Dairy or Soy? Quit Milking The Question


During the two years that I was a vegan in college, I tried to convince myself that I enjoyed soy milk. I actually liked almond milk and even oat milk, but since I couldn’t afford them on a regular basis, soy was my reluctant liquid-of-choice for cereal eating and cookie dipping.

Now that I am firmly back in the land of dairy – organic, hormone-free, grass fed, and so very delicious- my stomach recoils a bit at the sight of a carton of Silk (which, by the way, is owned by milk behemoth, Dean Foods). I’ve got nothing against the stuff, in theory – I just think it tastes like sweetened Play-Doh.

What I do have something against, is the question recently asked over at Slate: Which is better for the environment, soy milk or cow’s milk?

The article, written as part of the larger “Green Lantern” environmental series, takes this little eco-conundrum quite seriously. One the one hand, it reasons, soy milk has to go through significant processing to go from bean to drink (requiring a lot of energy use), whereas milk comes out more or less as is. On the other hand, raising cows takes a lot of feed (which also requires energy use) and produces a lot of methane. On yet the other (third?) hand, many soybeans are raised on Amazon rain forest land that has been clearcut to respond to the massive demand for the little green bean. Phew!

Unfortunately, the author has a fairly narrow definition of what “soy milk” and “cows milk” actually are. What if your milk comes from a local dairy at the farmers’ market? How does that impact the sustainability equation? Or what if you make the soy milk yourself? He seems to forget that neither of these options need to come packaged in waxy cardboard, or stacked on a supermarket shelf.

Moreover, the author presumes that a shopper will make his/her purchasing decision based on environmental factors alone. He does not really address the other ethical concerns people might have about cow’s milk. (After all, as Hazon learned at last year’s food conference, there’s “No Dairy Without Death,”). And what about health concerns? Is soy linked to breast cancer, or milk to heart disease? Granted, the article series is not called the “Comprehensive Values Lantern,” but when it comes to making choices at the store, even the most eco-hippie among us thinks about more than the environment.

As a Jew, I am heir to a tradition known for its extensive quibbling over just about every possible ethical and spiritual question. And I totally get it that people who want to live responsibly (myself included) are looking for someone to give them the easy answers. But arguing back-and-forth about something that, in the end, doesn’t really make that much of an environmental difference, seems akin to crying over spilled milk.

Bonus: Hey lactose-intolerant folks: looking for another alternative to cow’s milk – what about chicken milk? Unlike traditional milk, which comes from inside the cow and is therefore still considered kosher, chicken milk actually comes from processed chicken breast. So kosher keepers beware: Check your source before you go dunking that dairy cookie into a nice tall glass of chicken.

Related posts:
Kashrut Made Easy: Milchig Forever
Digest This: Eco-Milk & Bible Bread
Organic Dairy: A Sour Deal for Farmers

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9 Responses to “Dairy or Soy? Quit Milking The Question”

  1. Regina Ostrovski Says:

    I ask myself “Soy milk or cow’s milk with my bowl of cereal” every morning. Recently it’s been soy milk, however, Silk’s new “Green” carton ironically happens to be non- recycable so I am conflicted.
    Great post, thanks Leah.

  2. Tamar Says:

    I’m not a fan of soy milk myself. It’s fine used in baking, and to pareve-ify something that is supposed to be dairy. But the taste of it doesn’t really appeal to me. I do like the Sily Soymilk company, though. For more about them, check out http://www.idealbite.com/tipli.....k_soy_gcs/. Yes, they’re owned by Dean, but they’re still a generally good company.

    I think my biggest concern about soy and most other soy products is that they’re generally really heavily processed, so much of the nutritional value is gone by the time you eat it. I try to avoid stuff that’s heavily processed for a bunch of reasons, and so I tend to skip soy.

    Btw, do you actually know people who make their own soy milk?? That is so hardcore!

  3. leah koenig Says:

    Good to hear from you Regina! I hope I haven’t further complicated your breakfasts. :)

    I used to, Tamar…when I lived in hippie capital of the world, Eugene, Oregon. Haven’t met anyone in NY who makes their own soymilk, but I’m sure they’re out there!

  4. Stephen Mendelsohn Says:


    There is always chocolate or vanilla soymilk if you need a little flavor for drinking right out of the glass. I typically use Whole Foods 365 Organic or Organic Valley — the former is definitely recyclable, while I believe the latter is domestically sourced. And for those on a limited budget still trying to incorporate Jewish ethical values into our food choices, soymilk is less expensive than organic milk. Just make sure your soymilk is fortified with vitamins B12 and D as well as calcium, especially if you do not have too many other sources of these nutrients.

  5. VeganCowGirl Says:

    Thanks for the article link and the tip about Silk – but, of course, there are some excellent choices out there when one is trying to buy ethical and earth-happy soy products.

    I am a huge fan of almond milk and I love to use oat milk for baking. I have tried to kick soy more for my own dependency on the protein…..I dig the taste quite a bit, but hear where you are coming from.

    Thanks again for the post. Great blog.

  6. jerry Says:

    BTW, the guy who owns Silk said he bought the dairy so that he would have distribution and processing system for delivering Silk soy milk and that he intends to discontinue milk when Silk soy production is large enough to support the processing and distribution system

  7. mollyjade Says:

    In discussing this elsewhere, someone who lives in Brazil told me that soy isn’t grown in the rainforest because the soil there isn’t right for it. I looked around, and it seems this is right. Soy is increasingly grown in the areas just outside the rainforest which pushes cattle grazing and subsistence agriculture into the rainforest. It really blew my mind because “soy is grown in the rainforest” has always been an environmental truism. So commercial soy production does have an effect on the rainforest, but it’s more indirect. And then you have to take into account the fact that most soy is fed to cattle in the first place. I think this just shows how muddy so many environmental issues are.

    Here’s a treehugger post on rainforest destruction: http://www.treehugger.com/file.....e_city.php

  8. Ron Says:

    I can’t stand the taste of soy milk. Whether it’s vanilla, chocolate, or normal… it’s nasty.

    I drink lactose free milk… no issues with it.

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