Cow milk or Oat Milk - that is the question. Is cow milk really that bad compared to the vegan and earth-friendly alternative that is oat milk?
In recent years, with an abundance of new ways to save the planet, cow's milk has faced a new rival: oat milk. There are multiple factors that make the whole topic both confusing and unresolved: to drink cow's milk or not to drink cow's milk? This is one the million dollar questions of the decade. For those who have personal reasons for choosing one type of milk over the other, such as lactose intolerance, veganism, or celiac disease, the decision is easy. But what about those who have no reason to prefer one option to the other and are faced with an avalanche of conflicting and confusing information?
What most are likely concerned about, given the climate crisis and the presence of plastic everywhere, is the environmental impact of these two drinks. The impact of cow’s milk production on the planet has led many to believe that it contributes to global warming on a larger level because of its methane emissions, as opposed to the production of oat milk. Although this is partly true, since oat milk has a much lower climate impact, with much lower direct greenhouse gas emissions (16-41%) as seen in an article from ScienceDirect, it is important to consider the perspective from which the results are observed. If protein is used as a measurement for environmental impact, cow's milk turns out to have the same emissions as oat milk [MatLust]. What tips the scale in favour of oat milk is that cow's milk has the highest land use per litre of any beverage, and that oat milk’s by-products are used to feed animals. Although often forgotten, dairy cows also eat many by-products from plant-based food production, sugar beet pulp, distillers grains, and wet corn gluten feed.
The impact of cow’s milk production on the planet has led many to believe that it contributes more to global warming with its methane emissions, as opposed to the production of oat milk.
Health concerns also influence consumer behaviour in regards to which milk they ought to choose. For example, many people have trouble digesting milk, so oat milk is a good plant-based alternative because it is similar in consistency and appearance to cow’s milk and is almost identical when added to coffee and tea. However, it cannot compete nutritionally with cow's milk, especially as a source of protein. Whole fat milk, produced by dairy cows, contains three times the energy of oat milk, making it less energy-efficient. Additionally, the protein quality of plant proteins is not as good as animal proteins.
Health concerns also influence consumer behaviour in regards to which milk they ought to choose.
Furthermore, many cannot afford to prioritise environmental concerns and have to choose the cheapest alternative. For example, the cheapest milk in Aldi, the cheapest supermarket in Ireland, is Clonbawn (€1.05/l), which undercuts oat milk (Actileaf, €1.49/l). As not everyone can afford organic milk or oat milk, some may have to go with the cheaper option.
Many cannot afford to prioritise environmental concerns and have to choose the cheapest alternative.
Oat milk has the added advantage of being able to be made at home simply by mixing oats and water, while making milk at home to reduce costs would require a cow. However, according to an article by Yonghui Yu et al., homemade oat milk would not have the same consistency and appearance as commercial oat milk because it would lack the various steps necessary to achieve the desired consistency.
Given these facts, the best alternative in terms of cost, environmental impact, and health is the one that is best suited to the customers specific needs. In matters concerning finances, the body, and moral dilemmas, the customer's preferences must dominate. As such, the choice between cow's milk and oat milk is up to the buyer, and the impact of such a decision will be negligible. The decision should be well-informed, personalised and one they should be able to stand behind as no one is better suited to know their own needs.