Tags Posts tagged with "dairy-free"


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By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I’ve tried to dodge the question for years.

For some reason, it comes up despite an eagerness on my part to point to the sky and shout, “Look, it’s a flying turtle,” or to ask, “Wait, aren’t Derek Jeter, Halle Berry and Eva Mendes all sitting together over there?”

You see, I have a dairy allergy. When I first noticed over three decades ago that I couldn’t eat or drink milk products, the world wasn’t as prepared, accustomed and, most of all, accommodating toward allergies.

I’d go in a restaurant, even a fancy one, and tell the waiter or waitress that I was allergic to dairy. I’d get this dubious look like she thought she was on candid camera or that I wanted the fancy French chef to make me a Big Mac.

I tried to order quietly while everyone was looking at their menus or diving for the gold coins I’d thrown across the room as a distraction while I whispered about my allergy to a waitress, begging for a chance to order without facing the inevitable food inquiry.

Alas, more often than not, my distraction techniques and whispering rarely worked.

“I’m allergic to dairy,” I’d mumble.

“Say what?” she’d say.

The restaurant would go silent as if EF Hutton were telling people how to invest.

“I can’t eat anything made with milk, cheese, butter or cream,” I’d say.

“So, what do you want to eat? The chef can’t redo the entire kitchen just for you,” she’d reply, while snarling, blowing the bangs off her forehead and rolling her eyes.

Typically, I’d come up with something creative like a plate of lettuce, an unbuttered bagel, a hard-boiled egg or a Chinese meal. Asian restaurants rarely use milk or butter, which makes Chinese, Japanese and Thai food among my favorites.

Once I’d finally placed the order and was ready to engage in a non-food-related conversation, someone would look me in the eye and ask.

“So, what happens to you if you eat dairy?”

And there it is. I’m not sure what to say. Going into graphic detail forces me to relive unpleasant experiences.

Over the years, I’ve looked at my wife for help. She’s tried to point out the scar from the IV she got when she gave birth to our daughter, shared some exciting anecdote from work, or offered a story from her childhood.

The more we try to redirect the question, the more likely it is to persist.

“No, really, what happens? Would you die?” people have asked eagerly. Sometimes, their tone is so matter of fact that I wonder if they’d like popcorn, with plenty of butter, to watch the death by dairy event.

Do I carry an EpiPen? Would my throat close? Would I need immediate medical attention?

While the answer to all three questions is “No,” I prefer not to think about, and relive, the consequences of a few mouthfuls of key lime pie.

Describing the discomfort that starts in my mouth and continues all the way to my, well, other exit point, requires me to share unpleasant details.

I try to shorten the interaction by suggesting, in general terms, that I’m in intense digestive discomfort.

“How long does it last?” someone asks.

“Long enough that I haven’t had ice cream for over three decades.”

While the question is unpleasant, the modern reality is not. Waiters and waitresses often arrive at the table and ask about food allergies.

Then again, out of habit, some of them ask at the end of my order if I’d like cheese in my omelet or on my burger.

I smile, waiting for them to look me in the eye.

“Right, right,” they eventually grin. “No dairy. I knew that.”

The final chapter for WholeSoy & Co.

Stonyfield Organic O'Soy yogurt at Wild By Nature is one option to fill the hole left by WholeSoy.

It’s been a month and a half since my stash of Trader Joe’s organic soy yogurt ran out, and I still haven’t found anything equally as satisfying to fill the void in the lunchbox. Though it’s never been confirmed, I’ve always believed that family-owned WholeSoy & Co. made Trader Joe’s soy yogurt, since both brands always seemed to disappear from stores at the same time.

Now, after two years of following WholeSoy’s battle to keep its yogurt on the shelves, I bring you the anti-climactic conclusion. The 16-year-old company shuttered in March.

This premature end was particularly surprising, since things seemed to be looking up back in January when Maryland-based Nutroganics licensed the WholeSoy & Co. name for the production and sale of soy milk. Whether this marriage will remain intact, or even extend to soy yogurt, remains to be seen.  The company, which owns three other “healthy lifestyle” labels, did not return calls for comment.

This is not the way epics and stories about underdogs are supposed to end.

WholeSoy, based in Modesto, Calif., fought valiantly to pick itself up after its factory — known as a co-packing plant — closed in 2013. I tracked the progress as the company moved to a new facility, and then, because the facility couldn’t meet its huge production needs, put together funds to build and operate its own dairy-free yogurt-making facility. Then we all waited yogurt-less, month after month, as deadlines came and went and the yogurt we yearned for didn’t return to store shelves. Finally, after almost a year, it was back in April 2014, and all, it seemed, was right with the world.

Not quite a year later — in March — I noted the dwindling supply of yogurt at Wild by Nature and knew something was up. A visit to the WholeSoy website confirmed it. A letter to customers explained that the company simply could not afford to both run the business and cover the debt it incurred while off the shelves and from building a new facility.

At that point, I did the only thing I could do. I went to Trader Joe’s and cleared the shelf — actually, I think I left about four containers behind. If this was the end, we were going down with a boatload of soy yogurt.

While WholeSoy stood out for making organic soy yogurt with ingredients that had no genetic modifications, it was also notable for its transparency. In an effort to be “honest and forthright” it tried to keep its customers in the loop through regular posts to its website and social media. At one point, the executives even apologized for promising and then delaying (several times) the yogurt’s comeback “and not taking into account consideration of all of the potential pitfalls.”

It was also no secret that executives had poured their own money into the business along with a $400,000 loan from Whole Foods. Yet, in the end, it wasn’t enough.

“[W]e have exhausted all possible sources of additional funding and can no longer continue to operate,” the bare-all message said.

And yet, aren’t these precisely the companies we want to see thrive?  It’s sad, really —and not just for vegans and people with dairy allergies — that an independently owned, environmentally and socially conscious company was unable to survive despite the high demand for its product. According to them, they were the number one selling soy yogurt, and based on all of the love notes customers have left as recently as this month on their page, it’s clear that they had quite the following.

Certainly, there are other soy yogurts on the planet, but even my own little soy yogurt connoisseur votes with a spoon and declares that the others do not taste the same. Besides, after watching our protagonist face and overcome so many obstacles, this denouement is less than satisfying.

I can only hope for a sequel in which the WholeSoy founders are able to rise from the ashes to build a stronger, even more successful business.

Until then, I’ll echo their final words to customers back to them.

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts and farewell.”


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WholeSoy yogurt fans couldn't be happier about its long-awaited return

No need to go without organic soy yogurt anymore!

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Stonyfield Organic's O'Soy yogurt tries to fill the void left by WholeSoy's absence.

Stonyfield Organic O'Soy yogurt at Wild By Nature is one option to fill the hole left by WholeSoy.