Homemade Cashew Milk

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Giving up on dairy

I have been a pescetarian (that is to say, a fish-eating vegetarian) for over 15 years now. I don’t eat mammals or birds, but I do eat fish, eggs and dairy. 

More recently, the incongruity of consuming dairy whilst refusing to eat an actual cow slowly began to dawn on me. After all, dairy farming is, by virtue of what it takes to make a cow produce milk, a rather more distressing process than meat production, and you can read a bit more about that here.

And so we started trying to cut out dairy. As someone who doesn’t actually like cow milk (one of my earliest memories is suddenly taking very violently against it as a very young child, sitting at my grandmother’s dining table in Chelmsford), giving up many uses of dairy wasn’t much of a challenge. I have never taken milk in tea, only in the occasional coffee, and nor do I eat typical, milk-heavy British breakfast products like cereal or porridge. I discovered very quickly that I very much prefer the taste of soy or almond milk in coffee, that vegan coconut oil spreads are a perfectly viable alternative to butter on good bread, and that Alpro soy yoghurts taste almost indistinguishable  (or even better) than their dairy equivalents. 

Dairy alternatives are not perfect however. Soy and nuts tend to come with significant air miles behind them, and also tend to come packaged in that well known nemesis of recycling, the Tetra Pak. Thinking that we could at least try to resolve the packaging problem, we started researching into making our own milk at home. 

Our thoughts first turned to oat milk, for the simple reasons that we have a local deli which sells oats in paper bags, and oats tend to be grown closer to home (ours in fact travel just a few miles to get to us). No air miles and no plastic, what could be better! We found instructions online and set to work, soaking the oats in a bowl overnight.

Things seemed to be going well as we blended, strained and bottled the milk the following day. However, the sieve didn’t quite strain as well as was needed, and the milk not only had a gritty texture but also kept thickening in the fridge, presumably as the oatmeal residue continued to swell. Our first effort was therefore a bit of a disaster, but we have since bought a cheesecloth nut milk bag and so will be trying again soon.

For our second attempt, we switched to cashews, as they don’t need to be strained. We again put them in a bowl to soak in water overnight, and then had a long conversation about which of our blenders would be best for dealing with the nut blending process (i.e. which would not break). We needn’t have worried: the next morning the nuts had become so soft you could actually squish them between your fingers. We ended up just using our smoothie maker (we have a Breville Blend Active) to make the milk, which is super easy because if you are feeling lazy you can soak, blend and store in the same container. Doing this reduces the time you need to be actively involved in the process to less than about 3 minutes. 

There are of course downsides to cashews, mainly the fact that they have travelled a long way to be here and that you almost always have to buy them in a plastic bag. However, you don’t need large quantities (about 1 cup or 100g of cashews makes almost 1 litre of milk), and there is something lovely about having a bottle of fresh milk you have made yourself in the fridge. I will never be a milk drinker but Mark thinks it’s delicious on his cereal, and with a texture and appearance almost identical to cow milk, it’s great for cooking or in a smoothie. We will persevere with oat, but this was a nice discovery in the meantime. 

Instructions

You will need:

  • 1 cup/100g cashews (raw/unroasted)
  • 4 cups/1 litre water

Method:

Soak the cashews in the water for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Put it all in a blender. Blend. It’s as easy as that. You could add a little cinnamon, honey or vanilla extract if you fancy.

You can of course make different quantities by following the same proportions if your blender/appetite is smaller/larger. 

A final top tip:

I would recommend investing in a funnel for easy moving between containers!

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Becoming vegan

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I watched Simon Amstell’s mockumentary film ‘Carnage’ this week, which is available on iPlayer for the foreseeable future.

Set in 2067, the film depicts a future world in which the entire population is vegan, and meat, eggs and dairy are banned. It tells the story of how we used to live and how and why we changed, reminiscing about the the meat-guzzling decades of the past with a sense of macabre horror: brightly coloured 1990s fast food adverts, depicting smiling, happy families ploughing dripping burgers into their mouths take on a different quality when cut with footage of cows being shot in the head and male chicks being gassed on egg farms. As we move through the decades, vegan activists become prominent figures, the animal rights movement grows force, and environmental issues including widespread, devastating flooding starts to make people think more seriously about the environmental impact of their choices.

Amstell himself is a vegan. If you go and see one of his stand-up shows he will talk about veganism in his usual apologetic, self-effacing way. The film reflects this, being as it is not full of science or facts and figures, and seems quite personal in its experience of changing views. I saw a lot of parallels with my own experiences in it, having been vegetarian now for almost 15 years. Vegetarianism for me started as a gradual phase-out, and I now eat no mammals or birds (I still eat a bit of fish). At first it was quite hard not eating meat, but after a few years I realised one day that I no longer saw meat as food. I would look at a sausage or chicken breast and feel just as I would if I was looking at a stone or a table. It had left my food vocabulary as an edible product.

Some years later, another shift occurred. I was in Tesco and found myself accidentally in the meat aisle, cutting through to another part of the store. On a shelf were whole chickens, piled up in rows, and I suddenly saw them for what they were: the dead bodies of former living creatures, industrially massacred so we can enjoy a cheap and probably forgettable dinner. I have never had a problem with looking at meat in itself and am completely comfortable with the concept of dead flesh (I was a total dissection geek at school), but the concept of filling my body with the commoditised product of a genocide upset and disgusted me. How would you feel if you walked in and saw a shelf piled up with the cling-wrapped flesh of dead dogs for sale? And what is the difference?

Last year I was at a festival and amongst the activities you could take part in was one where you would be shown how to skin and prepare a dead rabbit, before eating it. I overheard a girl complaining about how she loved eating rabbit, but that the idea of preparing it made her feel sick. To me, the idea that you could find the preparation process revolting but willingly put the results inside your own body is completely incomprehensible, and just goes to show how completely detached we have become from a true appreciation of what we are eating.

Watching Carnage also had an impact on me as a non-vegan. Watching footage of cows suffering obvious pain whilst being forcibly inseminated to keep them producing milk made me realise how incongruous it is to continue to consume dairy whilst not eating flesh. So I will be making more effort to cut out dairy where possible.

I will be recommending Carnage to people whenever I can. The film works so well because although its subject matter is hugely serious, it’s not presented in a serious way and is actually very funny. The future depicted in the film features support groups for elderly people who are trying to deal with their meat-eating past, and viral videos from a Farage-esque angry old man who wants Britain to make meat great again. The film doesn’t have an overt, stern education message, but simply shows that cultural norms are not always rational, and attitudes can change. Sometimes I feel i am just quietly waiting for everyone else to cotton on.