Lait: il fait une bonne mise en accusationfévrier 20, 2020
In the Senate on Tuesday, the patrician leaders of our fifty states agreed that the official beverages of the impeachment trial would be water and milk. Milk? What, no caffeine? No Coke, no Pepsi, no Dr Pepper? They could have chosen something trendy, like kombucha, or low-calorie, like Crystal Light, or even sporty, like Gatorade—some of those senators look seriously dehydrated. But they went with good old-fashioned milk, which might be so boring that it would make for a speedy trial, or so comforting that it would pacify the hangry politicos and possibly lull them to sleep. Do they have the option of ordering chocolate milk?
In any case, this is the first positive development to come out of the Ukraine scandal. The dairy industry has been going udders up, fast. For years, small dairy farms have been selling off their herds and closing down or switching to sustainable crops, like hemp. In what sounds like a death knell, some giants of the dairy industry have recently filed for bankruptcy: the largest supplier in the nation, Dean Foods, declared bankruptcy in November, and Borden, personified by Elsie the Cow, followed, earlier this month. Tom Toigo, a market-stand employee for Ronnybrook, a family-run dairy farm in the Hudson Valley, says, “It is not a good time to be in the dairy business. Sales of milk are down. People see milk as not a healthy way to get nutrition—which, by the way, is not true.” Milk is a better source of calcium than some of the products that are replacing it, and a good source of protein and vitamins as well.
The strict definition of milk, according to Webster’s, is not very appetizing: from the Old English meolc or milc, it is “a fluid secreted by the mammary glands of females for the nourishment of their young; esp. cow’s milk, used as a food by humans.” The meaning broadened, in the way of words, into “a liquid resembling milk in appearance: as the latex of a plant, the juice of a coconut composed of liquid endosperm, the contents of an unripe kernel of grain.” The dairy lobby has petitioned the F.D.A. to restrict the definition of milk to mammals. As Toigo says, “Milk is from lactating animals.”
Sadly for the dairy lobbyists, the definition of milk has long since broken out of the barnyard. First came soy milk, offered in cafeterias as an alternative with which the lactose-intolerant could adulterate their covfefe. Then there was almond milk (available in boxes alongside the European-style long-shelf-life milk), which nutritionists recommend for smoothies and protein shakes, and which Starbucks endorses as a dairy substitute in lattes. Actually, the O.E.D. cites a recipe from a cookbook of 1425 for “mylke of almaundes.” Last summer, huge ads appeared fore and aft on city buses for oat milk. Now all the other nuts have piled on. Circumambulate the grocery store of a busy Friday afternoon and you may see hazelnut milk, cashew milk (and even—ew—cashewgurt), rice milk, hemp milk, sesame milk, macadamia milk. There are blends of almond milk and pistachio milk. It won’t be long before we have mixed-nut milk. To a dairy farmer, these nutty liquids are not milk. As Toigo says, when pressed, “Have you ever seen anyone milk a soybean?”
There is even something on the shelf that contains omega-3 oils and algal oils—in other words, fish and seaweed—and is marketed with a cow on the label and the reassuring words “contains milk.” These are things we would never have dreamed of back in the fifties, when we boomers had cereal and milk for breakfast, half-pints of milk (plain or chocolate) for lunch at school, and bottomless refills of whole milk at dinner. At least in my house, we used milk to wash down the disgusting canned peas and spinach my mother served, because we had to clean our plates or no dessert. The chant was constant: “More milk, please!”
Milk has served as a metaphor from Biblical times. Think of the land of milk and honey, or of Shakespeare’s “milk of human kindness.” The Times noted in its year-end wrap-up that the definition of milk has expanded to include any substance animals produce to nourish their young: spider milk, flamingo milk, beetle milk, great-white-shark milk. We can even get milk from a stone: What else is milk of magnesia?
Meanwhile, the verb “to milk” has less benign connotations. The seminal meaning is “to extract milk by handling the teats of (a cow, goat, ewe, etc., rarely, a woman).” But, as early as 1528, “to milk” was “to drain away the contents of; to get money out of, bleed ‘pecuniarily’; to exploit, turn into a source of (usually) illicit profit.” Thus, one might say that milk is a theme of the impeachment, in that the President milked Ukraine for information and now his loyal senators are drinking it down.