Take a stroll around anywhere in Bellingham and it feels like there’s a coffee shop on every block, full of college students with laptops and bustling baristas preparing drinks with swift hands.
It’s difficult to find a coffee shop that doesn’t offer non-dairy milk alternatives for vegan or lactose intolerant customers who stop by.
When it comes to non-dairy milk, almond, soy and coconut are some of the most common. Bellingham baristas agree that there is one clear favorite when it comes to alternative milk – oat is the go-to for many customers and baristas alike.
According to an informal survey recently conducted among 26 participants by The Front through Google Forms, 80.8% of Bellingham baristas said they think oat milk is the most popular milk alternative among their customers, and 72% said that oat milk was their favorite milk alternative.
Most baristas that responded to the survey said that their choice of their favorite alternative milk was based on taste. However, 40% of respondents said that environmental impact also had an effect on their decision.
Maddison Miller, a fourth-year at Western Washington University, said that she has been drinking oat milk as her primary dairy alternative for about three years now.
She said that she is sensitive to lactose, but she also avoids drinking cow’s milk because of the unethical way dairy cows are treated. She enjoys oat milk because it is better for the environment than dairy farming.
According to a report by FoodPrint, an organization that examines environmental and public health issues created by the industrial food system, a dairy cow’s lifespan is often shortened from 15-20 years to only five. Many megadairies often house their cows in tight confines, which leads to increased use of energy and water to hydrate the cows and clean their waste.
“There isn’t enough land in the world for everyone to drink milk,” Miller said.
Miller said that after moving to Bellingham, she became a big fan of oat milk because it was so popular and easy to find in the city.
Crystal Davis is the owner and manager of The Wild Oat Bakery & Cafe, a vegan eatery that has been open for almost four years in downtown Bellingham.
Davis said that she decided to open The Wild Oat because of the lack of plant-based dining options in Bellingham.
She said that many businesses in Bellingham that offer vegan options still rely on industrial animal agriculture to make their primary income.
Davis wanted to start a business where customers looking for vegan options wouldn’t have to support these consumption patterns if they didn’t want to.
“Industrial animal agriculture is destroying our planet,” Davis said.
Lani Miller, a dietician at Sensibly Sprouted, said that alternative milk options are more environmentally friendly than dairy milk largely because of the amount of water that it takes to produce them.
Miller said producing one liter of cow’s milk takes 628 liters of water while one liter of oat milk requires only 48 liters of water.
When making oat milk, most of the water goes into the production of the milk itself, Miller said.
When producing dairy milk, a lot of water is used to raise the crops that are fed to the dairy cows, as well as to hydrate the cows themselves.
FoodPrint’s report estimates that about 30-50 gallons of water are used per cow per day to flush manure, sanitize equipment and hydrate the cows.
Miller also said that there are some health benefits to switching to a plant-based diet, her favorite being that it reduces the chance of heart disease, an issue that affects many Americans.
She said that cow’s milk contains high levels of cholesterol, which can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.
“Cholesterol is only found in animal products,” Miller said. “So if you’re switching to a plant-based milk of any kind, you’re automatically removing that from the equation. So you already get a heart health benefit there.”
Davis recalled that when she first went vegan, almost ten years ago, she noticed that she felt physically better almost immediately.
“You know those mornings when you wake up and you’re just really refreshed, and you just feel really good?” Davis asked. “That’s how I felt all the time.”
Miller said that oat milk is “the darling” of non-dairy milk right now.
She said that one of the reasons oat milk is probably popular for baristas is because it is high in carbohydrates and sugars, which gives it a thick consistency that is perfect for frothing.
“Plus, it just tastes really good,” Miller said.
Jordan Oliver (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is majoring in sociology with a minor in journalism. When not working or studying, she enjoys photography, bouldering, drinking overpriced coffee and watching tv shows about pirates.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.