Belize it or not: The World Soymilk Development Index

Greetings from Belize!

Something just dawned on me today while walking through “downtown” San Pedro, Belize: you can judge the “development” of an area by whether or not it has soymilk readily available in grocery stores. Sure, I’m waiting for a flurry of criticism on this post, but hear my logic first.

I’m not lactose intolerant, but a lot of my friends are. Seems like everyday, I hear about someone, or their child, being unable to drink milk.

The generally accepted idea is that early Europeans developed enzymes to digest cows milk, which helped get them through tough northern winters. Much of the world doesn’t have this ability. Why? They don’t drink cows milk. Babies drink mother’s milk, and there it ends most everywhere.

In the West, you see milk everywhere there’s refrigeration. And most people drink at least some. But now, it seems, more and more Westerners are developing allergies, and developing intolerance to milk. So, they switch to soymilk…if they can afford it.

And where did it all start? Probably China, where soy has been widely used for many centuries…but not generally as a soymilk drink. From what I can find, the first soymilk factory was founded in Paris around the turn of the last century by someone of Chinese origin, and some production followed in the U.S. and elsewhere. It took off in Hong Kong too, where it beat out Coke for a while.

But the big production of soymilk didn’t come until the 1990s, and it seemed to start only in the most affluent, urban areas. (A ten-fold increase occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.) Where did I see it first? San Francisco, then Seattle and Portland, then Manhattan. It followed in most other cities in the U.S., from what I can tell. (You want to test me? Ask for it in every Starbucks outside major metro areas.)

Hence my “soymilk development index”: where you have Westerners with the most money to burn and increasingly discerning tastes, you’ll find soymilk.

Can you find it on Ambergris Caye (the most touristed area in Belize)? You bet, two brands.