Green America’s Shireen Karimi volunteering at DC’s Common Good City Farm
Growing up in a dairy state, I regularly saw farms with black and white dairy cows grazing in the fields on the way to my grandparents’ house. While I never was fond of the manure smell, I loved seeing the large, calm beasts nibbling on greens and relaxing in the sun. Throughout the years, I learned more and more about the meat and dairy industries and the ugly truth of factory farming, which isn’t like my childhood farm scene at all. I easily stopped eating meat early on, but dairy was a bit harder to let go of.
In my family’s country, yogurt plays a daily role in their meals. So yogurt was a large part of my diet as well. I even made my own, of course from milk from a local dairy farm, which delivered to my house in glass bottles. However, I couldn’t ignore the idea of cows continually impregnated to keep producing milk, their udders regularly hooked up to machinery, and their babies taken away at birth so that humans could drink the milk meant for them. These reasons, along with the fact that dairy contributes to inflammation and congestion in the body, finally pushed me to cut dairy out of my diet.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure about trying it yourself, don’t worry. I have gone through multiple iterations with varying degrees of rigidness over the years. Keep in mind you don’t have to stop all dairy products at once. You can start with just one item (for example milk) and see how it goes. Or decide you’ll give them all up in your daily life but be open to the occasional dairy treat with family or friends. I believe you could have better long-term success if you strive for a particular diet most of the time but are forgiving instead of rigid.
Pay attention to how you feel when you don’t eat dairy and then how you feel when you do. I’ve noticed that if I do have dairy for a special occasion (e.g. family holiday), I am noticeably congested the next day. If you don’t feel compelled to be dairy-free for the cows or the environment, you might feel reinforcement to do it for yourself.
The easiest way to remove something from your life is to replace it with something better, right? So here are some of the ways I’ve replaced dairy in my food.
I love coconut oil and use it for everything. I cook with it, bake desserts with it, and put it on popcorn. Coconut oil withstands a higher cooking temperature than olive oil and is a healthy fat. You don’t have to worry about it being genetically engineered like typical vegetable oil which is usually canola and cottonseed oils. And it doesn’t come from cows pumped with antibiotics and eating feed from genetically engineered crops doused with toxic pesticides and herbicides.
On popcorn, I also use flax or hemp oil to get omega 3.
If you don’t want the coconut flavor in your dessert or dish, you can use sunflower oil or grape seed oil as neither has much flavor. Also, because the oils aren’t solid like butter, your desserts should be a little moister.
This one is easy. Instead of cow milk, you can use any of the many nondairy milks available – almond, coconut, rice, soy, hemp, flax, oat. However, for a savory soup, make sure you don’t buy a vanilla flavored variety. Some other things to keep in mind (I’ll just briefly touch on since they are beyond the scope of this article): almost all of the soy in the US is genetically engineered so make sure you buy organic or with the Non-GMO Project verification. Also, some people avoid soy because vegan and vegetarian diets are often overloaded with it and because of its phytoestrogens. In addition, carrageenan is in many of the nondairy milks, and some experts warn against consuming it. As for flavor, rice milk is a little more watery, and coconut milk beverage doesn’t taste like the canned coconut milk. I personally like the texture and taste of almond milk. Hemp milk is good too but more expensive.
Milk – Cereal, Baking, etc
Any nondairy milk that you like can replace cow milk. See Cream Soups above for more info. Vanilla varieties work well with cereal and some baked items, though you might want to check the label and make sure it doesn’t have lots of extra sugar.
Vegetables and Dip
For that quick appetizer, snack, or potluck dish, don’t buy the premade dips with sour cream and/or cheese. Buy hummus or make your own tahini dip to mimic the richness and fattiness of the dairy dips. See my recipe below.
Cheese in Sandwiches/Wraps
Use avocado for healthy richness. For those who don’t like avocado (apparently they exist) or for a slightly less expensive option, make a tahini spread. See my recipe below. (This tahini spread is really versatile.)
You can make “cheesy” broccoli, cauliflower, etc. with your own vegan cheese sauce. You can also make a vegan alfredo sauce. See recipes below.
Coconut ice cream is a fantastic replacement for dairy ice cream. It is very creamy and rich, and there are many flavors available without artificial and genetically engineered ingredients (corn syrup and sugar from sugar beets) like many dairy ice creams have. The only downside is the price. Rice and soy ice cream exist as well but are not as similar in my opinion.
Disclaimer: I don’t actually measure when I prepare food so these are estimates. Feel free to adapt.
Tahini Spread/Dip/Salad Dressing
½ cup tahini
¼+ cup apple cider vinegar (could also use red wine vinegar or balsamic)
¼+ cup lemon juice
Dried herbs of your choice – tarragon, parsley, oregano, basil
White or black pepper
Few squirts of flax or hemp oil for omega 3
Water to thin
Blend all ingredients, ideally with an immersion blender. A fork doesn’t work as well to fully blend the tahini with the liquid. If the mix is too thick and won’t blend, add a little bit of water or more lemon juice or vinegar. Make it as thick or runny as you want for a spread or dip.
This same base can we used for a salad dressing. Just add water, lemon juice, or vinegar.
Cream of Broccoli Soup
My mom doesn’t like broccoli, but she loves this soup.
1 onion or 1 bundle of green onion or 1 leek
3-5 cloves of garlic (depending on preference)
Pound of broccoli, both stalk and florets chopped and separated
3-4 carrots, roughly chopped
3-4 celery stalks, roughly chopped
vegetable broth (2-3 cups of liquid or 2-3 teaspoons of powder. I like Seitenbacher because it doesn’t have palm oil, which is often unsustainably grown)
2 tablespoons tahini
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups almond milk
white or black pepper
- Fry the onion in coconut oil or oil of your preference. Add garlic and fry.
- Add broccoli stalk, celery, and carrot. Add vegetable broth liquid or water mixed with broth powder to barely cover vegetables. Add salt and pepper.
- Simmer until almost tender but still a little hard, about 10-15 minutes depending on how big chunks are.
- Add broccoli florets and cook a little longer until florets are bright green. Overcooking will turn broccoli dark green/brown.
- Add tahini, olive oil, almond milk and blend. An immersion blender right in the pot is the easiest, but you can use any regular blender or food processor.
Vegan “Cheese” Sauce
1 tsp Braggs Liquid Aminos, tamari, or soy sauce
2 Tbsp tahini
1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
½ – 1 Tbsp lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp coconut oil, melted (optional)
Optional seasonings depending on what you’re putting it on:
water, if desired
Blend until smooth.
2 Cups Cashews, Soaked
¼ Cup Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or Nama Shoyu to taste
2 Tbsp Nutritional Yeast
1 – 2 Cloves Garlic
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
2/3 Cup Water
Pinch Sea Salt
Blend until smooth.