When I write about soy "milk" or vegan "ice cream," I'm always careful to put the words into quotes. Unless I forget. Which I usually do.
Most people don't bother with the quotes. Milk is any white liquid, or else there'd be no such thing as milk of magnesia or milkweed or the lac chemicals like lactates or lactalbumin. Everybody knows that soy "milk" is just the white liquid that is pressed out of soy beans, and almond "milk" and rice "milk" are similar liquids made from those bases. None of them are the same as the milk that mammals make, whether that's from cows or sheep or goats or camels or human nursing mothers.
Everybody knows that, right?
That stops me, right there. If I've found out anything at all from writing about, well, anything and everything, is that nobody knows nothing. Nutritional information is a dark hole that people fall into and the origins of food are a mystery as impenetrable as those by Dan Brown. At worst, parents kill kids by serving them soy milk instead of infant formula.
Therefore I have some sympathy for, of all people, the National Milk Producers Federation.
According to an article by Leslie Kwoh of the Newark Star-Ledger:
Tired of competing with "phony" milk beverages made from soy, almond and rice, the group today petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to restrict the use of the word to only animal-based products.
"The FDA has allowed the meaning of 'milk' to be watered down to the point where many products that use the term have never seen the inside of a barn," said Jerry Kozak, president and CEO of the federation, in a statement. "Although some phony dairy foods may have a passing resemblance to their authentic counterparts, they are very different in nutritional value."
European countries see no problem with requiring phrases like "soy beverage" to be used instead of "soy milk." The question is whether the issue creates enough confusion to be worth the time and money that the changeover would cost. Obviously the Milk Producers think the word "milk" is sufficiently valuable that it's worth their while to fight for its exclusive use.
Next time you see people making air quotes around the word "milk," refrain from punching them. Maybe they're not being obnoxious. Just accurate and nutritionally pedantic.