Even the minuscule amount of almond in almond milk deserves a more dignified end. Picture: BRENT HOFACKER/123RF
Even the minuscule amount of almond in almond milk deserves a more dignified end. Picture: BRENT HOFACKER/123RF

When we moved to a new garden a few years back, I was ecstatic about the large walnut tree. I imagined merry sessions of harvesting, followed by the satisfying conjuring up of walnut-laden meals: pasta with walnuts and cream, walnut and honey pie; walnut dressing. Oh I had a long list in my head, but ignorance is bliss. One season’s ‘harvest’ — if our pathetic haul could be called that — dashed our walnutty aspirations.

Nuts are a bloody nightmare! Well, for urban idiots anyway: the saga of picking them at just the right time (perfectly ripe but not yet moulding); the stone-age business of shelling them (too much force or force in the wrong spot, and the nut breaks into scraggy bits, half-stuck in the shell’s nooks and crannies); the checking for worms and bugs within the successful lot, the tiny bowl we were left with after hours and hours of work ... all quite disheartening.

I bow down to nut harvesters and farmers now. I get why they cost what they do, even if machinery’s involved. I fully understand why there was a time in France when walnuts could be used to pay tithes to the church. Small bag of nuts in exchange for salvation? Sounds fair.

Mad food technologists have managed to meld the sensation of drinking Plaster of Paris with the nutritional value of a jelly tot.
Andrea Burgener

As with all plant-based foods nowadays, nuts have a verdant halo around them, and most of us don’t question their backstories. But as ever, it’s complicated. From terrible work conditions associated with much cashew production (sometimes involving child labour and skin-damaging, manual shelling), to the comparatively less terrible bee colony threat associated with industrial almond farming, and on to the varying degrees that pesticide and fungicides are applied after shelling, it’s all rather dire.

Good news flash though: Brazil nuts refuse to grow in plantation conditions, and only thrive within an intact rainforest biome, so choosing brazils would appear to be supporting rainforests (for now). 

There are also terrible goings-on in the nut universe which have almost nothing to do with production and everything to do with human weirdness. I’m talking nut ‘milk’; the terrible plant-based train-smash at the unguarded intersection where ideology, food technology and marketing collided.

After being offered a range of almond ‘milks’ from various companies, I run when I see a carton. It would be one thing if it tasted gross but was incredibly nutritious, or vice versa. But no; mad food technologists have managed to meld the sensation of drinking Plaster of Paris with the nutritional value of a jelly tot. Amazing.

The first four ingredients on the last sample I was given, are as follows: Australian water (special!), almonds 3.5% (so very rich in almonds!), sugar (for health!), sunflower oil (why not?). It’s a carton of nothing. No wait, nothing would be better. Even the minuscule amount of almond in there deserves a more dignified end. Our food world is — I’m so sorry to do this, and please brace yourself — totally nuts.