I am an asshole. I liked the band Arcade Fire immediately, I only drink pour-over coffee, and once I said that small plates totes counts as dinner. But you know what doesn't make me an asshole? Drinking various non-dairy milks.
That hasn't stopped me from feeling like an asshole for doing so anyway, mainly on account of everyone else's feelings about them. It all started a couple of years ago when I realized that drinking milk or eating cow's milk-cheese made me feel terrible and break out a lot. I tried just cutting it out, and it helped enormously. But I still wanted something in coffee or tea, and but no one has to tell me why cheese is good.
As I began to talk about this turn of events to others, I realized how people felt about people like me. They made casual asides, or outright mocked the idea as wankery bullshit, but I wasn't sure why. Was it the pickiness? The preciousness? The rejection of a sacred, ahem, cow? Or the smugness? Or was it like exercise, where everyone is fine with you doing it, so long as you never ever discuss it?
So I started on the long, solitary road that is seeking dairy substitutes in shame. In Los Angeles, this is pretty easy, as every possible variant on every ingredient seems to exist in some form, and secret shame is also widespread. Soy milk was pretty much everywhere I went, and it tasted fine, I tell you (yes, I admit the first sip tasted like garbage water, but you do what you have to do to avoid the runs). I don't drink it straight like milk, but in coffee, it did the job with none of the issues. Wasn't it the greatest thing ever? Here was a way to drink coffee with the same nice creamy blended feeling of cow's milk but from a bean?
That's the thing — drinking alternative milks should give any interested asshole a sense of well-being and superiority, because if you can't say you were on the first wave, then at least you can say you're riding this wave of better choices high, amirite?
But as I investigated, I learned that soy milk has a dark side (which is debated), and so does everything you eat, and therefore every alternative milk. A Today article about the troubles some people have with milk substitutes warns:
"I do see patients who can't tolerate milk substitutes," said Dr. Kevin Ghassemi, a gastroenterologist in the division of digestive diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "I don't think those people generally have an allergy, but more of a nerve sensitivity. Something in those substitutes is causing the nerves going to the bowels to be irritated."
It's also possible that the initial improvement people experience when they start drinking a milk substitute is due to a placebo effect, Ghassemi said. Or it might be that it takes some time for the body to become sensitized to the protein in the substitute.
You might think almond milk is the natural next heir, and I was right there with you and more than willing to pledge my allegiance, but today I learned that people who think almond milk is without error — even as it now claims two-thirds of the plant-based market for milk alternatives and is beating out soy — are bullshit people.
In a piece by Tom Philpott at Mother Jones called "Lay Off the Almond Milk, You Ignorant Hipsters," he argues that he gets why some people can't handle industrial cow's milk, and why other substitutes are necessary, but still gives us the smack down:
A single ounce (28 grams) of almonds—nutrition info here—contains six grams of protein (about an egg's worth), along with three grams of fiber (a medium banana) and 12 grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (half an avocado). According to its label, an eight-ounce serving of Califia almond milk offers just one gram each of protein and fiber, and five grams of fat. A bottle of Califia delivers six eight-ounce servings, meaning that a handful of almonds contains as much protein as the mighty jug of this hot-selling beverage.
What this tells you is that the almond-milk industry is selling you a jug of filtered water clouded by a handful of ground almonds. Which leads us to the question of price and profit. The almonds in the photo above are organic, and sold in bulk at my local HEB supermarket for $11.99 per pound; this one-ounce serving set me back about 66 cents. I could have bought nonorganic California almonds for $6.49 per pound, about 39 cents per ounce. That container of Califia, which contains roughly the same number of nonorganic almonds, retails for $3.99.
Also, it takes 1.1 gallon of water to grow one almond. ONE ALMOND. Are you starting to feel more sympathetic for the plight of asshole alternative milk lovers everywhere?
What next? Something is wrong with oat, hazelnut, hemp, quinoa (quin-wut), flax, sheep, goat or rice milk? Here is a decent roundup at Lifehacker and another here on the various worries you should have with all those, namely taste, price, added sugars and/or something called carrageenan, a not-so-natural natural additive. I still swear that no one has anything on coconut milk. PROVE ME WRONG TOM PHILPOTT! I WILL NOT GO BACK!
But Tom Philpott is not just a critic of almond milk, he's also an asshole alternative milk lover himself:
I'm not saying your almond milk habit is destroying the planet or ruining your health, or that you should immediately go cold turkey. I just want people to know what they're paying for when they shell out for it. As for me, when I want something delicious to moisten my granola or add substance to a smoothie, I go for organic kefir, a fermented milk product that's packed with protein, calcium, and beneficial microbes. Added bonus: According to the label, it's lactose-free—apparently, the kefir microbes transform the lactose during the fermentation process.
Kefir, huh? As a fellow asshole I guess I have to try it. Who wants in on a Kickstarter to fund my work finding the exact right healthiest milk substitute?
Image via Shutterstock.