April 01, 2023

The FDA’s identity problem

One of my favorite winter meals suggests a side order of cornbread. A cornbread recipe I have includes using vegetable milk.

I made Christmas Day dinner a couple of months ago. I found a new recipe for green beans which called for a couple tablespoons of olive milk.

Either you think I used the wrong word or am dumb. (Or maybe both?) If I want to use the FDA’s reasoning, I’m not far off with word choice.

Last week the Food and Drug Administration announced its draft guidelines considering certain food companies can use the word milk to sell products made with almond, soy or oats. We had the story in Thursday’s paper.

Seeing the cost of almonds these days, that’s rich.

Consumable fluids from those products have been growing in popularity in recent years and you probably have seen the word milk on those containers at your favorite store. According to the FDA’s information, shoppers “understand that plant-based milk alternatives do not contain milk,” noting a survey in which about three-quarters of respondents said they knew such products were not made with dairy. The FDA also said other research showed referring to such fluids as “milk” is “strongly rooted in consumers’ vocabulary.”

If they understand those items do not contain milk, why does the FDA think it’s still fine to call it milk? I understand I have to pay taxes, but I just don’t want to. Is that OK?

It’s good to note the FDA recognized milk in its consumers’ vocabulary. June Cleaver gave the Beaver a glass of milk after school and that was some 60 years ago, at a time when oats were for breakfast oatmeal and almonds were in coffee cake. Oats, soybeans and almonds haven’t changed. Those plant-like items have oil, not milk. Vegetable oil will still be called oil. Why is that? Our ethanol plants across the state extract the oil from the corn. Those plants’ innards’ names have been left alone.

The FDA is cherry picking its case. Oh, wait, my bad. Cherries have juice, no, wait, maybe that could be called cherry milk too?

In a bizarre coincidence, there are dairy farmers who acquire almond hulls from almond processing plants to feed their herd.

The FDA also recommends almond and oat fluid makers include details of the nutritional differences with traditional milk. That’s fine. But don’t call it something it’s not. I have tried both almond and oak, just out of curiosity. And they were good. But it won’t be my first choice. My grandmother suggested I try milk in coffee. I’ve been hooked ever since and have switched to half-and-half.

Some people who think they know it all, don’t. Paul Shapiro, from one of those anti-meat organizations, said “sanity rules” for the FDA approving the use of milk for almonds and oats. What would Shapiro say if the FDA was fine calling the non-meat material that has been used by the fast-food industry meat? He’d probably have a cow. During the Trump administration, the FDA took the stance of “almonds don’t lactate.”

The insanity over this is it is something a Republican and a Democrat agrees.

Sens. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who represent states with large dairy economies, put in a joint statement the “misguided rule will hurt America’s dairy farmers and our rural communities.”

Since the non-dairy drinks have already been established, I think saying hurt is an overreach. The dairy industry is already used to the growth in non-dairy fluids that are used for drinks. It’s misguided because it’s not right calling some thing it’s not. Lactate and milk go hand-in-udder. Oils are from plants that don’t lactate....and can’t.

I applaud the dairy farmers who feed their herds almond hulls. I’ll buy their next truck load. Two things come out of the cow’s other ends. One is called milk. The other is the FDA’s guidelines.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.