Or, if you can make your breakfast more sustainably, then what else can you do? Where does it end? Recipe included!
It’s worth thinking about your regular habits and 45 year old men like me are nothing if not habitual. In early 2016, a doctor said several alarming things about my HDL cholesterol levels and I’ve had oatmeal for breakfast virtually every day since. Half a cup of old fashioned oats cooked al dente with fresh fruit and a cup of soy milk served in a bowl with granola, dried fruit, and cacao nibs sprinkled on top. After I get breakfast ready for my daughters, I sit down with my oats and a cup of coffee to do the New York Times crossword puzzle. I’d guess we’re at about a 1000 bowls of oatmeal by now. Put those piles in a neat stack and they’d make quite the monument; a man’s fast was broken here.
But it’s practically 2020 and, you know, the world’s ending. So, what’s the carbon footprint of a container of soy milk? If you break it down, it wouldn’t be that difficult a calculation to make—provided you can quantify the entire process. First, the soybeans need to be grown. Land will need to be set aside, tilled, fertilized, seeded, irrigated, etc. After the soybeans are harvested, they’ll need to be stored, put on a truck, perhaps sold to a grain elevator, possibly bought by a broker, transported to a processing plant, pureed, cooked, pressed, pasteurized in a retort, and poured into aseptic, sealed containers. (I used to buy the refrigerated kind, so from this point, the “cold chain” is a given until it reaches your grocery cart.) The containers need to be packed into cases, the cases need to be packed onto palettes, bound with plastic film, and stored in a warehouse. Next, the palettes need to be loaded onto trucks and brought to a regional distribution facility, taken off their palettes, stored, loaded onto a truck and taken to your grocery store, where you pull it from the refrigerated case next to the Icelandic-style yogurt. The cashier says, “Paper or plastic?” but you remembered to bring your own bag this time. Then you put it in the trunk of your Honda Odyssey and drive it home, roughly three miles away.
Then there all of the invoices, packaging materials, conference tables, graphic designers, industrial warehouse shelving, lightbulbs, the pizza the accountants bought at ‘crunch’ time, compressors, sanitizers, volumetric piston fillers, the landscaping elements required by the Planned Used Development at the business park, and all of the other stuff that it takes to get that Tetra Pak of soy milk into your hands, not forgetting the cheese puffs that the third truck driver bought. Quantifying all of that would take a lot of phone calls!
Or, you can just buy the soybeans directly from the farmer and make your own. Once it’s routine for you, it takes about ten minutes. Here’s how you do it:
- Weigh 6 ounces of soybeans and soak them for about 12 hours.
- Rinse, then purée them with 2 cups of water.
- Pour the ‘slurry’ (my wife hates that word), into a sauce pan with 4 cups of water. Heat, while stirring, to 140 degrees.
- Pour into cheese cloth and strain into another sauce pan.
- Heat to 180 degrees. Cool and pour into glass container for fridge.
This makes roughly a half gallon of nice, fresh, grassy, slightly sweet soy milk better than anything you’ve had outside of Chinatown, (where they serve it fresh with delicious fried dough!) After you’ve become accustomed to fresh soy milk, there is no going back. The freshness of the soy bean matters, so don’t be tempted to buy the Midwestern soy beans that were exported to China, packaged and then re-imported back to your Asian grocery store! Search online and you will find farmers you can buy from directly. Once you are comfortable making your own soy milk, why not make your own tofu? Right?
I use about a cup per day to make my morning oatmeal. Morning oatmeal, 320 times per year, works out to 80 32 ounce aseptic containers or half as many half gallon ones. Keeping all of that out of the waste stream and the carbon out of the air is good. Though admittedly it is probably not a particularly efficient way to decrease your carbon footprint. But here’s the point: before we were born, people made a bunch of trade offs for the sake of convenience. Some of these trade offs were fantastic, but many of them weren’t. For example, I’m personally responsible for dozens of metal cans of Barbasol brand shaving cream in landfills because my Grandpa didn’t teach my dad how to lather-up shaving soap. Turns out it’s really easy and kind of fun. I took it for granted that shaving involved buying pre-lathered shaving cream in pressurized canisters up until last year. Another example, did you know you don’t have to be an executive to use non-disposable, fountain pens? The trick is to spot these trade offs, many of which were made on our behalf and taught to us as children, and to make our own choices. If our assumptions are wrong for the future and we need to adapt, first we have to identify what they are. And that’s the point of the soy milk.
And it turns out that not only can asking yourself these questions lead to enjoying your soy milk more sustainably (and cheaply!), but being a maker of soy milk is more satisfying than being a consumer of it. You can make it exactly the way you want it and flavor it however you please. That’s what we call freedom from the tyranny of the marketplace. And that’s a freedom that tastes great over granola!
I’m not ready to think about the fruit.