The Animal-Free Future of Milk Is Here
It’s 60 degrees in New York today, and as thrilled as I was to not put on my gigantic parka this morning, I know there is something deeply wrong with not having to wear a coat in the middle of January. Climate change is no hoax (despite what our president-elect may believe), and a big contributor to that is animal agriculture production. Livestock’s impact prompted Smithsonian Magazine to ask “Is the Livestock Industry Destroying the Planet?” And the answer is, well, yes: “Livestock species contribute directly and indirectly to deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, greenhouse gases, global warming, desertification, erosion and human obesity.” It’s not just livestock developed to later become steak. The dairy sector alone is thought to be responsible for 4 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions: a gallon of milk is responsible for 17.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. Nut milk isn’t treating the earth all that much better: Almonds in particular use way more water than other plants and the demand is contributing to California’s drought.
Fortunately, Perfect Day, a start up crafting animal-free dairy products—yes, you heard that right—is set to launch later this year. When founders Ryan Pandya and Perumal Gandhi met, they had both recently adopted plant-based diets, and saw an opportunity to create a dairy product that actually looked and tasted like milk, and boasted the same nutrients, without the environmental impact or concern over animal harm. Drawing from their biomedical engineering background, they wondered if they could create milk proteins. To do so, they got a strain of yeast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which they’ve nicknamed “Buttercup,” and injected a 3D print out of a cow’s DNA into a specific location in the yeast. With this, the yeast ferments and transforms sugar into real milk proteins (casein and whey)—a process not unlike the one to make beer. At this point in the process, other plant proteins, sugars, and nutrients are added to create the product that Perfect Day claims tastes just like the real thing—without lactose, animal products, or GMOs. It'll basically be the Impossible Burger of the milk world.
The founders recently hired Ravi Jhala, formerly of Chobani, to be the head of food development, which means he’s responsible for making the taste, mouthfeel, and overall experience consuming Perfect Day products as great as possible. With the milk product more or less perfected, the team has moved on to creating ice cream, cheese, yogurt, and even pizza. And currently, the plan is to launch with one of these items instead of a beverage: “I think for a lot of people, they have that non-dairy milk that they’re happy with, but they go right back over to the dairy case for the cheese, yogurt, and ice cream,” Pandya told Munchies.
As a frequent consumer of soy and almond milk (haters gonna hate) this strikes me as a really smart strategy for Perfect Day. I’ve figured out my non-dairy milk go-tos, but I put up with mild stomach aches and major guilt over the environment due to my love of roquefort, skyr, and scoops of mint-chocolate chip. All the vegan alternatives seem suspicious, and I’m not willing to give up dairy all together, as much as I’d like to. But if a vegan, earth-friendly carton of ice cream were to appear in the grocery store freezer, claiming to be—really and truly, no “buts”—just like the real thing, I’d absolutely give it a go.