Having reshuffled my wardrobe at the beginning of March, I’m continuing my mission to make my freelance life as ethical and sustainable as possible. My home is now my office, and it’s a cool opportunity to rethink what I buy, eat and wear, to help reduce my demand on the planet.
I’ve been vegetarian for four years now. It was something I’d wanted to do for a while but, frightened of giving up my beloved chorizo, I had put it off until I was living in London, when I finally realised eating meat was incompatible with my passion for the natural world. I’ve tried to avoid preaching about it too much but, in a nutshell, eating meat is a luxury that is bad for our health and the planet. Humans don’t need meat to survive (in fact, we are better off without it), and I wasn’t able to justify the carbon, water and land usage, and the idea that another animal needs to suffer because ‘it tastes good’.
The problem is that the dairy industry can be just as bad – and in another convenient nutshell, here is why:
- In order to produce milk, a dairy cow is impregnated (either artificially or naturally) to produce a calf. Once the calf is born, it is then taken away and often destroyed, so the milk can be harvested for human consumption. Once the cow’s milk supply starts to dry up, the whole process is repeated until her life ends. Sadly, although vegetarianism doesn’t directly kill animals, it still results in death and extreme distress for both mother and calf. The natural life span of a dairy cow is around 25 years in good health, but many do not reach the age of 10.
- Cow’s milk is designed for cows, and while I don’t quite go for the theory that it can be extremely damaging for humans to drink, it has been linked to heart disease and several cancers. Cows are often given antibiotics and hormones to keep them relatively healthy, which have questionable impacts on human health. As with meat, a varied diet would be much healthier without milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt.
I realise that meat and dairy are entire industries on which many people’s livelihoods depend, and I’m also aware that there are some ways these industries off-set some of the damage, such as conservation grazing and good habitat management. But for me, having tried to be as open-minded as I can, I just can’t justify such a colossally destructive industry in its current form. Every day we cause more and more damage to the environment, and while I care about my fellow humans, I’m really not sure we can keep prioritising our own lives over the health of the planet – especially when we need a healthy environment to survive. Trying not to judge others for their own decisions, I’m just focusing on my own lifestyle and how I can make a few changes to improve my relationship with the planet.
Having said that, giving up meat is an awful lot easier than giving up cheese, which is essentially my favourite food group. So to ease the transition to a plant-based lifestyle, I’m starting with milk. Like most Brits, I drink gallons of tea and coffee every day, plus breakfast smoothies, cereal, pancakes, porridge, mashed potato and all kinds of milky goods. So, with a fond farewell to cow’s milk, I’m going plant-based!
When I started talking about this on Twitter, the lovely gang at Rude Health offered to send me a batch of their entire range of plant-based milks. I didn’t want this to be a sponsored post in any way, but it did allow me to try almost every kind of vegan milk on the market as a controlled experiment. So while I’m not endorsing Rude Health, they did open up my options, and my honest opinion is that all their products were delicious on their own. But I wanted to try using these milks in place of my usual cow’s milk, to see which ones provide the best functioning alternatives.
The products I tried were (all Rude Health and organic): Tiger Nut, Hazelnut, Cashew, Almond, Oat and Coconut.
I tried these milks in a number of different snacks and recipes over a few weeks, and the first thing I noticed is that they all taste great when added to other cold things. Smoothies, protein shakes and cereal are all delicious with every type of milk, which is excellent! The problems begin when you turn the heat up. Porridge is fine, as the milk and oats are slowly heated together, but when you add the cold milk to other hot liquids, they start to curdle. The horror! I decided to use each milk to make a tester cup of tea and coffee (both Azera instant and fresh ground), to see how the taste and texture varied, and I roped my boyfriend in as a guinea pig. This is the most scientific I’ve felt since GCSE Chemistry.
Because black tea doesn’t contain any tiny granules, I don’t think there is anything to make the milk curdle, and so not one of the plant-based milks did. In fact they all made a delicious cup of tea, although each did bring a certain something to the table. Both of our favourites were cashew and oat – the cashew is particularly good as it tastes the most similar to cow’s milk and is superbly creamy. Our other favourites were coconut and tiger nut, but we found the almond and hazelnut a little too nutty, although probably a good choice if you like your tea strong as an ox.
We tried three different kinds of coffee for this. First, I made a normal cup using Azera barista-style instant with hot water, and then added the milk. Next, I brewed a pot of fresh ground coffee and added the milk to this. Both of these gave the same results, and I think it’s because they have tiny granules in them. The only two that didn’t curdle were coconut and tiger nut, whereas the others all did unless you swirled them with a spoon every few minutes. However, the hazelnut and almond tasted DELICIOUS despite the curdling, bring a lovely nutty flavour to the cup, and for my third coffee test I decided to make a mini-latte (photo above) by heating the milk on the hob before adding it in. Success! Although a little more effort, the mini-latte was by far the tastiest and creamiest, and also worked well with cashew and oat. I’ve decided to either drink my coffee black or make these mini treats on the hob to get my caffeine fix.
Both Dave and I are already feeling much healthier after giving up cow’s milk for just a few weeks, and we’ve stopped buying non-vegan cheese, butter and yoghurt at home. The main problems with these delicious plant-milks is first, the cost, and second, the packaging. Tetrapacks are not recyclable in my area, which means sending paperboard, aluminium and polyethylene to landfill. The price of plant-milk is also high compared to cow’s milk, although I realise this is because cow’s milk is incredibly underpriced by supermarkets.
To combat both of these problems, I decided to try something else – making my own! All of the products I tried were lovely, but I found oat milk to be tasty and versatile, and the ingredients are extremely cheap. I’m still playing around with quantities, but the method is fabulously easy. I simply blend up organic oats with water (approximately 1 part oats to 3-4 parts water) and a little sprinkle of sea salt, strain through a muslin cloth – et voila! Decant into a bottle and give a good shake for each use, but the final product is delicious and works in everything.
It’s difficult to convey something when you’re passionate about it without sounding too preachy, so if you have made it this far then thank you! I’m not too bothered about labels and I don’t think you’re evil for the choices you make in the supermarket (I have definitely stolen pepperoni off pizza since ‘giving up’ meat), but it’s surprisingly easy to make little changes in our lives, and without a few sacrifices and compromises, we can’t really expect much to change. I’m excited to continue my journey into plant-based living, and I’m always looking for new tips and advice – so please do share!
More from my ‘Home Office’ series: Threads