Our boomer parents’ favorite remark about millennials and Gen Z is, “You created too many darn milks!” True, every coffee shop and supermarket store has a wide variety of milk and milk substitute options.
It’s the best time in history to be lactose intolerant, but somewhere between “we’re so glad for substitutes that are comparable to milk” and “there’s just too many possibilities,” we came into a new question: What does it mean to call something milk?
Milk Truthers, Milk Abstractionists, and Milk Abstractionists are the three camps in this dispute.
Milk Truthers are offended that non-animal products are referred to as “milk.” They argue that tainting the name “milk” cheapens the special goodness of “genuine milk,” or milk from any animal’s udder.
This assertion is analogous to the fact that all Kleenex tissues are Kleenex brand, however not all Kleenex tissues are Kleenex brand. Kleenex, like milk, has become a universal identifier for a category of items. We might similarly describe these experiences as “milky” if the water is unclean or our vision is briefly obscured, with the full understanding that there is no milk in the water or in our eyes.
Milk Abstractionists use the term “milk” to refer to beverages created from plants rather than dairy or mother’s milk.
Is this to indicate that proponents of the Milk Truth are exaggerating the dangers of milk substitutes? No, since there is a legitimate issue that milk substitutes are being promoted in popular culture as being better for the environment and the body when this is still a hotly discussed topic.
Almonds are one of the most thirsty crops to grow, requiring about 15 gallons of water to produce just 16 almonds. Although oat and soy milk require slightly less water than typical dairy milk, they both require more water.
There are studies that show that, despite the significant amount of water invested in these dairy substitutes, their environmental impact is still less than that of carbon-producing cows. However, there hasn’t been a conclusive body of studies comparing the environmental costs and advantages of cow milk vs. alternative plant-based milks and establishing that one milk is clearly superior. As a result, a plethora of choices can be found anywhere from Whole Foods to Fareway.
Republicans and Democrats submitted legislation in both houses of Congress in 2020 to prohibit non-dairy products from using dairy names. The Dairy Pride Act would make it illegal for companies to label beverages and other goods made from nuts, seeds, plants, and algae as milk, yogurt, cheese, or any other dairy term. Non-dairy products may be sold, but they must be labeled as dairy products under the law.
We’ve seen bills like this before defining what constitutes “beef” or “meat.” The Texas Meat and Imitation Food Act was passed this year in Texas to prohibit manufacturers of meat alternatives, such as plant-based burgers, from using the terms “meat,” “beef,” “chicken,” “pig,” or “common variation[s]” of them on packaging. Mike Rounds and John Thune attempted to pass a bill in 2019 called the “US Beef Integrity Act,” which was remarkably similar to the Texas law.
Consumer protection from “fake milk” and “fake meat” appears to have bipartisan support. But, with a prominent, FDA-regulated nutritional label on the package, do we really believe people are so unobservant and uneducated that they assume almond milk has the same nutritional benefits as dairy milk?
Americans are responsible for purchasing their own goods and may make mistakes due to insufficient label reading. We don’t need the state or federal government to keep an eye on us in the supermarket; all we need is assurance that the products are safe to buy and accurately described.
If someone believes almond milk comes from an almond’s udder, there are more serious issues at hand than the label on the package.