One of the big food stories this past week was Tom Philpott’s article in Mother Jones on almond milk. Philpott deplores the current popularity of almond milk because 1) It’s not an especially nutritious food and, 2) Almond-growing is not friendly to the environment. He says that it’s just a bunch of “ignorant hipsters” who have made almond milk a bestselling beverage.

It’s true that almond trees are thirsty plants. But, from an environmental standpoint, almond milk is still a better choice than cow’s milk. Philpott could have learned about this by reading an article in his own magazine.

I do agree with him on this point, though: Almond milk is not especially nutritious. An 8-ounce glass is the equivalent of about 4 almonds; the rest is water and supplemented nutrients. I like almond milk, but I rarely drink it. I actually don’t drink plant milk much at all, but when I do, it’s always soymilk. I want the protein it provides, and it’s also easy on the environment.

There is more to food than nutrition, though. Sometimes you just need something to pour over your bran flakes. Or you need milk for a macaroni and not-cheese recipe. Or to wash down a chocolate chip cookie. And if you choose to eat in a way that is responsible and compassionate, then plant milk is the only option. Philpott doesn’t get this because he doesn’t embrace a vegan ethic. While he notes that the dairy industry is “nasty,” he’s referring only to its environmental footprint. And he tells us that his own choice is cow’s milk. Or, more specifically, kefir. Which, I have to say, kind of invalidates his whole “hipster” accusation about almond milk.

We have no need for animal foods. And therefore, we have no right to exploit animals to produce these foods. That’s why people who choose to eat responsibly and ethically opt for almond milk. Or hempseed milk. Or soymilk. Or no milk. Vegan choices are never about being “hip.” They are about living in a way that honors values of justice and compassion.  I wish more food writers understood this.