Non-dairy milks a tasty choice

John Brookbank's commercial was a finalist in a Silk contest last year.
John Brookbank's commercial was a finalist in a Silk contest last year.
Posted: June 15, 2012

IF YOU DRINK cow's milk, it's likely that at one point or another you had to be talked into it. "Getting kids to drink milk" is a well-recognized meme (try Googling the phrase) in song, story and parenting guides, because the beverage is not, apparently, something we take to automatically.

But with enough "wholesome" spin (in 2007 the Federal Trade Commission forced the National Dairy Council to retract unfounded health claims) and government-funded campaigns (remember the U.S. Department of Agriculture's team-up with Domino's to sell more cheese per pizza?) cow's milk has been positioned as the natural, normal drink for everybody, with soy milk as the weird upstart challenger.

That's quickly changing, though, with more varieties of plant-based milk showing up on supermarket shelves. And a new Silk ad raises the stakes by reframing dairy as the "weird" choice.

John Brookbank's 50-second spot was a finalist in last year's user-submitted contest, and though it's not scheduled for TV, it is on Silk's official YouTube channel (see it at philly.com/almondmilk).

Riffing on a familiar theme (suddenly-appearing superhero persuades consumer to switch to new/better product), Brookbank has his "Power Milkman" knocking the milk jug from a poor schlub's hands. When the bike-messenger-outfitted superhero is told "you sure don't look like a milkman," he quips, "and you sure don't look like a baby cow!"

The ad's over-the-top hilarity mixes "extreme" sound effects, cheeky puns, a fake-mustache gag and a brazen tagline, calling Silk PureAlmond "a superior product that's made for people — not suckling cows."

Whether or not that's a factor, the trends are clear: Plant-milk sales are on the rise in the U.S. while dairy continues to decline. And the pro-dairy outfits that worked to hype the supposed "dangers of soy" now must chase consumers away from almonds, rice, coconut, flax, hemp, oats, hazelnuts and others.

Almond milk is the success story of the moment; it's now available in supermarkets everywhere and challenging soy for the top spot. Coconut milk (a beverage distinct from the cooking liquid) has also made great strides in market share.

So if you're curious, which one should you try? One advantage to the multiplicity of different milks is that they excel in different situations. While I never took to soy milk on cereal — too cloying — rice milk and almond milk work wonderfully. For cooking or baking, you'll almost always want an unsweetened variety. Soy, almond and coconut all perform well. Flax milk is great in smoothies, boosting omega-3s without altering flavor (and without leaving flax seeds to clean out of your blender).

And for drinking? That will depend on your taste, as well as what you're drinking it with. I find almond and coconut both go well with cookies, while rice and oat may be better standalones, but that's subjective. I also enjoy blending the different types to get the best balance for a given occasion.

Cholesterol-free milks made from nuts, grains and legumes have been around for centuries, and the modern versions are calcium-fortified. "Superior" products? That depends, but they are made for humans, by humans. Weird, huh?   

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 10-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles the growing trend of vegan eating in and around Philadelphia. Send your veg tips to VforVeg@phillynews.com and follow @V4Veg on Twitter.

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