I grew up drinking milk, eating cheese and living for ice cream. They’re delicious! But as I grow older and learn more about dairy’s role in human nutrition and the way animals are treated so we can get a good chunk of feta, I’m dialing back.
I’m not a vegan, but I do unwittingly have vegan days – whole 24 hour periods where I will unintentionally not consume any animal products. After experimenting with vegetarianism and going full swing a few years ago, it just happens. It would probably be more accurate to describe me as “vegan-adjacent.”
While I haven’t dropped dairy altogether, I have cut back dramatically. After years of going without meat but occasionally enjoying fish, my thinking on the whole subject of animal consumption is evolving. Sticking with the things I was raised on is easy. It’s what I know. But as I keep thinking, learning and seeing more over time, dairy is growing harder for me to justify.
These days, my approach to things like cheese and ice cream is like my approach to marijuana before I got sober. I never sought it out (or even bought it, for that matter), but if weed happened to be around and getting passed my way, I’d take a few tokes. I’m the same way with cheese. I don’t seek it or buy it, but if it’s on an hors d’oeuvre tray at a party or an event, I’ll take a cube or a slice. If there’s pizza, and there is a meatless option, I’ll have a slice or two of cheese pizza.
But as time goes on, I find myself pulling back even further. As studies in dairy and nutrition have revealed, humans really don’t require any animal milk products. In fact, when I think about it, I find it kind of weird that we have built an entire food group around a substance that’s designed to nourish a baby calf until it’s an adult cow. It’s not intended for humans. It’s produced by mother cows for their baby cows.
Vegetarianism, veganism or going dairy-free are not the weird and fringy ideas that they used to be. The growing exploration, acceptance and practice of animal-free or animal-less diets has made adopting them much easier. More food brands, grocery stores and restaurants than ever are making vegetarian and vegan options available. Terrific solutions for people who are lactose intolerant have never been so good.
And they’re not just available… They’re delicious. When I lived in New York, I’d often go to Two Boots Pizza around the corner from my apartment to get a slice or two (or a whole pie) of their “V” is for Vegan pizza. It was ridiculously good.As far as milk goes, I cannot remember how many years it’s been since I bought it. My move away from it started with a roommate who was lactose intolerant. He used to buy soy milk, which I started to really enjoy. I’ve since settled on unsweetened almond milk, which I enjoy even more. Yogurt was tricky at first, since one of my favorite breakfasts was yogurt with granola, fresh berries and honey. But I recently stumbled on a dairy-free yogurt alternative made with coconut milk. It comes in vanilla, regular or unsweetened (my preference), and it’s out of this world. In taste and texture, it’s reminiscent of the traditional yogurt from Stonyfield. Yummy. And speaking of coconut milk… I love a good sorbet. Who doesn’t? But there’s really nothing like a good ice cream. There is a family-owned ice cream company here in Cleveland called Mitchell’s who makes a salted caramel and pecan non-dairy ice cream alternative, made with coconut milk. Oh… Emm… Eff… Geee… It’s my new favorite thing. (I just scooped a spoonful of it after I wrote that sentence.) When I was still in NYC, I also found insanely delicious non-dairy ice cream alternatives from Van Leeuwen. Cream cheese was another stumbling block for me, because I absolutely love it on a bagel. Then my brother Mark recently introduced me to Daiya’s dairy-free cream cheese style spread. The point of this post is not to preach or pontificate. This is just my journey. This blog is about the pursuit of sartorial stealth and effective living. To me, the pursuit of effective living involves a willingness to explore different and hopefully better goods, services and ideas that enable me to live a reasonably contented, productive, healthy and happy life, while being mindful of the impact that my choices have on not just other people but on all sentient beings. Rethinking the way I eat for my benefit and for the benefit of animals – something very important to me – is essential to that pursuit.
As of this writing, when I’m at a party where apple pie a la mode is being served for dessert, I’ll eat the ice cream. The point isn’t across-the-board absolutism for me. It’s about progress and willingness to change. Maybe one day that progress will inspire me to take the plunge and go totally vegan. For the moment, that progress is about dialing down, at the very least.
If you have any suggestions of other ideas or non-dairy products, please leave a comment below. As I pull away from dairy, not only am I finding delicious alternative options, but I’m also feeling very good.