Choices in ‘Milk’ vary from plant-based to animal

Life is about choices. And when it comes to “milk,” if you can afford it, there are a lot of choices for the American consumer. Dairy milk, along with almond, soy and rice “milk” are readily available in most stores across the United States.

Did you notice where I put quotations in the last sentence? The way I look at it, if you buy and consume any of the above, you are supporting a farmer who is trying to make a living. So I don’t care if you choose an alternative milk product over dairy milk. That is your prerogative, just as it is mine to drink milk from dairy cows. What I do have a problem with is that you call these plant-based products “milk.” I’ve always had the argument that milk means mammary. Well, I went to the internet to look up a definition of milk and was I surprised. Here is how Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines milk: “A(1): a fluid secreted by the mammary glands of females for the nourishment of their young; B(1) milk from an animal and especially a cow used as food by people; (2) a food product produced from seeds or fruit that resembles and is used similarly to cow’s milk.” Well, there goes that argument out the window. Again, we are back to choices. Maybe you are lactose intolerant, or worried about fat, calories or cholesterol. One of these alternatives may give you a milk-like option.

Another plant-based milk alternative called Ripple has hit the market. Ripple is a beverage made with yellow peas. It has the same protein content as dairy milk but with fewer calories. The new product has less saturated fat and sugar, but 50 percent more calcium than dairy milk. All that sounds good if you are looking for a milk alternative.

I have a question for you. If you are choosing one of these milk alternatives for reasons other than health and allergy problems, what are they?

In the land of many choices, there are just as many advertising campaigns. Many of these campaigns imply that dairy milk or other alternatives are bad and their product is better. This new product’s advertising does just that: “Dairy-free. As it should be,” growing almonds and cattle “contribute to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions,” and “Drinking Ripple will lower your carbon footprint.”

I can’t say that I am thrilled with all of the advertisements for dairy milk either.  There is the ad for “happy cows” in California. And the one for Dairy Pure Milk, which claims they have an “Exclusive Five-Point Purity Promise,” which actually, all milk has by USDA regulations.

What about the sale at the grocery store? In Ohio, retailers can use milk as a “loss leader.” They sell milk for less than their cost to draw you into their store, knowing you will spend money on other products.

Is there room in the market for milk and “milk?” Maybe, maybe not. It is unfortunate the dairy industry has a very small profit margin. The production costs keep going up but the price received by the farmer doesn’t. With the increasing availability of plant-based alternatives and pressure from anti-animal agriculture organizations and low profits, many dairy farmers are having to consider their options.

Most of you who follow this column know that dairy farming is near and dear to my heart. I appreciate all farmers and am glad when they are competitive in the market. There are hard-working families on small, midsize and large farms across the U.S. that appreciate consumers buying their products. Thank God for the farmers who do what they do so you can make the choices you do. Please enjoy whatever you choose to drink.

Submitted by Mary Smallsreed, a Trumbull County Farm Bureau member, who grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.