Milkadamia is a leading brand in macadamia nut-based milks, creamers and butter in the US. Its products are 100% plant-based and palm oil free. And while it already has a small export presence (‘we see it popping up in unexpected places’, CEO Jim Richards tells us) the company has identified the UK and Australia as its ‘next goals’.
Overseas expansion and global aspirations are ‘a bit fraught’ for such a ‘tiny’ company, Richards explained. But for Jindilli it is all about the mission. “We are small but we are defiant… Honestly our goal is to expand our message more than our sales (don’t tell our owner) which reduced to its very core is: Don’t just soil yourself with eco anxiety, act!”
Richards believes this action should include reducing consumption of two common raw materials that he argues are damaging to the health of people and the planet – dairy and palm oil.
“Health and wellness are a key driver for the consumers of plant-based milks including Milkadamia’s consumers. However, their’s is a more holistic view of health and wellness, embracing as they do the welfare of all participants in the production of their food including the earth it is grown in and impacts on the wider environment.”
What’s the beef with dairy?
Critics of the dairy industry have been vocal in highlighting some of the challenges of sustainable animal agriculture, particularly in relation to global warming. Indeed, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy industry accounted for 3% of total worldwide emissions and increased 18% from 2005 to 2015.
Richards echoes this concern but his critique of the dairy sector – and of the intensive feed lots typical to certain parts of the world, including the US – cuts somewhat deeper.
Touting the benefits of plant-based versus dairy he reels off a list of perceived benefits: “All plant-based milks have a significantly better carbon footprint than does dairy milk. All use less water, all pollute much less, all require less land per litre. No plant-based milks require dairies’ vast raw sewerage ponds scattered throughout the landscape. All use less fossil fuel. None are callously exploiting a mother’s love of her offspring to produce milk. There are no animal welfare issues, no hormones or antibiotics are used when producing plant-milk. There are no lactose intolerance issues. Health and wellness are paramount consideration, but it is not only about the person.”
When quizzed on whether macadamia milk offers a ‘complete protein’ with, for example, a comparable amino acid profile to dairy, he is quick to question the conventional wisdom that dairy milk ‘is the gold standard of milks for humans’.
“The gold standard for milk in humans is of course human milk not cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is the perfect food for calves. The percentage of protein in milkadamia is very similar to that in human milk,” Richards explained.
“The dairy industry has promulgated a multi-generational scare campaign insisting our bones will crumble, growth and strength fade, and brains decay without dairy. Moms and grandmothers repeat their message to children, but facts don’t lie. Countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest number bone fractures,” he argued.
But it isn’t just about the negatives that Richards associates with dairy. Macadamias also offer a number of positive nutritional attributes, he continued.
“Macadamias are nutrient dense with multiple phytonutrients. They have the perfect ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6, which are important [and] lacking in the Western diet.
“Macadamias’ superpower is how highly anti-inflammatory they are. Where dairy causes inflammation in many, macadamias calm and soothe. Every disease and discomfort in the human body starts with and is accompanied by inflammation.”
He is also keen to disassociate from one of the most common criticisms of plant-based milks – that they are high in added sugar. “Plant-based milk users already strongly favor unsweetened versions. The highest selling and fastest growing products in the category are all unsweetened. So, obviously it was a concern to consumers – the fact that consumer concerns dictate what thrives and what doesn’t is super encouraging,” he suggested.
Milkadamia: A foil for palm oil?
Richards’ objections to palm oil – which he described as ‘an unnecessary and offensive ecological disaster’ - come from a more personal place. While living in Papua New Guinea he ‘personally witnessed’ the destruction of an ‘untouched tropical forest’ for palm oil.
“I witnessed them punching holes in pristine corrals for a series of wharfs and saw the oil slicks and dead corral that resulted. Villagers that had stood for generations rolling back through time were suddenly displaced everything familiar to them was chopped, burnt or bulldozed; access to the sea for these coastal folks was limited. Low paying, go-nowhere jobs on the palm oil was the supposed compensation. Nothing unusual about what I saw - it is palm oil business as usual. It was sad for me to see what I assumed was the price of progress.
“The intervening years dimmed the memory and I all but forgot it all. That was until recently when I was given a brochure extolling the virtuousness of sustainable palm oil production. The accompanying images were of rows of green palm trees stretching from the coast to the distant mountains. It did indeed look acceptable – it was green and tidy. It was also the very place I had seen them destroy a beautiful tropical forest and displace the trusting and innocent traditional land ‘owners’. It pissed me off.”
Richards believes that the conclusion that palm oil production – and the associated deforestation – is ‘the law of supply and demand in action’ needs to be challenged.
“Palm oil is in so many products it is really quite hard to avoid. Manufacturers love to use palm oil because it is quite versatile and very cheap. But, of course, palm oil actually has, a hidden, but extraordinarily high price. It is costing us the earth.
“If we commit to do this thing, this one hard-ish thing, that will complicate shopping a bit and require persistence on our part - if we switch to palm oil free products – we, together, will compel a positive and pertinent eco-impact that is equal to shutting down all transportation globally.”
He is also highly skeptical of sustainable palm oil claims and certification schemes, such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
“Watch out for claims of sustainable palm oil. The truth is there is no such thing as sustainable tropical forest destruction. Call BS on that sort of virtue signalling nonsense.”
‘Regenerative farming is a ray of hope’
As you might expect, Jindilli’s sustainable agricultural practices are central to the company’s identity.
“Milkadamia has grown from the farm outward, we are not a traditional beverage/food company. Our farms are in Australia, macadamias are a native Australian rainforest tree and our farm includes a stand of the original rainforest. Because the trees are in their original local, we don’t even have an irrigation system in place, we rely on the rainfall and sunshine that has ever been present here.
“Regenerative farming. We had been doing it long before we heard that term. We love that regenerative farming is a ray of hope.”
In this vein, Jindilli has developed a range of ecological agricultural techniques, including using native wasps to deal with pests instead of spraying, supporting pollinators such as bees with permanent nesting boxes and ‘mohawk’ strips of flouring grasses and using owls to control rodents.
However, Richards continued, ‘the real work is underground’. Soil health is a core tenant of any regenerative farming system.
“Undisturbed by tilling, artificial fertilizers, herbicides or chemical sprays, the subterranean micro-organisms that are the silent engine of life on earth grow in astounding abundance. In healthy soil there are billions in a single tablespoon of soil. Their intricate dance of life and death is what creates new topsoil. In the process they use and sequester massive quantities of Co2. If 20% of the currently cultivated soil on earth were to move to regenerative farming methods, we halt then reverse the buildup of Co2 in our skies,” the sustainability pioneer enthused.
Is the sustainable eating boom here to stay?
Richards' answer is adamant: “Hell yeah – the biggest advertisers convincing us all towards choices that support restoration of the planet is the weather report and the daily news.”
He has considerable faith in the power of responsible consumption and the desire of ordinary people to make a positive contribution through their shopping choices. “We have little faith in our leaders – our faith is in the common folk and that their base values will kick in and make all the difference. This is why Milkadamia addresses consumers not legislators.
“Consumers are the only power enabled to enforce the change to regenerative farming on the scale necessary to alter the predicted trajectory of the health of our planet.
“Consumers can speak to corporations and agriculturalists in the language they listen most attentively to – their market share and profit.
“This is not pie in the sky – they are already doing it – non-dairy – the category we operate in is proof. Mighty dairy, once a virtual giant monopoly, is being bought to its knees as consumers across the globe redirect their funds away from dairy.”