"WTF is "Dairy Drink"?"
- Question at "BoingBoing"
I'm not a big fan of marketing boards, or perhaps it would be better to say that I have reservations about them. I have a lot of sympathy for their original rationale; a union for farmers. But it seems to me they have gone from being a union for farmers, to being an exclusive club for certain farmers, to being damn near farming mafia*. They've been (and still are) a blight and a fungus on the development of organic foods in Ontario, that seems quite clear.
But every so often I'm reminded that it's an ill wind that blows no good. At least we don't have to deal with the abominable abortion that is "Dairy Drink" in Ontario, and I'm pretty sure that's due to the nature of the Milk Marketing Board, and not because our various governments are so much dedicated to the quality and healthfulness of our food, given the evidence in other areas of food production. "Dairy Drink", in case you didn't click through, consists of skim milk, sugar and water, and it sells for half the price of regular milk. Yay! Just what the North American diet needs; more sugar. In particular the diet of poor people who are already inundated with crappy sugary, starchy, fatty CRAP.
I was reminded by this product that when I lived in the U.S., none of the pizzerias I went to had real cheese on their pizzas; it was all oily, plasticky soy-crap. It was a shock, because I was used to pizzas in Ontario which weren't necessarily great, but which at least had actual cheese on them. Of course you could get excellent pizzas in the U.S. - far better than any Canadian pizzas I've had - but not in the small towns and poor neighbourhoods that I was living in and not on my budget.
The most accurate way to describe food in the U.S. is to say that it is not homogenized, if you will excuse the pun. It has separated into two layers: a rich creamy layer of some of the best food in the world, made by small farmers and artisanal manufacturers dedicated to their craft and with prices to match, and the lowest common denominator of highly processed food-like substances made by humongous, manufacturers - who also own frequently own the "farms" - engaged in selling the least possible product for what appears to be a low price, but which is in fact gross and obscene price gouging when the actual costs of the goods are considered. I think this process has probably been exacerbated by the disappearance of the American middle class; as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, food follows the same pattern.
What I want for a food system is one where I can choose between good, better and best, not between superb and crap. If you don't have a lot of money to spend on food you should still be able to get food that is reasonably priced, inspected for safety, of decent quality and truthfully and completely labelled. The marketing boards have - in their own self-interest - prevented the bottom from falling out so far as quality is concerned to the degree that has happened in the U.S. But they've also created a situation in which there is little room for the small, the unique, or the lovingly crafted. They've managed to put the lid on the best, muscling out those would-be dedicated small farmers and artisanal manufacturers to a truely depressing degree.
Not completely, thank goodness. If the production of cows milk is so regulated that none but the wealthy or the heirs of dairy farmers can take up dairy farming - and it is; Ontario practically has a dairy farming caste system - small farmers and cheese makers in Onario have taken to raising, milking and cheesemaking with alternative diary animals: goats, sheep and even water buffalo. Enthusiastic consumer response shows that there is room for the better and the best in this province, and I'd like to see a lot more encouragement for it from the government and the marketing boards.
But today, a great big THANK YOU to the Milk Marketing Board for saving us from "Dairy Drink".
*And I'm lumping them all together, which is not really fair. They do vary quite a bit.