I visited Beer Baron with a friend on a recent late afternoon and enjoyed a Henhouse hazy IPA called “Language Creates Reality.” (Excellent). That moniker reminded me of a news report I’d heard earlier about the dairy industry’s appeal to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for guidance on “The Labeling of Plant-Based Milk Alternatives (PBMA).”
It seems that when the agency solicited public comment (over 13,000 received) “consumers generally understand that PBMA do not contain milk and choose PBMA because they are not milk.” My emphasis added.
There are nutritional differences between dairy milk and soy milk, oat milk, and other PBMAs. However, it was not clear that the dairy industry wanted nutritional comparisons on a label. My sense is that dairy producers would prefer that PBMAs not use the word “milk” on their packaging at all. (This controversy came up locally in a 2021 lawsuit by Miyoko Creamery, a company that produces plant-based butter and cheese, against the California Department of Food and Agriculture.)
Imagine that instead of going into the local coffee bar and ordering a soy latte, you’d have to say, “I’d like a latte with soybeans processed to resemble a dairy beverage” or “I’d like a coffee foamed with almonds (cashews)(macadamia nuts) pulverized with water to resemble the extract from a cow’s mammaries.” Starbucks (and so many others) would be severely inconvenienced by having to change and expand their menu boards.
And could we even say “latte”? (In Italian, latte=milk… not “dairy milk” according to my Living Language Italian-English dictionary.) Which goes to my point: LIVING LANGUAGE.
The way we speak and understand is ever evolving through language, which is ever evolving. I think the word “milk” can be safely applied to anything with characteristics one could call milky.
Maybe we don’t want to consume animal products (a topic for another time), but don’t we crave certain textures, colors, a thick and sensual liquidity that can be understood with the shorthand of these four letters: M I L K ?
Dairy industry leaders, please give us consumers some credit! NPR has a whole program on this use of “milk.” See “No Cow Needed: Oat and Soy Can be Called Milk, FDA Proposes” The article notes that “Fortified soy milk is the only plant-based food included in the dairy category of U.S. dietary guidelines because of its nutrient levels.”
Public comment is open through April 23, 2023, on docket number FDA-2023-D-0451 at this website. You can weigh in on the Guidelines for Labeling PBMAs, or simply just think about how language usage can transform meaning and, (as the Henhouse Brewery beer notes), “create reality.”
P.S. In the past, lawmakers in dairy states have tried to get bills passed that would require the FDA to enforce a federal standard that defines “milk” as the product of “milking one or more healthy cows.” This reminds me of the push for a definition of marriage as “only between a man and a woman.” Again, a topic for another time.