Got milk? Not this month!
May is a milk-free month at Ecojustice's Vancouver office. Read on to find out why.
by Hilary Miller, Ecojustice staff
These days, in the lunchroom of Ecojustice’s Vancouver office, the conversation often turns to sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions. Since we finished our carbon audit and launched our 12 Months of Greening Initiative, we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the impact that seemingly innocuous activities have on the environment.
Riding the heels of Takeaway Container Free Month, Mark, our controller, suggested we have a Dairy Free Month. This suggestion arose from a discussion about the impacts of having milk or cream in our daily coffee. Indeed, according to Mike Berners-Lee (author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything), milk is responsible for two-thirds of the total footprint of a cup of tea or coffee.
Our first thought was to replace our milk with the usual suspects — soy and almond milk. But Susan, one of our staff scientists, asked us if soy milk was really more environmentally-sound than locally-produced organic milk. Though plant-based milk alternatives capture carbon from the atmosphere (while milk cows produce methane), there are other issues. Some soy is genetically engineered and some researchers have even linked soy farming in Brazil to deforestation.
Other milk alternatives can lack in protein, nutrients and some may be high in carbohydrates. Some, like coconut milk, are transported from great distances before they end up on our tables, while others, like rice milk, are typically made in energy intensive factories. As is often the case with environmental problems, we started with a seemingly simple solution, only to have it spin off into a slew of more complex issues. After days of lunchroom debate, and a considerable amount of Internet sleuthing, we’ve come away with some lessons to share. No matter what you drink, try to:
- Buy local
Local means less GHGs emitted to transport products and less energy expended storing and refrigerating products. Chemicals used in refrigeration are contributors to GHG outputs, as is the electricity used to refrigerate — ergo the less refrigeration needed, the smaller the product’s footprint.
- Watch out for additives
Read the labels of the products you buy, especially when it comes to milk substitutes. Many of the milk alternatives include not-so-healthy additives like corn syrup solids, fructose, and carrageenan. Some of these have been shown to contribute to obesity, cancer and other health problems.
- Buy organic
The major concerns we had with milk (agriculture production for feed) and other milk alternatives (agriculture) were the various environmental problems associated with agriculture: intense water and pesticide use, deforestation and the growth of monoculture, to name a few. Organic doesn’t necessarily address every problem, but it is a way to ensure that fewer chemicals enter our food systems.
We acknowledge that banning milk and take-away containers won’t translate into immediate and dramatic results for the environment, but it’s a start. Awareness and knowledge are key. We should think about where our food comes from, what processes were used to make it, and be able to make informed decisions as consumers. Here at Ecojustice, we are reconditioning ourselves and using our dollars as votes for the type of world we want to live in.