Day celebrates ethical, environmental and health benefits of plant milk

The amount of water required to produce a litre of different types of milk. Picture: Proveg South Africa

Thando Dlamini was a baby when her
parents learnt she was lactose intolerant. 

The 23-year-old from Wynberg says
she would have a runny tummy and break out
in rashes whenever they tried to put her on
formula. 
At first her family considered doing an
ancestral ritual to sort out the problem, but
Ms Dlamini says her mom, a teacher, did some
research and consulted a doctor who made the
diagnosis.
“It sucked that I couldn’t have normal ice
cream like the other kids, or the same Coco
Pops as everyone else at my friend’s sleepover,
but I’ve gotten used to it,” she says.
Fortunately for Ms Dlamini and the millions
of others who are also lactose intolerant there
are substitutes for cow’s milk.
Ms Dlamini uses almond milk daily and says
although it is one of the more expensive alternatives, she loves its taste. 
In South Africa, there are 79 milk alternatives in stores, according to ProVeg South
Africa, a food awareness NGO. Plant milk refers
to any milk made from plant-based ingredients,
as opposed to milk from animals.
August 22 is World Plant Milk Day. 
For many
South Africans, the phrase “plant milk” might
sound strange and some might ask why it would
have its own day, but it has many health benefits
and the international day seeks to celebrate
those benefits, says Donovan Will, director at
ProVeg South Africa. 
ProVeg is a food awareness organisation
working to transform the global food system by
replacing conventional animal-based products
with plant-based and cultivated alternatives. 
Some of the more well-known alternatives of
plant-milk include coconut milk, and many will
also be familiar with soy or almond milk. 
ProVeg attempted to catalogue all of the
options for World Plant Milk Day and found
there are 12 distinct types of plant-milk, including a few blends, and well over 70 options when
taking all the available brands into account. 
Almond, soy and oat milk were the most
common varieties (with 21, 17 and 11 options
respectively), but South Africans can also choose
brown rice, cashew, coconut, hazelnut, hemp,
macadamia, quinoa, rice and tiger nut milk. 
“The global growth in plant milk can be
attributed to several key advantages that these
options have over dairy milk, including health,
environmental and ethical benefits,” says Mr
Will.
The milk alternative market used to exist
mainly for people with lactose intolerance or
those choosing to avoid dairy for ethical reasons
but this is no longer the case, he says. 
“The local market for these products is growing rapidly for two reasons: firstly, South Africans care about their health, the environment,
and how animals are treated – so if there are
good-tasting options that are offering benefits
in these areas, then we’ll try them. And, secondly, companies are making these
products more accessible – most major retailers
carry multiple plant-milk options, and restaurants and coffee shops are embracing the
options too.” 
According to ProVeg, it takes 28 litres of
water to produce a litre of soya milk but 628
litres to produce the same amount of cow’s
milk. 
Mr Will says plant-milks also have less greenhouse gas emissions, less land use and less water
pollution.
The organisation says the health benefits of
plant-milk include significantly less saturated
fat, no hormones or antibiotics, and no cholesterol