Soy Milk or Cow's Milk: Which Is More Eco-Friendly?

20080724-soy-cow-milk.jpgWhenever I admit to drinking soy milk, I immediately add a qualifier: "Only in coffee and cereal. Sometimes. I swear."

I don't want to be pegged as a freaky full-time soy-milk drinker because at the core, I identify with "regular" milk. From cows. But every so often there's something about soy milk, especially vanilla, that adds a nice twist to an otherwise sludgy coffee.

No offense to furry critters, but I don't drink soy milk for animal rights reasons or anything Mother Nature-related. I drink it because in certain contexts, it's really good. So when Slate reported this week that soy milk isn't necessarily better than cow's milk from an eco-perspective, I appreciated the insight but wasn't any less likely to drink the stuff.

While it has become the milk darling of the environmental movement, soy milk isn't eco-perfect, Slate points out. Unlike cows, the raw beans don't demand food, produce waste, or emit methane, but other ingredients inside soy milk do create environmental burdens, especially in terms of food miles.

Silk brand soy milk, which controls two-thirds of the American soy milk market, brags about using wind power and making green choices, but since they're working with such a niche product, transportation is significant. Popular or not, it's a specialty product with only one-twentieth the market of regular milk, and with less producers involved, ingredients must travel much farther.

Basically, you should drink bean milk because you physically have to or because you genuinely like it—not because you're trying to save the world.