It can be a challenge to navigate which lifestyle trends are still socially acceptable. The latest controversy? Almond milk. With growing concerns over the dairy alternative’s effects on the environment, some view almond milk’s rise to beverage supremacy as outdated as wearing a fur coat or ordering veal.
Almond milk sales exceeded $1 billion in the United States in 2018, according to Nielsen, and the popular beverage even managed to find its place at Dunkin’ locations around the country. But headlines detailing almond milk’s effects on the environment, and specifically honeybees, have caused some establishments in the Boston area to ditch the popular nut-based drink.
At Lower Mills Tavern in Dorchester, Executive Chef Cara Nance stopped serving almond milk about three weeks ago.
“We’ve actually completely moved away from it,” says Nance, who says her “mind was blown” by the stories of water waste and the effects of almond farming on honeybees. As a vegan, Nance says the climate and environmental impacts of her choices have always been important to her, and that’s one of the reasons she has added several plant-based options to the menu recently.
“I didn’t want to be one person for myself, and then a different person for the restaurant,” she said.
Nance’s concerns aren’t unfounded. It requires 130 pints of water (74 liters) to produce a single glass of almond milk — more water than any other dairy alternative, according to a 2018 study by the University of Oxford. And since bees are necessary for pollinating almond crops, Seventy percent of commercial bees in the United States are used to pollinate almonds, with more than one-third of them dead by the season’s end last year, according to a recent story in the Guardian. (The Almond Board of California disputes the Guardian’s article, saying they are “committed to protecting and improving honey bee health.”)
At Juliet in Union Square, service manager Ariel Knoebel announced in the restaurant’s newsletter that they would no longer serve almond milk because “it didn’t feel to me that serving an almond milk latte would be a simple force of good in a complicated world.” When asked what led her to make that decision, Knoebel says she started thinking about the implications of almond milk one day while making a latte for a customer.
“We make a lot of decisions based on sustainability in our sourcing here,” says Knoebel, who cites Juliet’s use of whole animals in order to pay a premium to farmers and cause less waste.
“We were using a conventionally-farmed almond milk,” says Knoebel, but it didn’t “feel in line with who we are and a lot of what we stand for as a business.” A California native, she had read about almond farming in her home state, and how it was affecting honeybees. “That was on my mind, as well as how the chronic drought conditions are not helped by how water-intensive almonds are. So I was thinking about all those things and thinking what if we, like, don’t do this?”
Instead, both Lower Mills Tavern and Juliet offer oat milk as a non-dairy option. But some customers are still seeking out an almond-based choice, too. At Nourish Your Soul, which opened its third location on the second floor of Lululemon on Newbury Street in November, owner Susan Cabana makes coffee and smoothies with almond milk.
“In our business, it’s probably equal between almond and cashew milk,” says Cabana, who has always made her brand’s smoothies and coffee drinks using homemade almond and cashew milks from raw, organic nuts she sources from local vendors as much as possible. But she says her nut milks are a far cry from the mass-produced version you grab in the supermarket.
“Most store-bought almonds milks have about 2 percent almonds,” says Cabana, who points out that supermarket brands tend to be filled with preservatives, pesticides and added sugars. “In my almond milk, it’s probably 20 percent almonds, so you’re really getting the nutrients of the almond in the milks.”
By making everything herself, Cabana has more control over the ingredients in her products. “You’re fueling your body with real food that’s providing nutritional value, so I think it’s really important,” she says.
Back at Lower Mills Tavern, there haven’t been any complaints about the lack of almond milk on the menu. In fact, it’s only been positive feedback.
“I just want to make as many options for as many people as humanly possible to be able to come here and eat and drink and have a good time,” says Nance. “And also not kill the honeybees.”