Got REAL Milk?

Screenshot from the Got Milk website with my annotations. Click on the photo to view larger.
The California Milk Processor Board just came out with a new milk campaign that annoys me even more than the "random famous people with weirdly thick and actually kind of gross milk mustaches" campaign. (Seriously--so gross!)

This new campaign is all about "real milk," at the expense of non-dairy milk alternatives like coconut milk and nut milks. The campaign includes a series of TV commercials making fun of different aspects of non-dairy milks, as well as a website featuring an interactive game that challenges you to "Find the Real Milk." Each time you click on a bottle, it turns around and reveals the name (e.g. "Almond Milk" or "Hazelnut Milk") along with an incredibly long list of ingredients allegedly found in each milk alternative. When you click on the fourth bottle (the "real milk") it shows a much shorter list of ingredients and pronounces that you've found the real milk, which "comes from cows."

I have so many issues with this campaign! Here are just a few: 

1. The ingredient lists shown for the non-dairy milks are misleading. 
They are unnecessary long and contain ingredients such as refined sugars and other additives not found in many readily available versions (certainly not the ones in my fridge!). They specifically chose the MOST processed versions of these milks to include in this ad, which is just unfair. It is very easy to find unsweetened and much less processed versions (or even make simple homemade batches from scratch in a matter of minutes--I can teach you how!) of coconut milk, almond milk, and hazelnut milk. I personally don't advocate the consumption of non-fermented processed soy products like soy milk, but I know that even soy milk is available without added sweeteners and other additives.

2. What they claim is "real milk" isn't actually real milk.
It's pretty ironic that what they purport to be the "real" choice, is actually just as processed as the other milks depicted here. They don't even try to hide it! They depict milk ingredients as being: "Milk, Skim Milk, Vitamin A Palmitate,* Vitamin D3"

Real milk from cows doesn't have other ingredients in it--it's literally just milk. Milk is not something with a recipe; it is an ingredient. They are claiming that this list of ingredients is representative of what real milk should be, when in fact it's showing a processed milk that's been separated then recombined (hence the inclusion of both "milk" PLUS "skim milk"),  mechanically homogenized, pasteurized, and artificially fortified with synthetic vitamins (there to make up for the nutritional value that was removed from the actual real milk). Click the image below to learn more about those other ingredients.

So what's really real milk? Real milk is just pure raw milk, straight from the cow. No added synthetic vitamins (unnecessary since real milk is loaded with vitamins and other nutrients), no weird mixes of milk meant to control the fat content. (Those vitamins and nutrients? They live in the fat--that's the good stuff).

Screenshot from the Got Milk website with my annotations.  Click to view larger & check out what's REALLY in the "Real Milk."

3. There is nothing wrong with natural imperfections in real food.
The snarky notes on top of each milk alternative are particularly annoying, implying that there is something unnatural about the "funky color" of the almond milk or the nut solids settled at the bottom of the hazelnut milk, when those are actually completely natural colors and properties that you should expect in your real food. Solids that are heavier settle to the bottom; that "stuff" is little bits of chopped up hazelnuts.

Real food has real variations and imperfections--that's part of the beauty of it. In fact, depending on the time of year and kind of cow, real milk (and real butter) from grass-fed cows also has different color variations and it's typically a little bit more golden or darker than what you get at the store. That's real, not funky, and it's nothing to be afraid of.

I WANT my food to have imperfections. I want bumpy tomatoes and twisty carrots and golden yellow cream. I want to find the occasional teeny-tiny little baby snail stuck to my greens. I want dirt all over my mushrooms and potatoes. I want food that spoils. I don't want milk that's been so pasteurized that it can travel cross-country on a truck, sit in the store for a few days, and then still last in my fridge for several weeks. If something lasts that long without degrading, how exactly do you expect your body to be able to digest it? Now THAT is something that makes me say, "yikes!"

4. Real milk actually DOES need shaking. Also, shaking isn't as complicated as they seem intent on making it seem.
One of the ads features a frightened boy who wakes his mother up in the middle of the night after having a bad dream. He tells her about the monster in his dream while she shakes a container of "alternative milk" in an increasingly violent fashion until she starts to look like the monster and the kid starts screaming. Milk does not naturally come out of the cow homogenized. Real milk does need to be shaken because the cream naturally rises to the top (hello 5th grade science class--fat floats!) and it's hardly an exhausting task to do so.

It's unfortunate that homogenization has become the standard--in fact "creamline" milk aka non-homogenized milk, is often sold at a premium and seen as more of a gourmet or "luxury" item. It's odd to me that the milk board would be congratulating themselves on this, and portraying the act of shaking like a negative. I'm so tired of companies trying to convince consumers that basic tasks are beyond our ability. I don't need the "convenience" of pre-shaken milk. Homogenization is not the natural, real form, but in fact the very opposite of it. It's nothing to be proud of.

5. There is nothing strange or new or unnecessary about non-dairy milks.
Nut and coconut milks themselves have a history and tradition that is nearly as long as that of cow milk (and which certainly predates that of the California Milk Processor Board).  It is true that they may have recently been rediscovered and become more widely available, but they're not some kind of weird fancy health fad.

Two of the other ads both try to ridicule this. In one ad, an old wealthy white man, head of the "Board of Unnecessary" is looking for a way to waste billions of dollars. Someone suggests making "milk out of something other than cows."  In the other ad, a group of cavemen drinking milk (ironic given the fact that dairy is not part of the caveman diet) make fun of the less-savvy caveman friend who asks if milk can be made from rocks or nuts.

I drink and cook with both real (cow) milk--raw when I can get it, and always at the very least whole and non-homogenized, as well as nut milks and coconut milks. There are many people who for either health reasons, religion, or personal dietary choices, can drink only the alternatives and for whom they are, in fact, very necessary.

I think regardless of situation, we should always choose the most natural, unprocessed version. Whether that be fresh real milk straight from the cow or fresh nut milks straight from the blender (Seriously, guys: nuts + water + blender = nut milk. It's better, fresher, cheaper...but I digress.)

I'm happy that we've reached a point where products like coconut milk and almond milk are fairly mainstream. Evidently so much so that the CMPB had to come up with this campaign to try to turn the tide. Now if we can just get an understanding of what real milk really is, that would really be fantastic.

*BONUS: [Now it's my turn to be snarky] I noticed that they actually spelled "Palmitate" incorrectly on the milk bottle--check the screenshot above. They wrote "Vitamin A Palimate" when the correct spelling is "Palmitate." Not a food issue, but really? You create a campaign and can't be bothered to spell a key word correctly? Yet another reason to not take this campaign seriously.