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Every week we get a flier in the mail highlighting current deals, coupons and freebies. I usually glance through the pages out of curiosity, and I’ve noticed a disturbing trend.

For some time, the weekly flier has promoted special deals on plant-based “milk” products, often displaying them prominently. Labeling a plant-based fluid product as “milk” is misleading, but I’ll get into that in a bit.

I’m not a fan of plant-based “milk” because of its attacks on the dairy industry, and I don’t appreciate the consistent push of the products by our local store. Still, what I saw in this week’s flier topped it all.

On the page listing current specials in the dairy section was a banner highlighting June as National Dairy Month. And right next to it, at the top of the page, was a special deal for the very plant-based products that cause harm to the dairy industry by stealing its name and, I suspect, some of its customers.

I couldn’t believe the hypocrisy, or the nerve for that matter.

Without getting into all of the legalese of marketing and product labeling, plant-based “milk,” whether it’s made from soy, almonds, rice or coconuts, has nothing remotely in common with real milk, other than the color. Plants don’t produce milk; they produce sap, pigment and substances containing carbohydrates and water.

Female mammals with a mammary gland are capable of producing real milk.

That’s it.

'Milk' or Milk?

One of the selling points touted by plant-based “milk” companies is the health benefits of the dairy alternative. I’m not so sure the claim is accurate, however. Because it doesn’t occur naturally in plants, in order to create “milk” from almonds, soybeans, rice or whatever, the concoction is heavily processed with a list of interesting ingredients added.

Almond “milk” made by Silk is actually filtered water, almonds and a vitamin and mineral blend that includes locust bean gum, gellan gum, ascorbic acid and calcium carbonate — which is also an antacid that you just might need after drinking such a mixture.

According to the ingredient list for Califia Farms Original Oatmilk, that product contains water, along with sunflower oil, dipotassium phosphate, tricalcium phosphate and calcium carbonate.

Conversely, the ingredients in a gallon of whole milk are simply what comes from the cow’s udder, and vitamins A and D3.

Based on ingredients alone, it’s clear that real milk is the healthier choice over plant juice, in my opinion. But with that being the case, why do some people still choose the plant-based alternative?

Well, it appears there’s more to the plant-based drink movement than simply serving as a secondary option to dairy. Not only are plant “milk” drinkers under the impression they’re making the healthy choice, some companies claim they’re saving the world as well.

On its website, Silk claims its plant-based products have a lower carbon footprint than dairy milk. The company also states that “plant-based living can help save the planet.”

From what? Family dairy farms?

Oatly, which manufactures oat “milk” products, states on its website that “Avoiding meat and dairy is shown to be the single most effective way to reduce your impact on Earth.”

It all begs the question that if dairy is so bad, as these companies tell us, then why do they still choose to connect to the industry by calling their products milk?

Simple. Using the term “milk” makes their products sound more natural and appealing to consumers. If a company like Silk actually called their drink what it is — soybean juice — I suspect the cartons wouldn’t be flying off the shelves.

In the big picture, plant-based drinks aren’t all bad for agriculture. Farmers are needed to grow the soybeans, oats and other things that will be processed into a beverage.

The problem I have with it, however, is the benefit is coming at the expense of the dairy industry, and the terminology used on the carton is misleading at best.

When it comes to real dairy, if you want the truth, drink a glass of milk produced by a cow, or even a goat.

But just remember, if you choose to pour a cup of soy “milk” or almond “milk” instead, you’re really drinking a lie.

Staff Reporter

Tom Venesky is a staff reporter for Lancaster Farming. He can be reached at tvenesky@lancasterfarming.com

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