Even before the California drought was threatening food security for basically every American, almond milk drinkers were being singled out. Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott lovingly scolded almond milk drinkers last year for partaking in “an abuse of a great foodstuff,” he wrote, noting that a protein-packed almond gets quite diluted in a jug of almond milk (which is mostly water)—a fool’s gold, of sorts. No longer could Californians sip their almond milk lattes in peace, they were now pariahs, wastefully sloshing around a few almonds in a whole lot of water for an over-priced latte they probably had to stand in line a half an hour to get. What a way to spend a Saturday (or so I’ve heard).
Almond milk is now so popular that it’s leading the nondairy milk category growth, which is expected to clock in at more than $1.7 billion by the end of next year. That’s a lot of nondairy.
Philpott may have sounded the alarm first, but there’s now a chorus of anti-almond-milkers out there saying that California, which is the world’s largest producer of almonds, can’t sustain the industry because of the extended drought now in its fourth year. Almonds use up about ten percent of the state’s agricultural water supply. Along with pistachios, that amounts to about 1.2 trillion gallons of water per year. Almond growers are reportedly even selling off their almond trees as lumber, rather than trying to revive their dying groves. Not exactly a happy story. But it’s not the end of the story, either.
“Almonds might take 10 percent of the state’s water,” reports Gizmodo, “but…they’re generating about 15 percent of the state’s total farming value and almost 25 percent of the agricultural exports from the state.”
Soy and rice milks aren’t much more drought-friendly than almonds, either, and they’re certainly not delivering the cash value of almonds. Rice requires more than 16 gallons of water per ounce, “It’s the most water-intensive crop and the fourth-biggest user of water, reports TakePart. And soymilk clocks in at more than 20 gallons. (It’s about 24 gallons for an ounce of almonds.)
But whatever you do, don’t run back to cow’s milk in light of the almond criticism (or the drought). “The crop that consumes the most water in California is alfalfa, which is largely grown as feed for cattle and dairy cows,” reports TakePart. “Pasture grown for grazing livestock is the third-largest water user. That means keeping cows fat (if not happy) consumes 2.7 trillion gallons of water a year.” That, of course, is on top of all the water the cows actually drink, not to mention the millions of gallons used in cleaning factory farms and slaughterhouses. If there’s a gross misuse of water happening in California, the livestock industry is conspicuously not raising its hand to volunteer any cutbacks. While residents are being forced to give up their lawns and decrease overall water usage, livestock producers don’t have to make any concessions at all. Almonds might be more water intensive than, say, carrots or lettuce, but they’re clearly not a problem crop.
In fact, if you live in California, you could do the state a lot of favors by continuing to support local agriculture, “Californians should not be eating less of California’s food, we should be eating more of it,” says Gizmodo. And that includes drinking California almond milk—or, better yet, making your own (it’s a lot easier than you probably think).
What will do the state a world of good during the drought is skipping the dairy—yes, that means cheese. Go ahead and ditch meat while you’re at it, that ounce of beef used 106 gallons of water. Not only are cow-based products not doing the state’s drought situation any good, they’re not all that healthy for you anyway. Or the cow. Can we really say that about almonds?
Almond milk image via Shutterstock