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.


AnnaMcC said...

I stand dumbfounded... Why, oh why, does 'milk drink' even exist?

As for importation, I think you should import yourself to Australia. Then all of your milk needs can be sated with local produce. :)

Unknown said...

I am quite simply speechless. Do they have no cows on the mainland?!

Friedel said...

How about milk powder?

Choclette said...

Raw milk is the only answer of course, but as it's hard enough to get hold of over here in the UK it is going to be absolutely impossible in Hong Kong.

Sarah said...

Anna, thanks for the invite. ;)

Sarah, it's shocking, I agree. But I haven't stopped looking yet. There's got to be a better solution.

Friedel, yes, good idea. I have also thought about using UHT milk. Ant won't want that (or milk made from powder) on his porridge or in his tea, though, I predict. But in baking I don't see why either of those wouldn't work. Thanks.

Choclette, interesting idea. My only experience with raw milk was when we were drinking freshly milked buffalo milk and the animal was a few meters away. (This was in rural Romania.)

Tom said...

Sarah - Maison Cupcake tipped me off on your blog and I am glad. I spent yesterday trawling around supermarkets trying to find cream... now at least I know I am not alone in being lost.

If you do find a place to get nice healthy fattening fresh cream (rather than UHT death sterilised horror) please say!

Sarah said...

Hi Tom, Welcome to Hong Kong! I have yet to see any real cream here, sadly. I have some of those UHT packs in my fridge as we speak! Shocking. Since I wrote this post I have started drinking full fat milk again. What are you doing regarding milk?

Tom said...

Sarah - thanks. I think I am giving up on cream or really traditional british/ french deserts for a while. I do remember reading about a farm in Kowloon somewhere so I might have to do a day trip there one day.

And milk, in this heat I am not missing it too much.

Wei said...

There's a reason why Greenfields brings their cows from Aus and exports from Indonesia. The further you ship milk the higher the pastuerisation process it needs to go through for the milk to survive the journey. Most of Asia does not have the right environment for dairy cows to thrive. That's why milk from Australia tastes so bad in HK, it's semi-long life. Greenfields brings the best of both worlds by having the milk shipped minimal distance thus less treatment, but with good quality Aussie dairy cows.


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