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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Go green, cut milk

Milk has been a part of many cultures for as long as milk-producing animals have been around; there is even a National Milk Day, January 11, in the United States. Some milk products, such as cheese, have even developed a sort of personality cult. However, the environmentally conscious person knows that cows are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – globally, cows account for around 10 percent of all greenhouse gases (mostly methane). So how do we, as a society, balance the cultural importance of milk and an effort to reduce our carbon footprint?

For starters, there are milk-producing animals other than cows who leave a much lower environmental impact. For example, goat’s milk and its derivatives (such as goat’s milk cheese and goat’s milk yogurt) are becoming more widespread in supermarkets. Not only do goats produce a much lower carbon footprint than their bovine counterparts; they also eat mostly brush and weeds rather than grass, as cows do, helping restore pasture quality.

Are goat’s milk products simply not making the cut? Are you craving the flavor of the dairy you grew up with? If so, there are ways to consume cow’s milk more ethically. The milk and milk products that the majority of Americans consume are from factory farms. Factory farms are large-scale production centers where meat, dairy and eggs are produced. While they are necessary to feed the ever-growing population, unfortunately a major side effect is the animals on these farms living under horrendous conditions, and also producing less healthy meat and other products. The 2008 documentary “Food, Inc.” exposes these factory farms and similar businesses. If it is sustainable for you to do so, try to buy your milk and milk products, as well as other animal products, from local farmers – not only are you supporting small businesses by doing so, but you are also buying healthier products produced under more ethical conditions.

Should you cut dairy out of your diet entirely? That is a surefire way to reduce your carbon footprint and a choice that some people make. If this is a path you’re thinking of pursuing, ask yourself how important dairy is to you. While reducing your carbon footprint is certainly important, don’t deprive yourself of things that make you happy. You can take a mix-and-match approach: for example, if you really love cheese, you may choose to continue eating cheese while switching to plant-based milk if you drink milk or use it in your coffee.

On the topic of plant-based milk, not all plant-based milks are created equal. For example, almond milk requires more water to make than other plant-based milk alternatives, since almonds take large amounts of water to grow. Making the problem worse, over 80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, which is already the site of many droughts. The most sustainable milk alternative is oat milk, followed by soy milk.

In short, given how much people love dairy, I do not think it is fair to ask an entire population to stop consuming it. However, there are steps individuals can take to make their dairy consumption more sustainable and ethical.

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