Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Buying Milk: A Quest for the Brave and Upright
Since arriving in Hong Kong I have been collecting these milk cartons to show you. I never imagined how hard it would be to make such a simple choice of which milk to buy. Never have I been so inundated with slogans and promises as on milk cartons here. "But isn't milk a simple, whole food?" you ask. Well, yes, and no--it's not at all simple, as it turns out.
Of all of these cartons, only one is simple and straightforward. It is just "fresh milk".
This is homogenised, full fat milk from Kowloon Dairy. (Kowloon is a part of Hong Kong.) But we are not used to drinking full fat milk, so I want to buy a semi-skimmed or skimmed milk. Next, look at Kowloon Dairy's other milk, the green one.
This is lower fat (1.5%), but straight away my eyes are drawn to the top of the carton: "low fat milk drink".
Wait just a moment, what is a "milk drink"? I have been trained to avoid "juice drinks" since I know they are not pure juice. So what is in this so-called "milk drink"? The side of the carton says it is "made with fresh milk".
It turns out that the ingredients list, carefully tucked away, is extensive.
Ack! My mouth was hanging open: let me just count those E numbers: eight of them! Why are there eight listed E numbers as stabilisers in my milk? (Oh, sorry, in my milk drink?)
Thus began a quest to find a healthy milk to drink. What about this one, Pura Slim?
The packaging is definitely geared towards the health-conscious shopper. Just look at all those health claims. (Stay tuned for a post about nutrition claims and whole foods in Saturday's Kitchen Reader post.)
Turn to the other side panel and see. My heart sinks. Imported milk from Australia. (And I see that it's imported to Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia.) Oh, dear, what a tragedy; this milk has been flown here, in refrigerated containers, from Australia. What a waste of fuel, and what a cost for the earth just for my milk.
On the other hand, the ingredients look good: just skim milk and concentrated skim milk. But is is too much to ask that my milk is purely milk and from around here? I would rather not buy milk imported from Australia. That seems a bit absurd to me.
Of the remaining four types of milk, two are made in Hong Kong. One is made by Nestle and says this:
The twelve ingredients are here and start with water and include four E numbers. Blech.
Trappist Dairy "Hi-Calcium Low Fat Milk Drink" is also made in Hong Kong and has its own four (different!) E numbers along with four other ingredients.
There are two cartons left. One is called Greenfields and the packaging says that it has 1.3% fat and it's made from 100% fresh milk. Although I do see that it is called a "milk beverage". Hmm.
A glance on the side panel at the ingredients reveals only two: fresh skimmed milk, and fresh milk. In my books, that's great. I'd call that fresh milk. But reading on past the nutrition claims, I see, in capitals letters, no less, that the milk is made "from DAIRY COWS IMPORTED FROM AUSTRALIA".
One moment, please. Why are the cows imported? And where are they imported to? Hong Kong, hopefully? I keep reading and see that the milk is produced in Indonesia and imported to Hong Kong and Singapore. Sigh. This milk is imported to me from Indonesia where it is made from cows imported from Australia. This is getting ridiculous!
Well, I have to wonder: which is better, importing milk directly from Australia, or importing it from Indonesia from Australian cows? This seems like quite a detailed computation, when I stop to think about it. But there is one carton of milk left! This might be the one, the healthy and local one! The last carton is the California Sunshine Fitmilk (TM). With a name like that, it's clear, this is not the milk you are looking for.
Minimal ingredients, it's true, but proudly emblazoned with the banner of its far-away origin.
My quest is not yet completed to my satisfaction. All of these milks have disappointed me in some ways: by adding yucky stuff to my beloved, pure, white glass of goodness or by flying it here unconscionable distances and polluting the world. I never expected to think so long and hard about which milk to buy. I hope that I will soon find a milk that will mark the end of my quest.
Until then, you will find me deep in thought in front of the milk case at our local shop, picking up and putting down one after another of the colourful cartons, and mumbling to myself.