How to start going green when grocery shopping: dairy (part 3)

Believe it or not, it can be pretty challenging for even the more advanced and savvy eco-friendly shopper to figure out ways to continue to reduce their carbon footprint. While it can be pretty easy going green in certain places of your life (like personal care products and household cleaning products), it starts to get a lot more difficult to address less obvious areas that we don’t even realize are wasteful.

We all have blind spots when it comes to our consumption habits, and it can take a lot of time before we have a reason to even begin to see where and how they exist.

This is all too apparent when it comes to grocery shopping, especially because there are competing, equally strong messages when it comes to buying sustenance. Unfortunately, the “be healthy, buy the healthy things!” and “save the planet! consume consciously!” missions don’t always align when it comes to each’s fad of the week.

In fact, once I started actively thinking about my food buying habits, I started noticing a lot of areas where I could improve.

Let’s continue our thought exercise from the last few posts. Imagine you’re in a grocery store, and you’ve done your produce and veggie shopping and your meat shopping.

Transitioning to the dairy aisle, what do you reach for? Do you buy milk, cheese, and butter often? What about their substitutes like nut milks or oil-based butters? What kind of eggs do you buy?

Before I became vegan, I was a big lover of cheese, even if I didn’t eat it all that often.Fortunately for me, my “needing” to find dairy-free substitutes has allowed me to enjoy things I might ordinarily never try (honestly, unless you’re lactose intolerant or vegan, dairy substitutes are usually a hard sell across the board).

Unfortunately for all the non-vegans in the world who are looking to reduce their footprint, it turns out cheese isn’t exactly helping their cause.

Because of the fact that cheeses come from dairy cows, cheese poses the same kind of environmental demands as beef cows — namely, a lot of energy to create food, although methane emissions from their digestive processing also plays a role in overall CO2 emissions involved.

Keep in mind when looking at the chart, by the way, that these CO2 equivalents are assessed by serving. Cheese has a significantly smaller serving size than meat, so if you scale to what you actually eat when you reach for cheese (I’m not judging, I did it too), that bar on the chart is probably double what it appears.

4 oz. meat, 1/2 cup asparagus & carrots, 8 oz. liquids

— Source


My advice:

  • buy organic wherever possible
  • try to get milk in glass bottles if it’s available
  • see if you can scale back how much cheese you eat per week
  • consider refraining every once in a while from eating dairy out. If you typically order a salad for lunch, try skipping the cheese or ranch dressing for a day. If everyone reduced their intake of dairy products, there’d be a reduced demand for dairy cows (and, as we now know, cows are a huge contributor in global warming).
  • if only as an experiment, try a milk substitute. I’m currently using almond milk, but I know a bunch of people like soy milk, cashew milk, and coconut milk. Experiment and see if you can find a swap.
    • bonus points: if you have a blender, you can make your own! Buy nuts in bulk at your supermarket and soak them in water over night. The next day, pop them in a blender with water and flavoring (in the right ratios), and bam! you have your own nut milk!

Considering all the non-dairy options out there, there's a good chance at least one thing won't taste half-bad! Consider trying a half-and-half or creamer substitute the next time you go grocery shopping — they're usually smaller containers (so less waste and regret if you end up not liking it), and they're usually pretty successful at emulating the flavor of dairy creamers.

Remember: little actions build up over time and can translate into significant positive change. Take your small wins where you feel like you can get them!

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