Photo courtesy PlantifulGrub
Some of the examples of plant milks one can enjoy with vegan chocolate chip cookies.
By Alfred Robert Hogan
Soy milk. Oat milk. Coconut milk. Rice milk. Almond milk.
The varied array of plant “milks” available as ethical, green, and healthy alternatives to dairy milks has become increasingly popular—at least 17 varieties now exist—and counting. In the USA and Australia, some brands have even been advertised on television network commercials (for instance, Sweden’s Oatly plant-milk company bought a 30-second spot on CBS-TV’s much-watched Superbowl in February 2021). Additional varieties now available: banana milk, hemp milk, hazelnut milk, cashew milk, peanut milk, walnut milk, macadamia milk, pistachio milk, sesame milk, flax milk, spelt berry milk, yellow pea milk, kale milk, and quinoa milk. (Some experts contend that soy milk and oat milk have the lowest eco impacts. Depending on your taste buds and nutritional needs, you can experiment and discover the best overall choice in vegan milk for you. Plain, vanilla, and chocolate flavors are made, and you can prefer either sweetened or unsweetened.)
While newly popular in recent years, plant milks have actually been around for centuries. “Milk” derived from plants dates back to such examples as North African horchata, made from tiger nuts, which spread to Iberia by 1000 CE; almond milk in the Mideast Levant region in the 13th century; soy milk in China in the 14th century; and nut milk made for centuries by the Wabanaki Indians and other tribes, in what is now the US Northeast.
In fact, plant milks have long been used in places with a high prevalence of protective lactose intolerance, such as East Asia, where the condition of having severe difficulty breaking down the sugar called lactose prevails in 90 percent of people. Also, all but one of 35 plant milks tested by the magazine Consumer Reports did not contain the seaweed-based thickener carrageenan—which can trigger inflammation in people afflicted with colitis or inflammatory bowel disorders. Having milk allergies and avoiding pesticides and antibiotics often present provide added reasons to shun dairy.
Plant milks are suitable for all ages. (For example, oak milk in particular works well for infants of mothers unable to provide breast milk. However, oats are often sprayed with Monsanto’s notorious cancer-causing Round-Up pesticide, so be sure to seek out organic whenever feasible.) And plant milks can be used as substitute recipe ingredients in cakes and other baked goods, where virtually no one would even notice the difference. (Consumers can also choose from an ever-widening non-dairy variety of vegan cheeses, vegan creams, vegan yogurts, vegan ice creams, and vegan ice milks.)
As dairy’s market dominance continues to slip, as it has for decades overall, dairy interests fume and kvetch, sometimes aggressively lobbying for bans on plant milks labels. In the EU, when an even stricter language-ban proposal came up, Fridays For Future founder Greta Thunberg strongly opposed it, witheringly tweeting in February 2021, “We are in a climate and ecological emergency. What should we do? I know! Let’s ban plant-based dairy from displaying allergen information, being sold in cartons, using images of their own products. And explaining the climate impact of food. That’ll fix it.” In late May 2021, the EU backtracked and withdrew the tighter language ban proposal. But unfortunately, the earlier dairy-lobbied EU ban on such terms as “oat milk” and “vegan cheese” remains in place. The European Court of Justice back in June 2017 upheld the 2013 EU vegan-alternative names ban regulations, which grants relatively few exceptions, such as for peanut butter. The case had pitted the German “consumer group” VSW against the German food firm Tofu Town (makers of Soyatoo Tofu Butter and Veggie Cheese, for instance), and was referred from a German court.
Of course, Greta Thunberg sets the standard as usual by being an ethical vegan, first and foremost. She and other vegan advocates know well the hidden, grim, unethical realities of the dairy industry, behind the misleading façade of catchy slogans (such as “Milk does a body good”) and celebrity “milk mustache” advert campaigns. To produce cow’s milk, for example, cows must be forcibly impregnated, usually starting at age 2, and typically by using what the dairy industry brazenly and nonchalantly referred to for decades as the “rape rack.” While that term is lately being discouraged, the practice continues unabated.
When calves are born nine months later, they are typically taken away from their mothers within 12 hours to three days, so the milk intended for the calves can be confiscated twice daily—usually by automated milking machines in “milking parlors”—for human use. (The machines often induce painful mastitis inflammations on the teats and udders of the cows.) Meanwhile, mothers and their calves are visibly traumatized by being permanently parted. Male calves usually become either “baby beef” or veal calves, in the latter case living just for some five to six months, either in a veal crate or in close indoors quarters, and deprived of exercise, sunshine, and iron so their “meat” will be white, not red. Meanwhile, female calves are consigned and confined to small huts to later become dairy cows. When the peak milk production of cows passes, typically at about five years, they are unceremoniously shipped off, crammed into trucks, to the terrors of the slaughterhouses, destined to become cheap ground beef and hamburgers. By contrast, cows can naturally live to be 20 to 25 years old.
Yet, many corporations remain clueless, or even hostile, to plant milks. The noted actor and vegan James Cromwell (who starred in the 1995 pig-centric film “Babe”) wrote about the dairy industry in a Washington Post op-ed essay, after he had glued his hand to a Starbucks counter for a half-hour to protest the coffee chain’s “upcharge” of as much as 80 cents extra for vegan milk. In the piece, published on Saturday 21 May 2022, Cromwell stated, “Cows endure heart-breaking and horrifying abuse on dairy farms. These animals aren’t fountains. They aren’t constantly producing milk and hoping some solicitous human will relieve them of it. Like humans and other mammals, cows lactate only after giving birth. Dairy farms forcibly [impregnate] them with a metal rod and make them go through pregnancy and delivery, only to drag their newborns away from them so that the milk meant for their baby can be sold for [coffee] lattes instead. It’s a traumatic experience for both mother and calf. Mother cows often cry out for their missing babies for days, while the terrified infants are commonly shoved into veal crates that don’t even have enough room for the calves to turn around. They suffer no less than humans would if subjected to the same thing.” He went on to note a dairy industry study finding that by the time cows are slaughtered, almost 50 percent were lame, caused by standing chained or confined on concrete floors in “milking parlors,” typically in their own waste.
Dairy also exacts a heavy toll on our planet’s ecosystems and exacerbates global warming., as Greta Thunberg and James Cromwell both noted. In addition to the high environmental costs, some of which are noted in the chart below, dairy cows produce copious quantities of untreated solid waste, which pollutes water and air. When they are slaughtered, once their economic utility declines, the discharges from abattoirs—full of blood, feces, et cetera— also foul waters.
Environmental Impacts of Dairy and Plant-Based Milks, 2013 -- CHART WILL BE FIXED!!
Type of milk
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Per Liter
Land Use Per Liter
Freshwater Use Per Liter
Eutrophication Per Liter
Source: J. Poore and T. Nemeck, “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers,” Science (AAAS), Volume 360 Issue 6392, 1 June 2018
According to statistics from the England-based animal welfare group Compassion in World Farming, the globe now has about 270 million dairy cows. Of those, about 9.4 million are in the USA, 23 million are in European Union nations, 6 million are in Australia and New Zealand, 1.1 million on Hokkaido Island, Japan, and 12 million are in China. As the above chart indicates, dairy cows add to the greenhouse gases that intensify global warming—mostly through belching climate-damaging methane (CH4)—in fact, as much as 400 liters or so of per day per cow.
Photo courtesy PETA
This store’s refrigerated case shows some of the many “plant milk” options available.
Most vegan milks are beverages made using similar processes. Non-dairy milks are made from water, combined with plant extracts for nutrition, smell, taste, and mouth-feel. The main ingredient (such as nuts, grains, or seeds) is typically soaked in water for several hours, before being drained, rinsed, milled into a thick-paste flour, and blended into a puree. Then, the milk is typically filtered, boiled to sterilize it, fortified including with vitamin D and calcium, and flavored, and often further diluted with water. (Homemade vegan milks can also be created with a blender or grinder and some simple instructions.)
In a sampling of other recent plant-milk news:
· The Israeli firm Remilk has debuted the world’s largest animal-free dairy in Denmark. It will produce as much milk as would 50,000 cows per year.
· At least two food giants are producing plant milks. Danone (based in France) makes various plant milks under its Silk brand, and Nestlé (based in Switzerland) makes pea milk.
· Molson Coors, the Colorado-based beermaker, is entering the non-alcoholic beverage market\, introducing its barley-based milk alternative Golden Wing, a barley-based milk alternative. Its other ingredients are water, sunflower oil, pink Himalayan salt, and shiitake mushroom extract. It has a “khaki color” and “a malty sweetness reminiscent of milk leftover in a bowl of cereal,” according to the company blog. Golden Wing was to debut this spring at Sprouts grocery stores in California and at Whole Foods stores in Southern California, in addition to being available online.
· A study by UK dairy giant Arla released in May 2002 found that almost half of Generation Z young people felt shame in ordering dairy. More than half indicated they planned to quit dairy within one year.
· A survey of more than 900 cafes in Australia found one-fourth of Australians chose plant milk in 2021, with the most popular option being almond, followed by soy and fast-growing-choice oat.. In late 2021, Wide Open Agriculture secured Australian $20 million to build Western Australia’s first-ever oat milk plant, in the WA coastal city of Perth.
As more people become savvy to the myriad severe downsides to dairy—violence to our planet, violence to exploited, abused, and slaughtered animals, and violence to ourselves—they will no doubt kick the unnatural dairy habit for good. And the heightened availability of plant milks will help that happen faster. Simply put, plant milks are better for our planet, better for the animals, and better for you.
· Switch 4 Good www.switch4good.org
· Plant-Based Foods Association www.plantbasedfoods.org/?s=milk
· Earth’s Own (plant milks company in Canada with additional resources) https://earthsown.com/product_ingredients_base/almond/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw06OTBhC_ARIsAAU1yOX5BqxWzs_aypC6ytG_cNVSA4pKDGodvmJEvvP-wsrai8YqW2B4MR8aApPYEALw_wcB#promo-block
· “Last Moment of Grace—Baby Cow Searches for Mom,” 2-1/2-minute video from Kinder World, Tuesday 3 November 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kheeL7qcYPY
· “How Animal Agriculture Runs New Zealand,” Surge, Monday 16 May 2022, 13-1/2-minute documentary narrated by Earthling Ed Winters, including focus on New Zealand dairy industry, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYN_WwXMPhU
· Benjamin Kemper, “Not Milks Are Milk, Says Almost Every Culture Across the Globe/ Even though the dairy industry may not like it, labeling the juice from almonds and soy beans ‘milk’ follows centuries of history,” Smithsonian Magazine, Wednesday 15 August 2018 https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/nut-milks-are-milk-says-almost-every-culture-across-globe-180970008/
· “17 Different Plant Milks You Need to Try,” Switch 4 Good, Thursday 9 July 2020, https://switch4good.org/16-different-plant-milks-you-need-to-try/
· Jessica Caporuscio, Pharm.D., Katherine Marengo, LDN, RD, “Almond, hemp, oat, soy, and cow’s milk: Which is best?,” Medical News Today, Monday 9 November 2020 https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325425
· “Dairy Products Linked to Increased Risk of Cancer in Major Research Study,” Sci Tech Daily, Sunday 8 May 2022 https://scitechdaily.com/dairy-products-linked-to-increased-risk-of-cancer-in-major-research-study/
· “What’s Your Favourite Vegan Milk? Find Out How the Nation’s Favourite Vegan Milk, Their Nutritional Value, and How They Beat Dairy Ethically,” Life Without Meat, Saturday 4 April 2020 https:// www.lifewithoutmeat.com/articles/the-best-vegan-milk-alternatives-how-they-beat-dairy-ethically/#:~:text=Unlike%20usual%20dairy%2C%20vegan%20milk%20isn’t%20made%20with,oat%2C%20almond%20and%20coconut%20are%20a%20few%20examples.
· Ashley Capps, “10 Dairy Facts the Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know,” Free From Harm, no date, www.freefromharm.org/dairyfacts
· Hemi Kim, “The Rise of Plant-Based Milk,” Sentient Media, Friday 23 July 2021, https://sentientmedia.org/plant-based-milk/
· Katherine Sullivan, “How to Make Vegan Milk At Home,” PETA Fact Sheet (with videos), Friday 29 May 2020 https://www.peta.org/living/food/how-to-make-vegan-milk/
· “What Are the Benefits of Almond Milk? Here’s Why You Should Drink It,” PETA Fact Sheet, Thursday 28 April 2022, https://www.peta.org/living/food/almond-milk-benefits/
· “Which milk is best? Almond, hemp, oat, soy, or cow's milk,” Clean Green Simple, XXXX https://cleangreensimple.com/article/best-plant-based-milk-brands/
· Angus Mackintosh, “Plant Milk Set to Take Over Cow’s Milk in Australian Cafes—and Oat Milk Is Coming Out On Top,”, ABC online, Sunday 22 May 2022, https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2022-05-22/plant-based-milk-set-to-take-over-cows-milk-in-australian-cafes/101023244
· “5 Best Plant-Based Milk Brands of 2022,” Clean Green Simple, no date https://www.foodnetwork.com/healthyeats/food-and-nutrition-experts/2018/4/newest-plant-based-milks
· All the Non-Dairy Milks on the Market, Reviewed and Ranked, The Spruce Eats https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-non-dairy-milks-1000954
· The 8 Best Non-Dairy Milks in 2022, Facty Wellness https://facty.com/lifestyle/wellness/heres-why-oat-milk-is-so-popular/?style=quick&utm_source=adwords-ca&adid=490385141037&ad_group_id=77298820945&utm_medium=m-search&utm_term=oat%20milk&utm_campaign=FH-CA-Search-Here%27s-Why-Oat-Milk-Is-So-Popular-Mobile&gclid=Cj0KCQjw06OTBhC_ARIsAAU1yOUZ2cPiVXk2Eco4vqVa7zzncrrmgnRk2r3vDU1vTwor6jEzVxSV6qYaAtQzEALw_wcB
· “Here's Why Oat Milk Is So Popular,” Facty Health https://vegancuts.com/plant-based-milk-guide/
· “How Is Vegan Milk Made?,” All Plants https://allplants.com/blog/lifestyle/how-is-vegan-milk-made#:~:text=Most%20vegan%20milks%20are%20made,as%20well%20as%20add%20flavour.
· Amy Gorin, MS RDN, and Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, “9 Healthy Plant-Based Milks That Are Making a Splash/Shake up your milk game by trading dairy for one of these trendy nondairy milk picks that are packed with nutrition,” Every Day Health, Thursday 31 March 2022 https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/diet/plant-based-milks-expected-make-splash/