I Tried It: Dairy-Free Yogurts

I had a different “I Tried It” post planned for this month, but then we had a tumultuous week (kid’s class got shut down due to Covid) and some family members were reluctant to rock the boat too much. In response, I decided to focus on hopefully painless food substitutions instead, since dairy and factory farmed animal products are pretty taxing on the environment. (You can read more about their effects here and here.) I have reduced my meat intake over the years and keep working to improve. (Hannah has a great meal plan if you want to make a bigger commitment.) Also, if you’ve been reading GreenLifeNH for a while, then you know that I’m not an “all or nothing” type of person. I truly believe you can make a difference, even if you don’t change everything in your life. For example, it’s unlikely that I will ever convert to vegan cheese, but am willing to commit to dairy-free yogurt and milks if I can make them work for my family. I had tried DF yogurts over ten years ago, and truthfully couldn’t take more than a few bites – they were pretty gross. However I heard things had positively changed so decided to give it another go. Here are a few options that I purchased at my local Whole Foods.*

Oat Milk Based: I was hoping that I would like this one the most because oats are the least taxing option on the environment, in terms of how much water and energy they take to produce. However I’d call this trial a fail. I think it was the flavor because the texture was pretty legitimate and tasted like the real thing. But for now, although disappointing, I actually liked this option the least. I’m going to try a few more flavors and see if there’s one I can learn to love.

Almond Milk Based: I have mixed feelings on this choice because almond farming requires an incredible amount of water – more so than the other crops on this list. Unfortunately for me, however, this yogurt was one of my favorites and I loved it. If I’m swapping out dairy for environmental reasons, is almond milk really a better option? The short answer is yes. One thing is clear. All milk alternatives are far better for the planet than dairy. A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Oxford showed that producing a glass of dairy milk results in almost three times more greenhouse gas emissions than any plant-based milk and it consumes nine times more land than any of the milk alternatives. (Land is required to pasture the cows and grow their feed, which the animals belch out in the form of methane.) (Source) So I will enjoy this yogurt, but not turn it into a daily habit. That option feels like a reasonable and sustainable compromise.

Coconut Milk Based: Similar to the oat yogurt, I kind of hated this one. It’s funny because a friend had just told me this brand and style was her favorite. Differences make the world go round! For me, I didn’t like the texture nor the taste. It was chalky and not sweet enough for me (I know, I know). Unlike the oat milk option, I’m not going to try other flavors and will just forget about this brand (whose dairy option is actually delicious, but we’re trying to move away from those choices). It’s a decision that I feel fine making – Because coconut trees only grow in tropical climates, the pressure to meet global demand is causing exploitation of workers and destruction of rainforests. “Coconut is an absolute tragedy and it makes me really sad,” Isaac Emery,a food sustainability consultant. “I love cooking with coconut milk but I don’t feel good about buying coconut products. Farmers in Indonesia should be growing food to feed their families instead of meeting international demands.” (Source.)

Soy Based Option: To me, this one tasted the most like real dairy yogurt. It was creamy, smooth and I liked the flavor. Out of all of the choices, the Silk resembled a a familiar Dannon or Stonyfield option and I like the peach/mango flavor. However I worry about eating too much soy for health reasons. Plus soy is a product that is already over-farmed and that can be taxing on the environment.

My winners? The soy and almond milk yogurts. I enjoyed them the most and that’s important if I want to make a long-lasting swap. For that reason, I will alternate between the two brands. Ultimately, like I said above, both almond and soy milks are still better than straight dairy yogurts. I also won’t feel like I’m depriving myself. I’d therefore call it a win for both the Earth and me! – Rachel

*A word about the small containers. Once I find a flavor and brand I like, I will buy larger tubs because buying in bulk and larger sizes are better in terms of plastic reduction. But for this trial and error experiment, I didn’t want to be wasteful and throw away large containers of yogurt if I hated them.

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