Other Vegan Views articles
The Milk of Human Kindness Arthur Ling interviewed by Harry Mather, Vegan Views 37 (Autumn 1986)
drawing of Arthur Ling

VV seems to be pursuing a search into the origins of soya milk. In this interview, we are exploring the coming of soya milk to Britain. Those who have been vegan a long time will remember the constant letters and reminders from Arthur Ling asking vegans to support Plamil in the early days and his untiring efforts which culminated in this year's Vegan & Vegetarian Half-Marathon to celebrate 21 years of Plamil in Britain.

In this interview with VV, we can learn more about the man behind Plamil and find out how soya milks arrived in Britain, what problems had to be resolved before it attained today's popularity in the Health Food Trade.

Will we see it some day delivered on the door, as is reputed to have happened in parts of Asia? (See Letter at the end of this article).


I know that you must have been vegan for a long time. How did you start?

I was brought up in an orthodox meat-eating environment but when I was aged about 6 or 7 and on holiday with my parents, I saw a large fish being hauled up on the pier and the way it was hacked about revolted me. From that moment I could not face any flesh on my plate. My well-meaning parents, however, did not have any idea of nutrition and I had no protein replacement at all, so when I hear of people these days worrying as to whether they are getting enough protein, I feel they are worrying unnecessarily.

Quite naturally, all my aunts and uncles, etc, declared that if I didn't eat meat, I would never grow up to be a strong man! This made me more determined to stay the course. Then when I reached my teens and was more able to think things out for myself, I realised what a lot of bunkum it was to be told we were doing the cow a favour by drinking its milk, and became vegan.


You now have children. Did you bring them up vegan? If so, did this bring any problems?

My three children were vegan from birth and really it was not that difficult. The only major problem I thought I would have was when I was asked to go and see the Medical Officer at the school and explain why the children had not had any vaccinations or boosters, etc. After a few minutes conversation, the lady Medical Officer exclaimed, "I quite agree with you but I have had to call you in as a matter of formality!"

Dietwise there was no problem whatsoever because the children were naturally brought up on Plamil and a well-balanced vegan diet. They had plenty of sunshine on their bodies throughout the summer and I feel this contributed to their very healthy childhood.


I remember you as being involved with the production of Plamil from its early days. How did it all begin?

This dates back to the time when, soon after the formation of the Vegan Society, it formed a subcommittee to look into the ways of getting a vegetable milk on the market, because there were no non-dairy milks available in the country. Leslie Cross and Barry Green and one or two others (whose names I have forgotten) and I formed this sub-committee, but unfortunately, as a few of us moved to different parts (e.g. Barry Green moved to Honolulu and I became resident in Wales), the sub-committee never really got off the ground. Some years later, I noticed a classified advert in the then Vegetarian News, inviting anyone interested in a vegetable milk to a meeting in Friends' House, Euston, London. I went along and was greeted by Leslie Cross (who I then discovered had convened the meeting) and in view of our earlier association on the Vegan subcommittee, he invited me to take the chair. The 30 or so present decided to meet again and adopt the name of Plant Milk Society.

The society wrote to both Mapletons and Granose to ask if they would put a vegetable milk on the market, but both firms replied that they could see no demand for such a product. We then scouted round the world, so to speak, and found that there was a soya milk powder being produced by a firm in America called Loma Linda. When we asked them if they would send supplies over, they explained they could only work with a Seventh Day Adventist organisation. We therefore got back to Granose to ask if they would import it for us, but once again they declined.

Being blessed with a knowledge of Company Law, I thereupon offered to set up a company to produce a vegetable milk, and Dr. Franklin, a food technologist, offered to research the matter. The company was named Plantmilk Ltd. and when, after a period, we obtained a few shareholders and started production in 1965 with Leslie Cross as the first full time employee, I undertook the business side in my spare time, i.e. evenings and weekends. Initial production was in a small factory in Iver in Buckinghamshire.

It was rented on a quarterly basis with the knowledge that one day a property developer would be purchasing the whole site, when we would need to find other premises. Fortunately the property developers did not come along until 1972. Then, thanks to 16 vegans taking out debentures, we were able to acquire the freehold of a factory in Folkestone. Leslie Cross had by then reached retirement age, so I came in full time. We coined the name Plamil (PLA being the first 3 letters of "plant" and MIL the first 3 letters of "milk") as a trademark and in the mid-seventies changed the name of the company to Plamil Foods.


Soya Milk did exist before Plamil was produced, so were there any difficulties in the early days?

There were no soya milks in existence when we started in 1965, so we were pioneers of a British made soya milk. There were numerous difficulties in the early days, and, as unfortunately both Leslie Cross and Dr. Franklin passed away, I was the one left to have the sleepless nights (figuratively speaking). The major problem was to demonstrate the need for an alternative to dairy milk, because so many health store proprietors did not appreciate the need. The majority of vegetarians were then unsympathetic, and the market was virtually left to a few vegans and those allergic to dairy milk. We had therefore a double act to perform: of educating as well as selling. Because initially our sales were on the small side, we faced the problem of having to pay expensively for small quantities of raw materials and we also had to work very much with improvised machinery. We did not have the resources to engage in advertising or participating in exhibitions, so we had an uphill struggle, but I was determined that we would succeed.


Did you have any opposition from the Dairy Industry?

I was not aware of any because we were too small for them to worry about. To them, we were merely, as it were, a needle in a haystack.

I seem to remember, it was said at one time that the dairy industry was threatening to sue you for using the word "milk" as being a misleading description.

No, not directly, but the dairy industry has so 'dominated' the labelling regulations to the extent that it has been very difficult for us over the years to go any length of time without something or another being called into question. This has been responsible for us incurring unnecessary expenditure in having to face initiation costs for new layouts of labels, e.g. in the early days we were not allowed to use the term 'soya milk'. The position in regard to Labelling acts has always been unsatisfactory in that there has been no central authority in the country to whom one can go to obtain approval. Interpretations of the Acts has been left to various authorities in different parts of the country, each to interpret the Acts according to their individual understanding. Years ago, this was the province of the Inspectors of Health throughout the country. Now it comes under the auspices of the Trading Standards Officers. At one time in the early seventies, an Inspector of Health threatened to sue us unless we described soya milk as 'liquid food of plant origin'. After being forced to adopt this cumbersome title for a few years, another Inspector of Health declared that it was not correctly describing the product and a compromise was arrived at with the description 'soya plantmilk'.

Even today, the labelling situation remains very unsatisfactory. We understand another firm's Local Authority has questioned their describing of the product as 'soya milk' and yet another authority has indicated to us that we use the description at our own risk, whereas another Authority declares it is perfectly acceptable! Truly the Law is an ass! But it all demonstrates the power of the dairy industry to influence the Labelling Acts, so much so that the current Act says:
The word 'milk' or any other word or description which implies that the food being described contains milk shall not be used as part of the name of a food unless
a) the food has as an ingredient cow's milk with all its normal constituents in their natural proportions or
b) the food has an ingredient of cow's milk ...

Then various sub-sections follow and much lower there is another clause, which says unless
"the word or description is used in such a way as to indicate that it does not refer to the presence of milk or any of its constituents in the food."

We interpret this latter as an exemption clause, so to speak, to permit the terminology 'soya milk'.


I know they are good, but why does Plamil make chocolate and carob bars?

When we started in 1965, we needed another product to subsidise the soya milk and we produced the chocolate. We did not then have machinery to make a bar ourselves so had to approach chocolate manufacturers. They said that a satisfactory chocolate could not be made out of soya. However, one manufacturer produced it and declared it tasted better than their own chocolate. A few years ago, we acquired machinery to make the chocolate at Plamil House and subsequently a carob bar using the same machinery, moulds, etc.

Every one of our confections purchased means there is one less dairy milk bar being consumed.


There are many other soya milks on the market today. How does Plamil differ from them?

When we started, we spent time in discussion with Drs. Alan Stoddard and Douglas Latto and the late Drs. Hugh Franklin, Bertrand Allison, Frey Ellis and J.G. Davis to formulate a soya milk which would meet the nutritional requirements of vegans. This is why the formula includes calcium and vitamins B2, B12 and D2. With our gradual growth, and the health food trade's belated awareness of the need for a soya milk, other companies decided to cash in (so to speak) on the bandwaggon and there are now other soya milks on the market. None of these is under the control of a vegan and none is formulated to vegan requirements. I feel it is unwise for vegan children to be brought up without the necessary nutrients in Plamil.

I have always been conscious of the need to ensure that Plamil foods remains completely vegan in its entirety and for this reason have made sure that the company's Memorandum and Articles of Association defines the aims and objectives of the company simply: "to promote and carry on the business of producing vegan foods". (By law a company may only undertake operations defined in its M & A A).

No other company has limited its spheres of operation solely to vegan foods as we have. Furthermore the policy of the company has always been to ensure that its investors and therefore its control is in vegan hands. It gives me additional pleasure that my son Adrian, who has been in charge of production for the past 3 1/2 years, is a dedicated vegan with adequate business acumen to follow in my footsteps if and when the time comes for me to retire. Though, (thanks to taking advantage of the sun and air as opportunity presents itself - plus swimming and badminton and, of course, Plamil) I enjoy 100% fitness and do not visualise easing off for some time.

It has been encouraging to see the growth of the company, but it has frankly meant making many sacrifices along the way, so I would ask all vegans to support Plamil by buying its products, knowing that the company is advancing the vegan cause at all times and has been solely responsible for other soya milks coming on the market, and will be producing further vegan foods which will doubtless set a pattern for other firms to follow. It has for example just introduced a 14 ml mini-pot size of concentrated sugar-free soya milk which will be invaluable for holidays, picnics, restaurants, etc. and steps are under way to get it into airlines. This will literally keep the Plamil and Vegan flags 'flying'! Would any vegans using airlines specifically ask for the Plamil mini-pots. This is the surest way to get this new line "off the ground" (If you will excuse the pun!)


Do we really need a substitute for milk and in a future world where all are vegans, do you think the idea of a substitute for milk will appear old-fashioned?

I like to use the word "replacement" rather than "substitute" because "substitute" tends to suggest second best. I think there will always be a need for a soya or some form of vegetable milk because many do not like black tea, coffee, Barleycup or whatever, and like a dash of soya milk in it. There are also plenty of dishes that can be made with a soya milk base.


You had a great success organising the Plamil HalfMarathon this year. Will there be any more?

Most firms just sponsor a sporting event and do not organise it. We undertook the dual role of organising it as well as meeting the expenses. These made heavy inroads into our time and financial resources. This event marked our 21st Trading anniversary and it was an excellent way to demonstrate to the world that non-meat eaters could complete 13.1 miles successfully. We could only consider repeating such an event if we could be assured that both the Vegan and Vegetarian Societies' journals would publicise the event before the run in future. Since the successful event in April of this year, I have tried to get the Vegan Society, the Vegetarian Society, the Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club and Animal Aid together for a joint discussion, but a meeting planned for July was cancelled at the last minute, as Adrian Sharratt resigned his position as Chief Executive of the Vegetarian Society. Until a successor is appointed and the respective bodies can get together under one roof, we shall have to leave any thought of a repeat half-marathon in abeyance.


The following letter appeared in the same issue of Vegan Views (VV37) by Barbara Gamsa of Gateshead. This ties in with the information from Leah Leneman in VV36:

Dear Vegan Views,
In VV35 you asked "who invented soya milk?" mentioning that it was available in Leningrad in 1941. Without claiming to provide a definitive answer to this, I thought the following might shed some further light on the subject. In a book I was given, "Back to Eden" by Jethro Kloss (Distributed by Thorsons) there's a reprint of an article from the Washington Post of 21/5/1933, which names Kloss as the "inventor" of soya milk, but also states that the "bean milk" has been used for many years in the Orient". Another reprinted extract, from the Miami Daily News of 8/4/1934 informs us that "populations throughout Manchukuo, Korea and Japan live on soy bean milk delivered at the door." Kloss apparently reared his daughter on nut milk, but his granddaughter was brought up "exclusively on the soy bean milk". She is pictured as a baby in 1929. I'd recommend the book to anyone interested in the early days of the Food Reform movement, and especially vegans.

Follow-up: Updated Plamil contact details...

Plamil Foods Ltd, Folkestone, Kent, CT19 6PQ, UK. Tel: 01303 850588 (24 hours). Fax: 01303 850015. Web: www.plamilfoods.co.uk. Email: plamil@veganvillage.co.uk.

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Cross-reference: History
Cross-reference: Milk
Cross-reference: Soya Milk