Plant-based Yogurt

Can we truly Lovethe.Earth and still eat dairy-free yogurt?

Hmm. Let’s fully consider it.

Upon visiting some grocery store yogurt cases, the sheer number of options can be either delightful or overwhelming depending on how we feel about decision-making at the moment.

If we’re eating a 100% plant-based diet, our options quickly dwindle when we filter possible yogurt selections for dairy-free, and while we may hope our decision will get easier as we go, it really does not. We also need to eliminate all options that include any plastic in the packaging, and sadly, on a trip to Whole Foods a few of days ago, this selection process left us with none to choose.

One new brand at Whole Foods is packaged in a paper cup with a foil/paper lid; however, the lining inside the paper cups that keeps the moisture inside is made with plastic. As a result, the paper cups are not recyclable or compostable.

An upside to this brand is the claim that they use coconuts that are not sourced from Thailand or Indonesia. Thailand is known to have used monkey labor for coconut harvesting, and while the number of monkeys exploited there is estimated to have fallen from 15,000 to 3,000, National Geographic reports in 2020 that it is still happening. Plus, NPR reports in 2015 that some farms in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and India have also used monkey labor.

As we look for different options at Target, we find a very popular yogurt brand with a French-inspired glass jar and a foil lid—a viable alternative to plastic packaging—but the source of their coconuts and their suppliers’ harvesting practices must bear the same scrutiny mentioned earlier.

When we consider supply chains and the carbon footprint of importing all of the foods we love, we might extend this line of thought to all of the foods, goods, and services that are delivered to the U.S. from other countries. Wow. Right?

So what is our most practical solution for finding the best plant-based yogurt? Here are three options:

  1. One option would be to make our own yogurt using nuts that are grown in the United States, such as almonds or walnuts (cashews are not domestically grown). While making yogurt at home is not complicated, we would also need to make almond or walnut cream from scratch, and then make our yogurt with it. If we have the kitchen space, the tools, and the time to experiment for the right consistency, this might turn out to be fun (or frustrating). It might also turn out to be something we would only do for special occasions.
  2. Another somewhat-minimalist option would be to cut back on the amount of dairy-free yogurt we consume, going for paper-cup or glass-jar packaging when we want an occasional treat, and looking at the label to see where the ingredients come from. However, if we limit our consumption we stand to lose the potent and essential benefits of probiotics that make yogurt healthy.
  3. The extreme-minimalist option would be to abstain from yogurt altogether, and find a vegan probiotic capsule supplement packaged in a glass jar with a metal lid. Maybe this is the easiest option, as well as the smartest option until the plant-based yogurt industry can catch up to newly informed consumer preferences.

Speaking of those preferences, what is it that we really want again? We want a plant-based yogurt made from domestic ingredients that doesn’t travel across the country to get to our local grocery store. If existing yogurt companies won’t do it, is there anyone who would?

Can we shorten the yogurt supply chain? Could there be local small businesses not yet in existence to specialize in making plant-based yogurt in an ethical manner? Or is it a symptom of entitlement that fuels questions like these to begin with? It’s food for thought.

Reprogramming our minds and changing our habits might be the biggest hurdles we face in mitigating and reversing the impacts of climate change. Instead of training monkeys to fetch coconuts, maybe we could train ourselves to be satisfied with less or to go without. If we are successful in doing this, we will inherently develop a deeper respect for the Earth and ourselves.

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