Ever since I found out drinking regular milk gives me the most painful stomach aches, I have always used milk substitutes in my everyday life. In coffee shops, I ask for soy milk in my coffee. Whenever I find myself in an ice cream shop, I make sure to look for non-dairy options. Before I bake anything, I make sure I have enough almond milk in the fridge. Once I made the mistake of mixing my almond milk with a little bit of regular milk to make the right amount of pancakes, and I couldn’t stand up straight for the rest of the day because of the pain.
So, here I am: a twenty-one year old, lactose-intolerant college student, living in the center of Philadelphia. The problem with this is that I am living in the second city in the United States to institute a sugar tax on beverages, including milk substitutes.
Yes. The city of Philadelphia is raising the prices of certain almond, cashew, soy milks for the same reason it is taxing people for the sugar in soda. As someone with a food intolerance, I find it unfair to raise the prices of products that help people avoid pain and a trip to the hospital. And I certainly didn’t understand why the price labels for certain “original” flavored milk-substitutes in grocery stores include additional tax when the Philadelphia Beverage Tax website explicitly states, “Unsweetened nut and plant milks are not taxable.”
It took a lot of trips to the closest grocery store, which for me is ShopRite, to figure out the nuances of this recently established tax. It quickly became clear that the flavor titles, such as “original” and “vanilla,” mean very different things across various brands. For example, Pacific’s Vanilla Almond Milk is unsweetened, and therefore, is exempt from the beverage tax, but the Almond Breeze’s Vanilla Almond Milk includes a $0.48 tax in its price.
A more confusing example of the labeling contradiction on milk-substitutes cartons is the use of the term, “original.” Within the Wholesome Pantry brand, the Original Soymilk is not affected by the tax, whereas the Original Almondmilk is charged an additional $0.96. The only consistent aspect of this labeling fiasco is that it is entirely inconsistent. Wholesome Pantry, Silk, Almond Breeze, and WestSoy all have unsweetened products that are exempt from the beverage tax, however some other non-dairy products they offer are taxed.
The Philadelphia Beverage Tax website explains which drinks are subjected to the tax. It says:
Sweetened nut and plant milks are taxable unless the USDA has deemed them nutritionally equivalent to dairy milk and that nut or plant milk is 50% or more of the finished beverage. Unsweetened nut and plant milks are not taxable.
The website, however, fails to mention that the names of flavors is not indicative of whether or not the product is pre-sweetened. Unlike the categories of dairy milk (skim, 2%, whole) which are clearly defined, the categories of nut and plant milks are not subject to standardized definitions. Unless you are familiar with the names of sweeteners, there is no quick method of determining if the products you are buying are correctly taxed.
If you suspect any mistakes in the pricing of your beverages, you can call to notify your local and state Director of Consumer Protection. (https://www.consumeraffairs.com/links/pa.htm)