Today’s grocery store is overrun with non-GMO, gluten-free, and guilt-free options for ethically-minded eaters. But are we overlooking the cruelty inflicted upon innocent trees and plants every time we reach for our preferred dairy alternative? If a recent trademark claim by a macadamia milk purveyor is to be believed, we sure are. 

Milkadamia, a new vegan milk company based out of Chicago, has taken to describing each of the four flavors it sells as “free range”. Does that mean they source their macadamia nuts from an army of ents that can get up and walk around unmolested? Not quite. Milkadamia’s justification for the labeling stems has to do with the fact that their Australian supplier uses farming techniques that “minimize human intervention.” According to a company blog post, their free-range trees are “not tethered to an irrigation system catering exclusively to their needs. Without the assistance of this artificial life support, our trees are grown connected to the health of the whole area.”  

While the claim sounds absurd on its face, Milkadamia’s marketing ploy does draw attention to how resources like water are used in the nut milk growing process. It takes more than a gallon of water to grow a single almond, and underground aquifer systems can further interfere with the groundwater supply in places like California that are already prone to drought. By getting Macadamia nuts from a family-owned farm located in their natural growing climate, Milkadamia hopes to get a good yield with as small of an environmental footprint as possible. 

So is “free range macadamia milk” the new “gluten-free water,” or is it more than a cynical effort to drum up sales? It would seem there’s at least slightly more substance in this case, given how Milkadamia hopes to raise awareness for natural and sustainable farming practices. Ironically, if the company has its way, those macadamia trees will be staying right where they are for some time to come.