As Fonterra is projecting multi million dollar losses for the second year in a row, it is clear the writing is on the wall for dairy as more and more Kiwis turn to plant milks. 22nd August is International Plant Milk Day and there is now a different plant milk for each day of the week available right here in New Zealand. As the country’s green credentials are, like the cows, dragged through the mire over the winter cropping issue, diversifying into crops is becoming a very sound alternative for many dairy farmers.
The demand for plant-based alternatives has skyrocketed over the past two years and seems set to increase exponentially as more people eschew dairy. Every month another dairy business goes out of business as globally the market price drops and demand decreases, whilst costs of production are set to increase. Dairy is on the decrease for many reasons, including the massive use of resources, health benefits for people and the suffering of dairy cows.
Even here in New Zealand, it can take up to 2000 litres of water to produce just one litre of milk, not to mention the problems in certain areas of nitrate runoff causing river pollution, reducing our water quality, all the while taking up precious groundwater in traditionally dry areas of the country. Dairy cows need a lot of grassland and New Zealand is rightly proud of the fact that they are eating grass and not in feedlots. There is a big issue with the winter cropping that many dairy farms employ and the fact that so many cows exist is pushing up our greenhouse gas emissions, burping methane in huge quantities and of course breathing out carbon dioxide. Then there’s their consumption of palm kernal extract adding to the deforestation of Indonesia and orangutan habitats.
As people become more aware of the need to change the way we live, certain choices are being made. When you choose a plant milk you can be sure the resources used were far lower than the dairy counterpart (no matter what Fonterra scientists will try to spin to you). We do not expect our dairy farmers to shut up shop overnight, but there is a high need for diversification. Many Kiwi dairy farmers are already exploring growing plants alongside their current dairy business. Hemp is often a great choice for such people as it grows in a diversity of environments, doesn’t require pesticides, herbicides or much in the way of fertiliser. The time for New Zealand to get with the 21st Century has come! We need government incentives to help farmers diversify and not bear the brunt of the cost. They need to be rewarded for doing their part for the Zero Carbon Bill.
Why not check out all the different options? Today’s plant milks are no longer just soy, rice and almond, now there are milks made from oats, coconut, cashews and even hemp, the next new delicious and nutritious milk out on the market. Hemp has a great protein profile and with omegas 3 and 6 in the right balance, it is ideal to keep your skin and tissue supple and supplies all the essential amino acids. Whichever plant milk you enjoy, you are not getting any saturated fats or cholesterol, while some such as soy and oat, actively reduce your blood cholesterol.
The truth is that the only one who needs cow’s milk is a calf, there is nothing in it that humans really need once they are weaned. It is purely habit, taste and marketing that keep people consuming dairy products. Plant-based milks however have varying levels of proteins, healthy fats, sugars and there are many Kiwi athletes who drink them for the nutritional benefits they gain. Not just athletes who are looking for particular nutritional profiles, those who are lactose intolerant can at last revel in the proliferation of all the different plant milks. Many simply enjoy the taste, many are seeking low fat alternatives, others are aware of the resource cost of dairy and of course there are those who choose plant-based for ethical reasons. Whatever your reason for trying plant-based, the numbers are growing and are set to continue to do so.
Why not take up the dairy free challenge for the week 22nd to 29th August to celebrate Plant Milk Day and get your chance to try one of the 34 vegan cheeses available in NZ!