Nobody is surprised by a splash of oat milk in your coffee, and coconut yogurt is almost as common as a packet of custard in some circles. We drink much less dairy than before, but which replacement is right for you?
We consume less dairy. Between 2016 and 2019, we bought 6 percent less milk, 10 percent less custard and 25 percent less dairy desserts, according to results from market researcher IRI.
We can regard that as good news, says Stacy Pyett, researcher at Wageningen University (WUR), because in the long term we want to move towards a society in which we get half of our proteins from plants and half from animal products. Ideally it will be 70/30. We are not there yet. In order to provide the growing world population with sufficient proteins in the future, says the WUR, we will have to look for alternative protein sources.
Truly all dairy alternatives are better for the earth than dairy. A 2018 study from the University of Oxford found that producing a glass of animal milk causes almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any plant milk.
Pyett: "The consumer has plenty of choice, but this theme contains a lot; it is about climate impact, nutritional value, animal welfare, costs and water consumption. You can include all that in your search for an alternative, so there is no ideal replacement."
Almond milk: takes a lot of water to make
The nut milks, says the WUR researcher - because you also have cashew, hazelnut and coconut milk - you can better leave them for climate reasons. "Producing nut milk takes a lot of water. Moreover, the nuts are often not locally grown in Europe."
80 percent of global almond production takes place in Central Valley, California; an area plagued by drought. Almond milk is not vegan: almond cultivation flourishes thanks to the hard work of bees, who die en masse on the almond groves. For pollination, 70 percent of all commercial bees are flown in, according to reports from the British newspaper The Guardian. The bees are working so hard that a large number of them die: last year a record number - more than a third of them - did not reach the end of the season.
Rice milk: low in protein
This drink is not a full-fledged dairy alternative. There is simply too little protein in it, Pyett said. Moreover, rice milk cannot be produced locally, and growing rice takes a lot of water.
Coconut milk: not completely vegan
It sounds vegan, but it is not, says Alexandra Yablonska, who is responsible for the Milk, Je Kan Zonder! Campaign at the Dutch Association for Veganism. Animal rights organization PETA investigated the living conditions of macaques (a monkey species) and came with rather shocking results: the macaques are forced to harvest coconuts for our milk and are abused.
Reason for Albert Heijn, among others, not to sell Chaokoh and Aroy-D products for the time being. Yablonska: "Veganism is not a diet, but a lifestyle in which you resist the use of animals. Monkeys and bees are used for our gain, and therefore those types of milk are not vegan. Coconut milk is very fat, and I would only recommend people to arrive. "
Oat milk: possible winner
This dairy alternative could very well be the winner. Pyett: "The taste is neutral enough to replace milk, something that cannot be said of legume milk, for example. It can be grown locally, so that your ecological footprint is less than for example with soy and almond milk." Oat milk is also easy to make yourself.
This is how you make oat milk yourself
- Mix 100 grams of oat flakes with 800 milliliters of water and make a smooth mass with the hand blender.
- Let the mixture stand for a few minutes. Not too long, otherwise the milk will become too slimy.
- Pour the mixture through a cheesecloth or thick tea towel and collect it in a bowl. You can do this twice: the more often, the thinner your milk.
- Then pour your oat milk into a glass bottle and keep it in the fridge.
Soy milk: good if it does not come from the rainforest
Soy milk is a worthy substitute for milk in terms of protein. Growing soybeans here in Western Europe has not yet proved cost effective, so much of the soy is still coming from South America, where patches of rainforest in the Amazon are being burned to make way for the cultivation of soy. Soy is also grown in North America and Canada, where no rainforest is sacrificed, and even in Twente Dutch soy is grown on a small scale.
"Take fruit instead of yogurt."
Those who want a more plant-based diet do not have to make things difficult for themselves, according to the WUR researcher. "I would stay away from too much processed food. Take a can of chickpeas instead of a ready-made veggie burger. Replace your yogurt bowl with a piece of fruit instead of looking for complicated yogurt made from peas. Then are you there too? "
Whether we as Dutch people have an extra hard time leaving our glass of milk? No, Pyett knows. European ING research into the interest for protein alternatives mainly shows the difference between men and women across Europe. "Men mostly miss meat, women miss cheese."