Recently, the BBC held its annual Food and Farming Awards 2016, an event that has become know as the “Oscars of the food world.” Essentially, the country’s best food writers and chefs get together to highlight the people who, through food, are changing Britain for the better. This could be farmers, shopkeepers, cooks, and so forth. This year, in addition to the usual categories like “Best Drinks Producer” and “Farmer of the Year” the BBC included a new category: Future Food.

This would be an innovative product that demonstrates an adequately sustainable model of production. As with every category, the competition boiled down to three finalists. In this case, the three contenders up for the prize were The Beef Carbon Project by McDonalds, GrowUp Urban Farms from London, and Our Cow Molly from Sheffield. The latter of which was crowned the winner.

That’s right, according to the BBC, the future of food has actually been right under our noses the whole time, in the hooves of a cow … named Molly. How? Well, you see, Our Cow Molly‘s milk isn’t just your run-of-the-mill, supermarket-bought milk, it’s super-fresh “Made in Sheffield” milk, that goes from udder to table all on the same day.

The BBC bet on Our Cow Molly because they believe their local product model could potentially help other struggling dairy farmers in the UK. And as they put it, the Future Food award “demonstrates a current theme in the food space where consumers and small businesses are increasingly supporting local food producers where the product journey is known and transparent.”

So, What’s the Problem?

After all, isn’t presenting this award to a local farmer showing support for small farmers supposedly doing the “right thing” better than supporting big, evil factory dairy farms that keep their cows in deplorable conditions and mindlessly use them as commodities? Isn’t this indeed the future of food?

Well, no. Let us explain.  An appropriate award for a local dairy farmer producing fresh milk for his or her surrounding community would be “best local farmer award” or “best local product.” It’s a good method in the short-term and on a very small scale. This is essentially the very first model of dairy farming way back when it all started. What then happened, is what happens in any industry with a degree of success: it scales and reaches a larger consumer base, or as with dairy’s case, the world.

And it just takes one glance at the history of dairy production to know that this model is incredibly unsustainable. Firstly, dairy farms use an insane amount of water. A dairy facility that uses an automatic “flushing” system for manure can use up to 150 gallons of water per cow, per day. With this figure in mind, a mid-sized dairy farm in the U.S. uses around 104,850 gallons of water every day – just to keep the place clean! The global water footprint of animal agriculture is 2,422 billion cubic meters of water (one-fourth of the total global water footprint), 19 percent of which is related to dairy cattle.

Not to mention, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that the global dairy sector contributes four percent of total global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  Methane, in particular, has the ability to trap up to 100 times more heat into the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Considering that 52 percent of the GHGs produced by dairy is methane, you could say this is a problem…

So, how could it be that the BBC is essentially supporting this wildly unsustainable industry? Is the future of food really relying on methane-producing, water-guzzling, land-hogging dairy cows? There’s really nothing else happening in the food space that is more innovative than milking a cow? Some kind of product that allows people to enjoy all of their old-world pleasures like milk and cheese, while still benefiting the planet?

Oh yeah, there is. There are a lot actually.

Why Milking Cows Isn’t the Future

Just take a look at the dairy section in your local supermarket and you’ll see why. Almond milk…Cashew…Soy…Coconut…Hemp…these alternatives are the ACTUAL future of food. They provide the same creamy taste as regular milk, without getting any cows involved. And unsurprisingly, the world is embracing these new options with open arms. In fact, 36 percent of U.S. consumers actually prefer them to traditional milk, and it is only a matter of time before the rest of the world catches on.

The fact is, dairy consumption has been on the decline in the U.S. since the 1970s, largely due to allergies and concerns over the use of antibiotics and hormones, animal welfare, and sustainability. People are waking up to the fact that they don’t need milk and the dairy-free milk market is growing exponentially (dairy-free milk sales represent a $2 billion category and growth is expected to continue outpacing dairy milk sales at least through 2018). Even in the UK where these awards were given, the government itself has recognized that dairy is not the future. 

The days of local farmers milking cows sweetly, with a rub on the back and a kiss on the nose, and then having this milk delivered to your house in neat glass bottles by a man in a paper hat, are over. They may exist in tiny pockets of small town America or small towns in the U.K., but they are hardly the norm, and they most certainly are not the future of food. 

Let’s face it, the future of milk doesn’t involve cows … we just have to wait for BBC to get with the times…

Image Source: Chris Pelliccione/Flickr