JWR Julia's mischegoss

Jewish World Review Oct. 19, 1998 / 29 Tishrei, 5759

Ah, the good ol' days ...
When ya actually
knew what you were drinking!
Got milk?
Don’t know. Do I?

By Julia Gorin

FOR ANYONE WHO STILL HAD ANY DOUBT, it's official: nothing is sacred. Not even milk.

Last week I went to the corner store to buy the skim milk I've been drinking for years. Only I couldn't find any. Instead, I found something called "fat free."

"What's that?" I wondered. "Is it the same thing? Did they change the product? Has anyone else noticed?"

I couldn't find the word "skim" anywhere on the label, and there wasn't any explanation. So I put the new product down and went to another store.

Again, "fat free." Luckily, this brand said "skim milk" in smaller letters under the words "fat free." Good, I thought. They didn't do away with skim milk.

But I was still annoyed. Was someone calling me stupid? Skim milk is fat-free. Who doesn't know this? Does the dairy industry think I'm an idiot?

I guessed they were reaching out to people who never knew what skim milk was and never dieted, just in case they decided 1998 would be the year they would start their first diet ever.

I grew up with skim milk. It's always been skim milk. I wanted to get to the bottom of this, and I wanted my old label back.

I called the Milk Industry Foundation.

It turns out the MIF and the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the Food and Drug Administration over a year ago for a new labeling regulation. They wanted to call 2 per cent milk "reduced fat"; 1 per cent milk "lowfat"; and skim milk "fat free." The mandatory changes went into effect on New Year's Day, with a grace period to allow companies to use up their supplies of "skim milk" cartons. The "fat free" cartons started turning up in stores in late February.

I asked, "Why?"

Susan Ruland, the spokesperson for MIF, the trade association for milk processors, explained it to me.

"For us, the most exciting change is that 'skim milk' is 'fat free milk,'" she said. "We're trying to bring milk around as a competitive beverage and not just a commodity...Milk sales have been going down while soda and water have been snatching up milk's market share."

I always thought soda and water did that because they were refreshing and tasted good. Let's be honest, milk isn't exactly the light beverage you crave after jogging eight miles.

"Now, milk will have clear, powerful, very market-oriented terms," she went on, "and that's how the industry needs to be thinking."

But milk is supposed to be above all that. You expect to be manipulated by a lot of jazzy lingo from fancy products like herbal shampoo and frozen yogurt. But milk is supposed to be wholesome and basic and Mom and Cal Ripkin.

I wasn't satisfied with Ms. Ruland's answers, so I called Ann Marie Krautheim, of the American Dairy Association.

She started with essentially the same point Ms. Ruland was making. She said the dairy industry wanted to make the change to "help market milk to consumers who have been avoiding the product for fear of fat."

She then quoted me a statistic that didn't help her case: Sales of skim milk have been going up steadily in recent years over whole milk--up almost 6% in 1996 alone.

Didn't that mean people know skim is fat free?

Although skim milk has been around for more than 30 years, she said, "people mistakenly believed that it was 'skimmed' of nutrients"--that it was a watered-down version of whole milk.

Really? There are such people?

Either way, now I'm one of the confused. Like it's not enough that I never know whether I'm getting New Coke or Coke Classic; if I'm eating ice cream, frozen yogurt, ice milk or "low-fat frozen treat." Now they have to mix me up about milk too.

I'm a milk drinker. I knew what I was getting before the marketing and the health gurus got their progressive hands on it.

Now when I see an ad asking, "Got Milk?" I'll have to answer, "I don't know. Do I?"

At least I can rest assured, in case I ever had any doubts, that my foamy milk mustache is 100% fat-free.

But I shouldn't make fun. Maybe I'm the fool. No one else seems to mind the change too much. Everybody seemed to figure it all out easily enough. There’ s even a new David Copperfield ad showcasing the new labels and "communicating the good news about fat-free milk."

So don't look at me. After all, I'm still looking for Clear Pepsi.

JWR's Julia Gorin is a stand-up comic and commentator whose work has appeared on National Public Radio, in the Los Angeles Times and the New York Daily News, among other national media. Julia will be playing several New York area clubs:

Monday, October 19, 10pm: Monkey's Paw: 59 Christopher St., at Seventh Avenue So. (next door to The Duplex) No Cover!

Wednesday, Ocotber 21, 8pm: Governor's Comedy Club, 90 Division Avenue, Levittown, L.I.

Monday October 26th and Monday Nov. 2nd, 7pm: Stand-up New York Comedy Club, 236 W. 78th St. (between Broadway and Amsterdam Aves.)

Monday, Nov. 9th, 9pm: Comic Strip, 1568 Second Avenue (between 81st and 82nd Sts.) No Cover!


5/98: Susan McDougal: a real stand-up kinda guy
2/98: A fun-house painted white
1/1/98: In defense of the appetizing shiksa (taking on Kate Winslet's critics)
12/10/97: Confessions of a Refusenik gone secular

© 1998, Jewish World Review