Almond milk is vegan friendly to most people. Almost all brands consist of just almonds, water, sugar, and possibly some stabilizers (which are all vegan).
However, some vegans argue that almonds are not sustainable and should not be considered vegan.
I’m going to summarize that viewpoint for you so that you can decide for yourself if you consider almonds to be vegan.
Almond Milk and Environmental Issues
Almond milk is by far the most popular plant based milk at the moment.
This high level of demand, which is still growing, contributes to the 2 main concerns that environmentalists have with almond milk:
- Water usage – About 80% of almonds are grown in California (essentially a desert), and it takes 3.2 gallons of water to grow a single almond. It’s not surprising that California frequently has droughts, and climate change will only make it worse over time.
- Bee exploitation – This is the bigger issue for vegans. Bees are needed to pollinate almonds and are brought in across the country to California, with multiple negative side effects.
The water usage isn’t good from a sustainability perspective, but I don’t believe that almonds aren’t vegan because of it. If you do, that brings into question whether many crops in high demand are vegan or not.
The more troubling argument in my opinion is the use of bees, so let’s look at that closer.
Is Using Bees To Produce Almonds Vegan?
Every year in February, bees are trucked in from across the United States to California to pollinate the vast amounts of almonds:
Not many people have issues with using bees to pollinate the almonds, or else you’d have to take issue with every other plant that we eat or buy that is pollinated by bees.
The big concern is that this process is bad for the bees. There are 2 main consequences of this process:
- Bees die from pesticide use – High amounts of pesticides are used on modern almond farms. Approximately 30% of bee colonies die every year from pollinating almonds (not just from pesticides, but that’s a main contributor).
- Bees can die during travel – Accidents happen. There are stories of trucks carrying bees across the country crashing and killing millions of bees.
Bees are incredibly important to the environment, and the population of bees isn’t exactly in the healthiest state right now (in the U.S. at least).
With the current level of demand for almonds, there’s just not enough local bees in California to pollinate all the almond trees, so this process of importing bees is unavoidable.
There are some companies trying to make more sustainable almond farms, but those projects are still in the early days so it’s unclear how they will go in practice.
Is Almond Milk Vegan?
I’ll be honest, I don’t have a clear answer. I see valid points on both sides of this argument. It’s a pretty grey area for vegans.
On one hand:
- Almonds are plants
- Almond milk rarely has any animal products in them
- Under a lower level of demand (where bees didn’t need to be shipped in), I don’t think anyone would say they’re not vegan.
But on the other hand millions of bees die every year to pollinate almonds.
To me, this is a situation similar to harvesting crops. We know that some animals die when plants are harvested, which is obviously unintentional. Still, vegetables are vegan because veganism is about reducing animal suffering as far as it is possible and practical.
Different vegans have different ideas on where to draw that line.
My Personal Opinion on Whether Or Not Almond Milk is Vegan
Personally, I try to limit how much almond products I consume, but I still consider them vegan. There are plenty of other good plant milk alternatives (e.g. coconut vs almond milk) that are less controversial.
I’ve tried to lay out both sides of the argument so that you can decide where you stand on them. If you have any thoughts you’d like to add to the conversation, leave a comment below.