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Land of Milk and Honey

My Geriatric Journal 12

Is nothing sacred? Of course not. Is anything perfect? Ditto. The latest target of dubious nutritional news is milk: real milk, produced in the mammary glands of an animal, in most cases, a cow. Or millions of cows.

People in the USA have drunk trillions of gallons of milk since some hapless postdiluvian farmer first put his lips to a teat. “What’s good enough for the calf is good enough for me,” I imagine him saying, while visions of growing strong as a bull danced in his head.

When I was a child (you knew this was coming — after all this is my geriatric journal), milk was the perfect food. It was rich in nutrients such as calcium (to make strong bones), protein (like meat), fat (like butter) and carbohydrates (like potatoes).

Among my fondest memories of my distant youth was rushing out in the winter cold to bring in the glass milk bottles our milkman faithfully delivered every morning — and do it before they froze and broke. My reward was getting to scoop out some of the frozen cream that popped out of the top (milk was not yet homogenized): ice cream!

For mid-morning break in elementary school in Pennsylvania we lined up to receive a half-pint of milk and a large stack of graham crackers. My mouth waters today remembering that — especially the honey sweet crackers.

What could be healthier than milk? Well, according to many nutritionists, just about anything. The calcium part was totally overrated, butter and meat became toxic cholesterol carriers and anything white, like potatoes, contributed to weight gain and diabetes. And it was discovered some 25% of the population of the US was born with or developed an intolerance to milk.

The milk lobby fought back with clever marketing campaigns (“Got milk?”) and celebrities with poor table manners sported milk mustaches. Lactaid became ubiquitous on grocery shelves. New ‘healthier’ milk products appeared and became popular, such as skim milk and “Lite” milk, with all but 2% or less of the milk fat (and flavor) removed.

Now we have shelves full of milk that isn’t milk at all: almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, coconut milk and hemp milk to name some. There is a whole new category of ersatz “milk” ironically called non-dairy milk, but found in the dairy section of the supermarkets.

Why am I venting about milk this morning? It isn’t milk that bothers me, it is the “science” of nutrition. Nutrition is the astrology of science. According to the position of the stars, eggs are good for you or eggs are bad for you; coffee is good for you or coffee is bad for you; raw fruit is good for you, raw fruit is bad for you, vitamins are good for you, vitamins (and now fish oil and probiotics) are a waste of money. I could go on forever but all you have to do is ogle Google. (Sorry about that!)

Food allergies are the new hypochondria. “Gluten-free” — splashed on practically every food package — is the latest marketing abracadabra. Real science has estimated that only 1% of the population must avoid gluten, yet 86% believe they must. The power of marketing! Gluten is a protein found in wheat; one supermarket features gluten-free eggs! What is next? Gluten-free water? Gluten-free non-dairy milk? Only the stars know.

I may be over-reacting, but if something is actually good for me or bad for me, I want to know about it. I want reliable information to make reasonable decisions. I don’t want to live forever but I would like to live as long as possible in the best health possible and I don’t want to shorten my life by eating, say, eggplants.

I understand that people are different. Food allergies and digestive diseases are serious things and if you have them, you must learn what to avoid. If nuts give you hives, you are nuts to eat nuts. It doesn’t take a nutritionist to tell you that.

And while I am on the subject of milk, why does a quart of (real) milk cost twice as much in Puerto Rico as it does in the 50 legitimate states. Shipping costs? Nonsense. The milk is produced here by cows that were born and raised here and pasture on the lush flatlands around Hatillo. The government brags that cows are twice as productive here as in the states — it is summer year-round so they (like the rest of us) enjoy two annual summer seasons. Hatillo is 57 miles from San Juan — where the milk is processed and packaged and from where it is delivered on an island that is 35 miles wide and 100 miles long. So distribution is not the issue. As a professional paranoid, I suspect milk-mafia lobbyists are responsible for the artificially exalted prices of milk here. We need a Trump to drain the swamp. (I jest.)

Whatever happened to that fine recommendation about alcohol that one or two drinks a day for women and two or three a day for men were not only acceptable but beneficial? One report last week proclaimed that it was an error and new evidence suggests no amount of alcohol is acceptable. I would like to suggest that no amount of nutritionists is acceptable. Now that is an issue the wine, beer and spirits lobbyists should work on.

I know, dear diary, I haven’t mentioned honey. I’m not going there. Honey is not on my hit list. The headline “Land of Milk and Honey” is, of course, just a fanciful Biblical expression. But give them time: nutritional scientists will find something wrong with honey.

Note: This is one of a series of rambling journal entries about what bothers, concerns, interests or excites a reasonably verbal and active soon to be octogenarian — Things that make him human and that he wants to share so they will not be forgotten when he is dead. For other entries, see My Geriatric Journal.

An aging humanist hanging on to the idea that there is hope for humankind — against all current indications.

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