Ditching Dairy: The Rise of Plant Based Milk

The story of milk, traditionally told through the lens of dairy, is undergoing a transformative evolution. Enter the diverse world of plant-based milks: a realm where oats, rice, hazelnuts, and more, offer more than just alternatives but fresh perspectives on health, compassion, and nutrition. From the lush fields of soy to the orchards of almond trees, plant-based milks present compelling arguments in flavor, nutrition, and sustainability. As more individuals grapple with the revelations about dairy’s health, ethical, and environmental implications — plant-based milks have surged as not just dairy substitutes but as the preferred choice for many consumers. In these modern times, the conversation isn’t just about the traditional versus the new but about embracing a broader perspective on what ‘milk’ truly means.


A Brief History of Marketing Milk in the USA

Group of Kids Milk Marketing

In its early days, milk was primarily a means of survival for people living in areas with long winters where growing food was difficult. As the United States continued to fight in World War I and World War II, the government began shipping dairy products like canned or powdered milk overseas to soldiers in an attempt to curb malnutrition.

At the end of World War II, the over-production of dairy products was so high that the government began purchasing dairy surpluses to distribute through different programs. By the mid-1940s, milk had become integral to public school lunches. Milk marketing promotions cloaked as “education campaigns” began touting health benefits and encouraging children to drink up to four glasses of milk each day.

Congress attempted to increase the demand for the surplus of dairy products produced in the 1980s by forming an industry-funded federal “Dairy Checkoff” program, known today as the “Dairy Research and Promotion Program. “This program requires dairy farmers to contribute funds towards advertising campaigns (like “Got Milk?” and ‘Milk, it does the body good.’”). As of today, this fund also contributes to restaurant partnerships like those the government has with Domino’s Pizza and Starbucks Coffee to encourage businesses to create dairy-heavy items to add to their menus, even if they exceed recommended nutrition limits.


Does Dairy Milk Really Do the Body Good?


Ditching Dairy: Unhealthy side effects of milk

“Milk is the only food that makes up an entire food group. If you look at it logically, it doesn’t deserve that special status any more than pumpkin seeds deserve that just because they’re high in magnesium — which is an essential nutrient Americans are low in.” – Alissa Hamilton, Author of “Got Milked?”.

The dairy industry likes to flaunt milk as a product that is not only a healthy food group but is necessary for optimum human development. In truth, it is anything but. Dairy is high in saturated fat and calories, significantly contributing to cardiovascular-related diseases. Studies continue to link milk and other dairy products to chronic diseases, childhood obesity, high cholesterol, strokes, diabetes, acne, and digestive issues, not to mention the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture factory farms that put humanity at risk of new, untreatable diseases.

We Aren’t ‘Lactose Intolerant,’ We Just Aren’t Calves

Young calf in a nursery for cows in a dairy farm. Newborn animal close up

Humans are the only mammals on earth that directly drinks another species’ breast excretions and the only ones that drink milk regularly past infancy. Most young mammals can eat and digest milk from their mothers because of an enzyme they produce called lactase. Lactase digests lactose, the main carbohydrate found in animal milk, by breaking it down into glucose and galactose so that the body can utilize it as a nutritional source. As young mammals grow into adults, the lactase gene switches off, creating an inability to digest lactose.

Before cows were domesticated, adult humans never produced the enzyme lactase. After cows became a popular animal to keep on farms, some humans in Europe developed a gene mutation that allowed them to keep the lactase enzyme as they aged so they could drink animal milk without immediate side effects. Scientists estimate that around 65% of the world’s adult population continues to have difficulty digesting lactose. Our inability to properly digest lactose is another reason plant-based milks are superior to animal-based milk.


Ethical Reasons to Ditch Dairy

Ditch Dairy Cruelty

If the health concerns from drinking dairy milk weren’t a big enough deterrent, the ethical issues for cows forced to live on dairy farms are also staggering. From their traumatic births throughout their shortened lives, cows on dairy farms suffer in silence. Here are some ethical reasons to ditch cruel dairy products for compassionate plant-based milk options:

  • Never-Ending Forced Pregnancies

    Farmers repeatedly impregnate cows on dairy farms so that they will continuously produce milk until their bodies give out. Once cows stop producing enough milk, they are sent directly to the slaughterhouse, even if they are pregnant, sick, or injured.

  • Calves Sold for Veal, Dairy, or Killed

    When a calf is born on a dairy farm, their sex often determines their fate. Female calves are likely to be raised as dairy cows, while males, who are considered byproducts, are either sold for a short life in a veal crate or killed shortly after birth.

  • Low-Quality Living Conditions

    Most cows raised on dairy farms suffer immensely throughout their short lives, including being contained in cramped spaces and low-quality living conditions that do not meet their basic natural needs.

  • High Environmental Impact and Loss of Biodiversity of Lands Being Used in Animal Agriculture

    “Almost 90% of the world’s animal species will lose some habitat to agriculture by 2050.” – World Economic Forum


Health Benefits of Plant-Based Milks

Health Benefits of Plant based MIlks

Unlike animal-derived dairy products, plant milks offer a compassionate, cruelty-free alternative that is good for the soul and the body. A common reason people opt for plant milk over dairy is the abundance of health benefits they offer. Many dairy products contain saturated fats, cholesterol, and hormones that are a detriment to one’s health. Conversely, vegan-friendly milks, such as almond, soy, oat, and cashew, often have lower calories and are free from animal hormones and antibiotics while providing essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants without the physical and emotional baggage. Here are some health benefits of swapping out dairy milk for plant-based milk.

  • Low in Saturated Fats

  • Reduced or No Calories

  • Lactose-Free

  • Allergy-Friendly Options

  • Nutrient Dense

  • More Environmentally Friendly


Environmental Health Impacts of Dairy vs. Plant Milks

Dairy is a huge contributor to the greenhouse gases created through food production, but are plant-based milks better for the environment? The answer is a resounding, ‘Yes!’. Cow’s milk has a more significant environmental impact on the planet than plant-based milk alternatives, including causing 3Xs more greenhouse gas emissions, 20x more water, 10x as much land, and creating increased levels of eutrophication, the pollution of ecosystems by excess nutrients. Check out this ‘Environmental Footprints of Dairy and Plant-Based Milks’ chart below from Our World Data for more examples of how producing different varieties of plant milk leaves less environmental impact than dairy.

Environmental Health Impacts of Dairy vs. Plant Milks


Types of Plant Milks Everyone Should Try

Plant based milk, ingredients for plant milk

With the vast array of plant-based milk choices available for purchase or to make at home, it’s hard not to find one to love. Plant-based milk recipes are often categorized by their base ingredients, such as a nut, fruit, seed, grain, legume, vegetable, or combination. Here are some more popular plant-based milk varieties everyone should try. Click on the title for a recipe example for each one to make at home:


Celebrate World Plant Milk Day

World Plant Milk Day

World Plant Milk Day is an event that happens each year on August 22nd as “an international day that celebrates plant-based alternatives to dairy milk.” Created in 2017 by Robbie Lockie, co-founder of Plant Based News, this campaign has garnered the attention of millions of milk drinkers around the globe, inspiring them to ditch dairy products for delicious plant-based milk alternatives. Celebrate World Plant Milk Day this year by nominating a friend, co-worker, or family member to join thousands of people around the world in taking the 7-day dairy-free challenge at www.worldplantmilkday.com. Share this article with them for inspiration and recipes during their week-long challenge. The future is dairy free.

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