Cheese, milk, cream, butter – people used to love them in sandwiches, salad toppings, pasta, soup, cakes, chocolates, pies, ice-cream, etc. The creaminess and fatty texture seems irreplaceable in many recipes – not until the plant-based movement brought forward a bunch of vegan dairy alternatives made with nuts, beans, grains and lentils. According to a research by Mintel, nearly 49% of Americans consume non-dairy milk. Last year, sales of dairy milk decreased 7%, which accounts for $17.8 billion. At the same time, non-dairy milk options continue to see strong growth, with an increase of 9 percent to reach $1.9 billion. In tandem, the sales of dairy milk are projected to drop by 11 percent by 2020.
The carbon footprint of producing milk is very comparable to beef, not to mention the cruelty and inhumane treatment suffered by the cattle. Both dairy cow and beef cow are ruminants, therefore their digestive systems work in almost the same way. The process of rumination produces lots of methane, which is a greenhouse gas twenty-three times stronger than carbon dioxide. Cheese in particular has a very high carbon footprint, ranking the 3rd out of 20 common ingredients we consume regularly. This is even higher than pork, just below beef. Obviously, raising dairy cow consumes animal feed, water and land just like beef cow. This raises similar environmental issues and damage, such as water pollution and deforestation.
On the other hand, health concern is another reason that encourages more people to shift towards a non-dairy diet. Lactose intolerance is particularly common among Asians, who have symptoms due to the lower ability to digest lactose, a sugar found in dairy products. It is caused by lacking an enzyme called lactase, which breaks down the natural sugar found in dairy products. Studies had found up to 90% adults experience different levels of lactose intolerance, according to the US National Library of Medicine. Head of Mintel’s UK Food, Drink and Foodservice research Kiti Soininen reported, ‘many consumers may be turning to dairy alternatives or lactose-free cow’s milk for perceived health reasons, as research shows that some people feel drinking milk can upset their digestive system and leave them feeling bloated.’ Besides lactose intolerance, dairy products contain cholesterol, approximately 5mg per 100g milk, which is strongly associated with coronary artery disease and other metabolic disorders. The saturated fat content increases the total plasma cholesterol in blood, especially low-density lipoprotein (LDL), typically known as the ‘bad’ cholesterol. On the other hand, vegan milks are completely lactose-free, cholesterol-free and very low in saturated fat.