Almonds and the Inconsistency of 5C Environmentalism

(Alexa Strabuk • The Student Life)

As I step into the shower in my flip flops, I remember to turn over the big red shower timer that my sponsor gave me when I was a freshman. The brightly covered timer reminds me to limit my shower times in order to save water. After my shower, I go to brush my teeth. There, above the sink, is an informational sticker stuck on the mirror, describing the drought and what I can do to combat it.

These stickers and timers are common in dorms and academic buildings throughout campus, and our administrators make a valiant attempt to get us to conserve water. However, while the college doesn’t want us wasting water by leaving the sink on when we brush our teeth, they do not seem to mind wasting water in other ways. For example, 5C dining halls serve unsustainable items like almond milk (which requires gallons of water to produce), and the 5C campuses use sprinklers to maintain their grassy landscaping.

In every dining hall at the 5Cs, there is a separate refrigerator that usually contains a few cartons of almond and soy milk, primarily for people who are lactose intolerant or have dairy allergies. I am completely in favor of serving soy milk, and I am glad that the colleges provide alternatives to milk for those who cannot or choose not to drink it for one reason or another. However, it seems slightly hypocritical for the dining halls to provide almond milk, because it is not, in my opinion, a sustainable alternative.

It takes an entire gallon of water to grow one almond. Each half-gallon carton of almond milk supposedly contains about 2 cups of almonds, or about 184 almonds. The almond milk in our dining halls is from Blue Diamond growers, who grow their almonds in California, so the 5C’s choice brand of almond milk affects California’s water supply directly. This water is all the more important considering the fact that California has been in a drought for the past 4 years.

Of course, almond milk is far from the least eco-friendly item served in the dining halls. The production of beef, which is often on the menu at the 5Cs, supposedly requires more than 106 gallons of water per ounce. The water used to grow almond milk is exponentially small compared to the amount of water that it takes to produce all of the beef that we consume at the Claremont Colleges, especially considering the fact that California is the fourth-highest beef-producing state in the U.S., producing almost 6 percent of the country’s beef, which means that some of our beef likely comes from in-state.

Furthermore, there was the 2015 lawsuit whereupon it was discovered that almonds may only make up two percent of the ingredients in Blue Diamond Almond milk, which is the brand that is present in Frary dining hall. Earlier that year, a British website alleged that almonds only make up a small portion of the ingredients in Almond Breeze, another popular almond milk brand. Subsequently, the Almond Board of California announced that Blue Diamond almond milk has a relatively similar makeup to that of Almond Breeze.

This revelation lead to the aforementioned lawsuit in which Blue Diamond was accused of false advertising. In short, it is possible that there aren’t actually that many almonds in the milk here at the dining halls, or anywhere for that matter. Also, I realize that the colleges only purchase a couple of cartons of almond milk per dining hall per day, which is relatively inconsequential in comparison to all of the water we use to shower and water the lawns.

However, this does not mean that the water we “use” on almond milk is inconsequential. It does mean that we use a lot of water for a lot of potentially unnecessary things, and therefore there are plenty of opportunities for us to reduce our usage. One of those opportunities would be to stop buying almond milk, or to purchase less of it. Another, perhaps more impactful opportunity, would be to reduce the extent to which we water the lawns, which are always a disturbingly perfect shade of emerald green. While I understand that it is important for Marston Quad to look nice for visitors, it would be wise to replace some of the grass in less populated areas with a more sustainable type of turf, such as mulch.

While I fully advocate switching to mulch and soy milk over grass and almond milk given the current water shortage, I have nothing inherently against nicely watered lawns or people who like Blue Diamond products in general. However, it is odd that the almond industry has successfully fooled 5C students, along with many other people in America, with their narrative that almond milk is a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to milk, when in actuality it uses quite a significant amount of water. If the 5Cs are serious about sustainability, they must curb their water waste. That just might mean no more almond milk, and it certainly means no more wasteful sprinklers.

Megan Rohn PO ‘18 is an International Relations major from Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is also an amateur stand-up comedian and yes, unfortunately, all of her stories are true anecdotes from her real life.

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