Almond milk: A worthy investment?

Opinion by Ramya Balasingam
April 12, 2016, 11:59 p.m.

Almonds are unquestionably a healthy snack. In addition to providing protein, antioxidants and other forms of nutrition that are normally attributed to vegetables and fruits, eating almonds daily leads to a 3.5 percent lower chance of heart risk ten years later. However, the sharp increase in almond popularity and demand over the past decade has raised environmental and ecological concerns, mainly because almond farming is so taxing on water resources. Additionally, the increase in almond popularity as a result of perceived health benefits has also led to an increasing demand for products such as almond milk, which have no real nutritional value.

California is a leading player in the almond industry. In fact, the Almond Board of California’s website is simply, revealing the early dominance the state attained in this industry. Eighty-two percent of the world’s almonds are grown there, constituting a multi-billion-dollar industry in a state that is undergoing its worst drought in recent history. Each almond requires a little over a gallon of water to produce, making almonds one of the most water-intensive crops to farm. Additionally, because of the growing demand for almonds, there has been a 44-percent increase in land dedicated to almond farming over the past decade.

Naturally, ecological concerns have arisen regarding almond farming. For instance, water diverted to almond farmers has led to lowered water levels in California’s rivers, which in turn has impacted the survival of endangered species of salmon. If this unbalanced distribution of water resources persists, the salmon might die because of a disease called gill rot.

The almond industry also relies heavily on honeybees to pollinate almond trees. The California almond industry alone requires over 1 million bee colonies. But many of the bees used in the almond industry die due to pesticide exposure, which is problematic because bee populations in general are in decline.

Almond farming does not have purely ecological implications; over-pumping aquifers can threaten existing roads and can cause them to collapse. Thus, almond farming can also be harmful to existing infrastructure and has the potential to irrevocably alter the lives of many people in California.

The high demand for almonds has also led to misplaced interest in products such as almond milk which is marketed as being a healthy alternative to regular milk. Research suggests that there are just over a handful almonds in a half-gallon carton of almond milk; in fact it has been shown that in Alpro, a UK almond milk brand, almonds make up two percent of the beverage. Additionally, the reason almond milk is so low in calories compared to a serving of almonds is because it’s mostly water; almond milk is generally about 30 calories a cup, compared to a serving of almonds, which is 160 calories. Thus, as Business Insider puts it, “to get the nutritional value of a handful of almonds, you’d have to drink not just a few cups of the almond milk but an entire carton of it.”

But despite this research, almond milk sales continue to rise, and customers — convinced that they are making healthy decisions — are ripped off. In the U.S., almond milk sits at the top of the plant-based milk market, making up two-thirds of the share. In July 2015, it was projected that the sales of alternative milks such as almond milk would reach almost $2 billion by 2016, with almond milk at the top.

The success of almond milk lies in its clever marketing and in its exploitation of consumers’ association of the word almond with healthy. But as consumers, it is our responsibility to understand what it is that we are paying so much for when we buy almond milk. A jug of almond milk, as stated in Mother Jones, contains “roughly 39 cents worth of almonds, plus filtered water and additives” and sells for over $3. As consumers, it is up to us to determine if this is a worthy investment.

But, more importantly, given the enormous negative ecological, environmental and even infrastructural implications of the almond industry, it is best if we avoid almond milk.


Contact Ramya Balasingam at ramyab ‘at’

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