The value of cow-free milk | Columnists – San Mateo Daily Journal

Student News

Move over, dairy. Plant-based milk is here and here to stay. In the past few years, cow’s milk has not been the only option crowding grocery stores in the dairy aisle. Coffee shops now offer a number of dairy alternatives buyers can add to their cup of joe. BART ads highlight new plant-based options to riders heading to work. “Milk” used to just mean milk coming from the mammary glands of an animal (typically a cow, goat or sheep). But now, milk is made of almonds, coconuts, even quinoa. Sales in the milk industry have plummeted severely; according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average person consumed 247 pounds of milk in 1975, compared to 146 pounds in 2018. 

During World War II, dairy farmers had boosted production of milk to send supplies to soldiers fighting overseas. When the war ended, farmers had a lot of milk produced but a lack of interested consumers. Thus, the government stepped in, creating programs from the USDA that stated the benefits of dairy to the general public. Through a combination of gross advertising and the power of huge dairy corporations, the milk industry, with ties to the USDA, was able to brainwash the world into the importance of drinking milk. 

However, in the 21st century, the birth of health and environment conscious movements have driven more and more consumers to buy “morally correct” or ethical goods. With more transparency in the realities of the dairy industry, the trend has shifted toward spending money on alternatives. 

Alternative milks are usually composed of some kind of seed, nut or grain and a lot of water. To imitate the thick creaminess of milk, they add emulsifiers such as rapeseed oil or xanthan gum. Even so, alternative milks are overall much healthier for the planet and the body than traditional cow’s milk. According to an Oxford study, dairy uses around nine times more land than non-dairy options and produces three times more greenhouse gasses (not to mention the methane gas cows emit). The dairy industry has been numerously attacked for its irreversible, detrimental effects on the environment, animals and our bodies. 

Almond milk is currently the most sold plant-based milk in the United States. In the past five years, almond milk sales have skyrocketed by 250%. 

However, the popular vegan alternative comes with a couple of environmental setbacks. It takes more than a gallon of water to produce a single almond and 130 pints (16.25 gallons) to produce one glass of almond milk. Eighty percent of almonds grow in California’s dry Central Valley region, an area prone to many droughts. Not only are almonds extensive water soakers, the popular nut is also decimating millions of pollinating bees due to the immense amount of pesticides used. 

One plant-based “milk” has had all of the craze recently — oat milk. Sales in oat milk have skyrocketed from $4.4 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019, according to Bloomberg Business, and is projected to continue growing. 

As currently most of the oats produced goes to animal feeds, oat milk is one of the most sustainable milk options for the environment. In my opinion, it is also the creamiest and tastiest, resembling most to a glass of cow’s milk. 

The only downside is that many oats are mass-produced and sprayed with Roundup (even some that claim to be organic), a pesticide containing glyphosate, a possible carcinogen. Glyphosate is used for weed control and was deemed harmless to humans when invented in 1970s, as it only inhibited the enzyme used in protein synthesis for plant growth, but has recently been shown to increase cancer risk by 41%. 

Critics of alternative milks say that the Vitamin D, calcium, phosphorous, potassium and protein found in cow’s milk is crucial to a healthy, balanced diet. Though cow’s milk is high in calcium, it actually is harder for our bodies to absorb than calcium that is found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or kale. 

Before purchasing alternative milks, make sure to examine labels to ensure that the beverages don’t contain excess additives or sugar. With everything, it’s perhaps best to go for moderation even with alternative milks for the healthiest diet. The safest milk might just be Mother Nature’s — water.

Erika Pilpre is a junior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at

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