Ethical Novice: Milk and Non Dairy Milk

Colin Birch with a light-hearted guide to trying, and sometimes failing, to be ethical.

I’ve always loved cows’ milk – I wouldn’t breastfeed as a baby and I’ve always assumed this was because I thought it wiser to skip the inferior breast milk I was being offered and move on to the superior bovine beverage as soon as possible.

As a child, such was my love of milk that I actually felt uneasy about allowing my CocoPops to turn it brown and I had an unswerving admiration for The Milky Bar Kid, feeling he was fully justified in using a handgun to ensure plentiful supplies. Basically, I consumed so much that my white milk moustache was often accompanied by a full beard and sideburns.

So, when you’ve spent your early life lapping it up to that degree, it does come as a shock when you grow up to discover just how unethical and harmful milk production is. The strong bones and teeth it gives us as kids end up being matched by the strong sense of guilt we feel about drinking it.

Since researching the environmental impact and animal cruelty involved in its production, I’ve ditched my love of lactose. With some dairy farmers treating their cattle almost as badly as the big supermarkets treat their dairy farmers, the economics of the industry have become so insane that the idea of one cow being sold for a paltry three beans in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ now seems like a good deal.

Yes, I know there are a growing number of ethical dairy farmers who show compassion to their creatures, but unless we have cows rising up ‘Animal Farm’-style to take control of their means of production, it feels like it’s basically impossible for any traditional milk to be truly ethical.

That being the case I’ve been left with only one option: Going ‘non-dairy’, as giving up every kind of milk is just not doable. Let’s face it, if God had intended us to drink tea and coffee black he wouldn’t have given us taste buds, would he?

I’ve always put off switching to nondairy milk in the past, partly because I didn’t want people thinking I was lactose intolerant.

I wanted them to know that my constant flatulence, bloating, cramps and diarrhoea were down to copious beer consumption, not an aversion to milk.

However, now seems the right time to make the change, if only because there are currently so many non-dairy alternatives for me to choose from. I’ve been told to try almond milk, oat milk, cashew milk, rice milk, hazelnut milk, hemp milk, coconut-based milk and even milk of magnesia (though, to be fair, that was for a drunken bet).

The traditional go-to non-dairy alternative is soya milk, but I’m not keen. Yes, it turns me into a more ethical consumer, but it also turns my coffee into a more undrinkable beverage. Never mind the Oasis split, if you want to see a really messy break-up just check out what a hot Americano does to soya milk when you pour it in.

Friends have told me that oat milk is a pleasant alternative, but I have trouble with the concept, because if I mix it with my breakfast porridge my brain can’t quite grasp where the porridge ends and the milk begins, and having a metaphysical crisis about the contents of one’s bowl of cereal isn’t really the best way to start the day.

I’ve also been told that almond milk is nutty, though I’m not sure whether that’s in terms of its taste or just the general idea of it. Call me old fashioned, but I want my milk to taste milky – if I want something that tastes nutty, I’ll have nuts!

Basically, I’m going to have to do a lot of experimenting until I find the non-dairy milk alternative that’s right for me but, at the end of it all, I should be able to feel a lot better about myself, not just in terms of my ethical footprint, but in terms of my health too, because I’m drinking so much of it that the constant dashing to the toilet is doing wonders for my fitness.

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