(Look Who's) Having a Cow

What’s in a name? If you’re a cattle rancher or a dairy farmer, perhaps a lot. For a couple of years now, dairy milk producers have been up-in-arms about what should and shouldn’t be called milk. Their underlying argument, triggered by an explosion of milk alternatives (soy milk, almond milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, …the list goes on) is a simple one: “If it comes from a seed, nut or a bean, you haven’t got milk.” I personally stopped drinking milk as a kid, when the post-consumption discomfort just got too annoying and inconvenient. I like to tell people that I’m lactose intolerant although I’ve never been diagnosed as such; but after sweating through one-too-many situations with bubbling innards, I asked my mom if we could try Lactaid. The problem was solved and I could take down all the Froot Loops I wanted. Fast-forward some years and the conversation shifted from milk’s fat content to its pus percentage, (yuck) to whatever else and, Boom! A Soy Milk popularity explosion followed by all the milks that came after. For their part, plant-based folks are leaning on freedom of commercial speech, arguing that as long as their products aren’t labeled or marketed as conventional milk, all is well. Call it whatever you want. People want to know what’s in it because of its effect on our bodies. We have health concerns. We are more mindful eaters. There are many reasons people have walked away from dairy milk and the numbers show it. These days I’m an almond milk drinker; calling it “almond not-milk” won’t bring me back to dairy milk…

But the nomenclature beef doesn’t end there.

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association filed a petition with the Department of Agriculture arguing that lab-grown and plant-based products shouldn’t use the terms “meat” or “beef” on the label. This one seems a little trickier on the surface, but in essence, it’s the same issue. Simply this: manufacturers, cattle ranchers, and dairy farmers don’t give consumers enough credit. Maybe, just maybe there’s a sliver-thin percentage of the population that might grab a package of plant-based burgers, plant-based meat crumbles, or lab-grown ground (a.k.a. “Clean Meat, that could be on sale soon) and NOT be aware of what it is or isn’t. Those of us holding the packages have them in our hands for a reason. Look, I love a good beef burger, but I’ve started incorporating a meatless day or two during the week. Beef triggers concerns regarding mindfulness about our nutritional intake. The amount of red meat in our diets (Americans especially), affects our health in large part because of what we don’t eat (enough veggies). But there are also planetary health concerns—among them, the loss of arable land that could actually be used for edible crops (for human consumption) to cattle-grazing. See: opportunity food-loss. (Also, cow farts, wow).

Those pushing for the naming clarifications see the trends, the direction of the numbers, they seem to know the facts… But they also seem to be missing the point. There are reasons more and more people are seeking out not-milk and not-meat. Mindfulness is changing the way we eat and the food experiences we seek out. The names won’t change that.