farming is no friend to climate change, as the cows require a significant amount of feed and grains, which usually use harmful pesticides and fertilizers.
“After the cows eat that feed, they release methane through their digestive systems, and then their manure also produces lots of greenhouse gases,” said National Resource Defense Council policy specialist Sujatha Jahagirdar Bergen in an interview with NRDC. The methane and other gasses released create a warming effect in the air and add to the progression of climate change, as nitrous oxide’s warming pollutant is about 298 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, according to the NRDC.
As fighting climate change gained more social support from the public, non-dairy products garnered more popularity, as coffee drinkers opted for substitutes. Soy, oat, almond, coconut and rice milk are all positive alternatives that leave less of an impactful carbon footprint. While one kilo-calorie (kcal) of cow’s milk takes about 14 kcals of fossil fuels to produce, 3.2 kcals of soybeans take only one kcal of fossil fuels, according to the NRDC.
One 200 mL glass of cow’s milk uses around 120 L of water to produce, while oat milk requires only around 20 L. Comparatively, almond milk uses around 80 L of water per glass, which may not be ideal for environmentalists but still a positive progression from dairy, according to BBC News. When choosing a non-dairy alternative, soy or oat milk has the lowest overall carbon footprint.
Many passionate vegans and non-dairy supporters also feel dairy farms are ethically unjust due to animal cruelty common on many farms. According to a report by the Humane Society of the United States, “In the United States in 2008, more than 9.3 million cows were used for milk production and approximately 2.6 million dairy cows were slaughtered, composing 7.7% of all federally inspected commercial cattle slaughter.” While the natural life expectancy of cattle is usually around 20 years, the average dairy cow only lives for about five years.
“I think that lactose-free alternatives are better for the environment and humans,” said freshman international relations major Joshua Selvaratnam. “Environment-wise, milk companies are pretty brutal and have a common trend of animal abuse. Also, cow’s milk does not have proven health benefits in comparison to the alternatives. Alternative milk, like soy milk and oat milk, provide less fat concentrations and thus are healthier.”
However, non-dairy substitutes do come with their own set of challenges, as these alternatives require more processing before distribution and consumption. The additional processing may take more time and energy, but justify the water usage and fossil fuels saved compared to dairy farms.
For those who prefer dairy for health reasons or taste preferences, choosing local or organic brands can decrease the effect of transportation emissions. Other ways to help slow the progression of climate change can include decreasing consumption of butter, cheeses and yogurt — as all three require immense amounts of milk. As climate change progressively gets worse, the global public must be called to action and take physical changes in order to salvage our planet.
This is the opinion of Riley Hetherington, a freshman communications studies major from San Diego, California. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email email@example.com.