Dairy free Christmas brings comfort and joy

By Tracy Brighten

December wasn’t an easy month to be dairy free, but thinking of calves taken from their mothers kept me on track 

I was already considering the next stage of my journey in eating more ethically, but the exposure of dairy industry cruelty was the motivation I needed. After witnessing the abuse of bobby calves, it was time for change.

I first stopped eating meat in the late 80s after reading a factory farming expose in a UK newspaper. A few years later, I was eating meat again but by this time free-range meat was available in supermarkets. When we moved to New Zealand, a local butcher supplied us with ethically farmed meat, but four years ago, I quit meat again, followed by fish not long after. I hadn’t thought about dairy until recently.

I like milk on cereals and a dash in my tea, and I find cheese irresistible, but I can no longer let my ignorance shield me from dairy industry cruelty. Farmers are incredulous that people aren’t aware calves are taken from their mothers shortly after birth. But why would we know? Farmers work with livestock every day, but many of us are distanced from reality. We see only supermarket displays and marketing campaigns that reinforce the message that dairy products are natural, healthy and essential (which they aren’t).

We need greater transparency in the food industry so we can make informed choices. We should know what we are eating, including the health, environmental and ethical implications.

Quitting dairy was a big step, not only because my diet included a lot of dairy products, but also because my family will not be joining me. My decision does complicate family life, especially as milk is used in many processed foods, including bread and vegetable spreads.

But we shouldn’t feel guilty about living according to our beliefs and values. We readily accept people making dietary changes for health reasons, so why should people who make ethical choices be treated differently?

Dairy free December

December was my first dairy-free month. The festive season proved to be a challenge, not least because I usually indulge in Stilton cheese with a glass of port! Neither had I considered that my favourite Belgian chocolates with ganache centres would be off limit. But it’s a small sacrifice for peace of mind.

Many times in the past, we’ve enjoyed a vegetarian Christmas with Delia Smith’s decadent ‘Cheese Choux Pastries with Mushrooms in Maderia’ or ‘Cheese and Parsnip Roulade with Sage and Onion Stuffing.’ Vegetarians certainly don’t miss out. But with cheese and cream off the menu, I had to find another option for this season’s savoury centrepiece.

Nut loaf brings comfort and joy

I’ve always enjoyed nut loaf and a quick Google search revealed this much-maligned dish is making a comeback. Wanting to combine my favourite nuts with festive cranberries, red onions, mushrooms, celery and red pepper, I drew inspiration from two recipes (there’s a note at the end of this post).


Drinking Mount Gay rum, sharing the cooking (the more merry cooks the merrier) and not knowing how it would turn out added to the excitement. I left out the eggs and the cheese, which meant the loaf needed gentle handling but could still be cut into slices.

Vegan nut loaf

I didn’t miss out on Christmas chocolates either. I lightly roasted some slivered almonds then mixed them with melted dairy-free dark Belgian chocolate and spooned the mix into petit fours cases. These little choc-nut treats really are quite moreish.

Turkey tradition in the past

Several years ago, we ate turkey at Christmas, mainly for the tradition, which I never thought to question. But as I’ve said in other posts relating to traditions that involve animal cruelty, how long we’ve been doing something or how central it is to our culture doesn’t make it right. Turkeys, like all intensively farmed animals, experience suffering in their short lives. Although we didn’t support factory farming and bought free-range turkeys from the local butcher, my conscience is clearer now I’m eating plant-based food and no dairy.

Dairy-free milk options

I’m still experimenting with finding the best replacement for cow’s milk. I’ve tried unsweetened soy, coconut, oat, rice and almond milk. It’s proving difficult to find an all-rounder for cereals, tea, coffee, cocoa, cooking, and plain drinking. The leading contender so far is oat milk because it doesn’t have a strong flavour, but the tasting isn’t over yet.

It’s just a matter of changing my expectations, but I’m getting there!

Are you eating a vegan or dairy-free diet or are you considering making the change? I’d love to hear about your experience. I’ve found giving up cheese more difficult than giving up meat.

Christmas nut loaf re-mixed

BBC Good Food provided the main recipe. I replaced the tomato sauce with Jamie Oliver’s vegan gravy; instead of dried oregano and paprika, I used fresh rosemary and thyme taken from Jamie Oliver’s nut loaf recipe; I used pistachios and hazelnuts as the mixed nuts, and I added Jamie’s cranberry topping. I also cut out the eggs and cheese. When making it again more recently, I replaced the red lentils with 50g almonds (200g nuts in total) and we preferred the lentil-free version. I also used frozen cranberries instead of rehydrated dried cranberries – dried were quite sweet, frozen worked well and fresh would be better (with a dash of Taylors port!). Have fun experimenting 🙂

Post update December 2, 2018:

You might like to try Bosh!’s recipe for vegan Portobello Mushroom Wellington. It works a treat! I made it last year and added some spinach and fresh cranberries, cooked and softened in a little sugar, as the final layers for some Christmas colour. Mine wasn’t as pretty to look at (the extra height didn’t help) but it went down well, even with the meat eaters!

Image credit:
Festive vegan loaf by David Brighten
Vegan loaf ingredients by David Brighten
Dairy-free milk by David Brighten