I’m a person who relies on dairy as a staple of my diet. It makes up many of my favorite foods, and I’m pretty sure I couldn’t live without grilled cheese sandwiches. So when I realized I might be lactose intolerant, the idea of living without dairy seemed unbearable. When I resigned myself to eliminating it for a month, I thought I would fail within days. It turned out to be an entertaining experience, if nothing else. 

The first product I jumped to buy was oat milk, because I have milk in my morning coffee or tea every single day. My first surprise was just at the sheer volume of dairy free products Portland grocery stores carry. I still can’t tell the difference between every kind of cow milk, so this was a whole new world of overwhelming. After some taste testing, I have determined that soy milk is objectively disgusting and oatmilk is wonderful. Something about soy milk just feels oily, but to each their own. Hot cocoa with oat milk tastes the same as hot cocoa with whole milk and oat milk lattes are popular for a reason. The biggest downside to oatmilk is that it looks sort of grey which isn’t the most appealing color for food. Once you get over that, it’s a really great alternative, as long as you don’t expect it to taste the same. Oat milk ice cream, however, is not on par with the milk itself. I didn’t know it was possible for something to taste slimy until that experience. 

 I also got Earth Balance butter, which is made out of vegetable oil, because I can’t live without toast. It was decent and definitely operates as a nice spread to enjoy on toast. However, it has quite a high salt content so I’d consider it more of a salted butter alternative. I didn’t bake with it, but the taste is different enough that it seems like something that needs to be accounted for in recipes. 

The one product I truly didn’t enjoy was vegan cheese. It is eerily good at replicating the taste of cheese, given that it’s made out of cashew, but the texture is terrifying. I do not exaggerate here. I’ve never seen anything react to heat like that except maybe plastic. Actually, it’s not even like plastic. It doesn’t melt, it just sort of disintegrates. Eating it on a piece of toast leaves it stuck to the roof of your mouth like very sticky peanut butter.

The biggest lesson I have learned from this is that dairy “alternative” actually means that something is a similar color and consistency as the product it’s imitating. That’s where the similarity stops. Taste? Very rarely similar. If you can let go of the concept of perfect taste alternatives and enjoy the products as different products entirely, you’re all set. 

The restaurant DC Vegetarian was a life saver in terms of having access to dairy free restaurant food. Everything on their menu is vegan and they somehow make good dairy free grilled cheese. Although I still don’t know how they got their fake cheese to melt, magic maybe.

The biggest issue I faced throughout the entire process was dealing with my family. While they very kindly cooked all dairy free dinners, some of them really enjoyed flaunting their dairy eating privileges. They had pastries, mozzarella cheese, ice cream, and cookies. It was torture. Something about sibling relationships turns the other into an evil monster of vengeance when allowed to have something their sibling can’t have. Besides that, my dad is owed some credit for somehow making great dairy free biscuits. 

Overall, I concluded I am not lactose intolerant and will be happily continuing to eat dairy. Despite this, I’m not leaving oat milk behind anytime soon. If you feel like dairy might be making you feel sick or you just want to give the dairy free diet a try, I’d say it’s probably worth it. It isn’t as difficult as it might sound and dairy alternatives can be a lot of fun.

Soy milk and Earth Balance butter are two great dairy product alternatives. Photo by Sophie McEwen
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