Non dairy plant milks: pros and cons
I have been drinking plant milk since 2012 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One of the reasons why I drink plant milks is that dairy farming compels cows to lactate almost continuously. Thus the milk has additional growth factors and hormones in it. If you have cancer, the last thing you need is extra growth factors.
Several other reasons to drink plant milks
There are several other reasons not to drink cow’s milk. The first is because of climate change: cows produce methane, a greenhouse gas, through their burping and farting. They also require land on which to grow their food, land which could be used more economically for food crops, or more environmentally.
The second reason concerns human health. Part of the story is that cow’s milk has more protein in it than human milk – so it is not ideal for humans. Whole population groups, in fact, are lactose intolerant. It is also suspected, as mentioned above, that it might have a part in cancer also, but this research has never got past the “Dairy Lobby” in the UK.
Finally, vegans point out that it is cruel to the cows themselves. This is because the cows are always artificially inseminated and they have their calves removed from them, so their milk is not used for their baby calves.
Male calves are normally slaughtered when they are very young and eaten as “veal”. Dairy cows themselves are normally killed after 5 years, since they have so many pregnancies in quick succession.
I have recently discovered goat’s milk – which I do like, but I hope that it is not produced in the same way as modern cow’s milk. It could be, since it is now quite widely available in supermarkets. Goat’s milk has a different composition to cow’s milk and some people find it more digestible. I find that it works well with tea and coffee.
I am also very happy that I can buy goat butter and also goat and sheep yogurt. This type of yogurt tastes like the original Greek yogurt that arrived way back in the 1960s. This is because the original Greek Yogurt was made from sheep or goat’s milk, whereas nowadays the large companies that supply yogurt in Western Europe make it exclusively from cow’s milk.
Almond and soya were first
So to plant milks. The first types that became available were almond and soya. One of the reasons that I took up using almond milk on my breakfast cereal was for cancer-related reasons. In fact, there was quite a bit of stuff on the internet from the USA about the benefits of eating either almonds or apricots to combat cancer. No serious medical studies supported this theory, but I found that I actually preferred almond milk to cow’s milk, so I have stuck with it.
I would not go back to using cow’s milk. However, I should say that I don’t use it in tea or coffee, but I will slosh it into soup or salad dressing. The question is where do the almonds come from and are they organic? A high proportion of the world’s almonds are produced in California, so possibly too many food miles to reach UK shops.
These Californian almonds are generally not organic and their production involves considerable amounts of irrigation. In the Mediterranean, plenty of organic almonds are grown, so it is possible to buy organic almond milk. You can also make it yourself, from ground almonds.
Soya milk is probably the most widely used plant milk in the UK. It is produced by more companies than any other type of plant milk. Alpro are the largest supplier. For my part, I do not like the taste of their soya milk and I find that it affects the taste of my tea. But I have often given soya milk tea to people who don’t realise that’s what they are drinking… so that’s the important test.
You will notice that most takeaway coffee shops (like Starbucks) use mostly Alpro soya. I like to buy organic soya milk where possible, since I know that soya milk produced in the USA or Brazil (where it results in deforestation) is unlikely to be organic.
Rice Milk is one that I have tried, but it isn’t one that I buy myself and I haven’t tried it in tea. There are several other “nut” milks, such as hazelnut which my sister likes in her coffee.
However, I do not drink coconut milk as I do not normally eat anything containing it – simply because I do not like the taste. However, my sister says she uses it for cauliflower cheese, using vegan cheese which is also coconut based, along with Dijon mustard.
Finally I have tried Oat milk and I quite like it. Its main advantage is that oats are grown on many farms in Europe, so probably less “food miles” are involved in its distribution, than soya or almond milks
To summarise… people drink plant milks mainly either for health reasons or to save the planet. This last reason becomes complex when you start to consider either “food miles” or the effect of dairy cattle on global warming. On the medical side, cows milk certainly does have more fat and protein, so if you want to keep a trim figure, plant milks can assist.
Finally, the packaging
There is also the matter of packaging. Most plant milks come in litre sizes. In some parts of continental Europe it is still possible to buy long-life and other types of milk in a 1/2 litre size (roughly a pint), but certainly not in Britain – where all shops including specialist delicatessan sell it in litre sizes.
If you live on your own, you cannot possibly drink a litre within the required “consume within 3 days of opening”. If you are lucky – occasionally it says “5 days”, but that doesn’t stop it solidifying – which makes it impossible in tea or coffee.
The dairy industry does produce small half or even quarter-litre plastic bottles (of instant drinks) for convenience shops. Why can’t the plant milk manufacturers realize that some shoppers need these smaller sizes?
However, a redeeming feature is that most plant milk cartons are of the Tetra Pak type which means that they can be rinsed, flattened and put in your recyling bin.