The 22nd of August 2018 marks the second annual World Plant Milk Day, which aims to raise awareness of the expanding list of alternatives to dairy products. This year, Pro Veg UK and Plant Based News are running a campaign to encourage people to try giving up dairy for a seven-day challenge. Increasing rates of people all across the world are making the decision to switch from animal to plant milk due to its impacts on consumers’ health, the environment and animal welfare.
There is a huge choice of plant milks now available including the likes of soya, oat, rice, coconut, almond, hazelnut and hemp. In fact, it may surprise you to know that dairy-free alternatives now exist for most of your favourite dairy products. So no fear – you don’t have to sacrifice milky coffees and cheese covered pizzas, they’re still free to be enjoyed. Zephie Begolo, Head of Campaigns for ProVeg UK, stated that: “We are seeing one of the biggest global dietary shifts of recent times towards the dairy-free industry, which is well and truly booming”. It is believed that the dairy-free market will see its value quadruple in size by 2024, whilst the number of UK dairy farms is expected to almost halve.
One reason that people are moving away from traditional dairy milks is due to health concerns. For many, avoiding milk is not a choice, and consumption of it can cause an anaphylactic reaction. When milk proteins are detected as a threat, the body’s immune system can suddenly create chemicals which can affect the skin, gut, airways, heart and circulation. Whilst a large number of plant milk consumers do not suffer from severe allergic reactions to dairy, those who have shifted their diet regardless of this have claimed to see health benefits, listing those which include clearer skin and improved digestion. This increased customer base is beneficial to those with allergies, as it incentivises food producers to unveil new free-from products. Therefore, this expanded range of products has made veganism more mainstream, less difficult to maintain and a less expensive lifestyle choice.
However, you may be sceptical that dairy-free products do not contain the same amount of nutrients that are found in dairy products. To shed some light on this matter, ProVeg UK’s Zephie Begolo explained that “plant milks have zero cholesterol, almost no fat, and they contain fibre, protein, calcium and are often fortfied with vitamins and minerals“. NHS Choices advises that you must maintain your intake of calcium if you are to consider adopting a plant-based diet. Calcium can also be found in green leafy vegetables, soya beans, tofu, nuts and bread – so is easy to find in a well balanced diet. Furthermore, dairy products contain antibiotics and hormones that have questionable effects on human health, especially when considering resistance to antibiotics.
Another reason that a plant-based diet is becoming more popular is because it has a less damaging effect on the environment. Firstly, two-thirds of global farmland is used for cattle, which can destroy natural environments through overgrazing and deforestation. Secondly, cattle require large quantities of water for feeding, watering and disposing of manure. Manure and fertilisers may runoff into and pollute nearby waterways. Thirdly, cows produce greenhouse gases, which in turn are responsible for contributing to climate change. It has been found that a third of greenhouse emissions are caused by agriculture.
A further reason that a plant-based diet has become increasingly popular is due to concerns for animal welfare. To produce milk, cows must first be artificially inseminated and have calves. The separation from their mothers and slaughtering of unnecessary calves is a traumatic experience. Over-milking cows can cause their udders to become infected, and if this persists they may be slaughtered. Of course, different farms have more ethical procedures, yet there remains uncertainty about this, and a disconnect between farmers and consumers.
So, perhaps you may consider giving a dairy-free diet a try for a week-long challenge. You will find that you are not alone, with leading brands such as Kellogg’s, Bella Italia, Handmade Burger Co, Pret a Manger and Starbucks all unveiling promotions for this year’s celebration of dairy-free food inventions. However, it is worth remembering that not all vegan food is branded, and you can even find recipes to make your own plant-based milks online.