By Ghanim al-Sulaiti
Every few months, articles calling the sustainability of almond milk come into question. Earlier this week The Guardian published a lengthy article about the connection between the almond industry and the honey industry titled ‘Like sending bees to war: the deadly truth behind your almond-milk obsession’. The topic went viral.
It’s true that the relationship between the almond industry and honey industry has gone too far. The bee mortality rate is too high and is unacceptable.
While many fruits and vegetables can be pollinated without bees, almonds require honey bees for pollination. If there are no honey bees, there are no almonds. 80% of the world’s almonds are produced in California. Commercial pollination of almond trees take place over a span of 22 days in February. This is an impossible task for local bees to complete: there are too many trees to pollinate and few bees. To pollinate the trees, almond growers must import bees from all over the world — and millions are being killed as a result.
I agree — it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain this relationship given the high rate of almond production humans are demanding. But boycotting almonds and relying on another high-impact crop is not going to solve the industry’s problems — what needs to happen is a shift in the agriculture industry as a whole. We need to start consuming ethically.
Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude the exploitation of animals as far as possible, and all foods that come from plants are technically vegan. So while honey is not vegan, almonds are vegan. As scientists point out, exploitation of bees is definitely present in the almond industry — but this is not necessarily a vegan problem, this is a ‘human problem’ — specifically a problem with the commercial agriculture industry.
Apples, avocados, beans, broccoli, carrots, onions, lettuces, tangerines, watermelon, pumpkin, squash, cherries, cucumbers, tomatoes, and hundreds of other crops all currently rely on commercially-raised honeybee colonies for pollination — and too, need reform in how they are sourced. The supermarkets food companies who boast about being Vegan need to ensure they are doing so ethically. Reducing the supply of almond milk wouldn’t be a disaster, in fact it would help protect the bees and meanwhile us vegans could consume alternatives such as oat milk, rice milk, and coconut milk.
The truth remains that while the environmental impact of almonds may be higher than the impact of other plants used to make non-dairy milk, almond milk is still more sustainable than cow’s milk — so as long as you’re buying a non-dairy option, you’re making a positive choice. Yes, the world needs to change how it is sourcing. But dietary choices that reduce animal exploitation are still valuable even if some animal exploitation would still occur.
The author is an expert in vegan wellbeing and health. Instagram handle: @Ghanim92
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