Food History
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Got Milk? Well, You Might Find 19th Century Politics in Your Glass

Marked with a logo depicting rolling green hills and blue skies, Garelick Farms dairy products are found in grocery stores across New England. Their “Dairy Pure” milk commercial often appears on television during the day while I work and study from my home in Brookline, Massachusetts. From its very name, Dairy Pure, this brand of milk promotes itself as a safe and perfect food. The commercial’s language and imagery are particularly interesting when analyzed alongside E. Melanie DuPuis’ Nature’s Perfect Food: How Milk Became America’s Drink. DuPuis tells the nineteenth-century story of how milk was transformed in the American conscious from a poison to a universally and naturally necessary, perfect food. The present day marketing for Dairy Pure milk also works to assuage fears about milk’s safety and promote milk’s place in the lives of mothers and children.

DuPuis describes the high infant mortality rates of mid-nineteenth century America, which stirred many milk reformers into action. Increasing urbanization had caused changes in societal expectations and cultural norms for middle class women, as well as increased the number of low-income women working outside the home. Both resulted in decreased breastfeeding, the biological phenomenon that puts milk and the feeding of children under intimately feminine control. With more infants and children consuming cow’s milk, the product’s safety, or lack thereof, was one factor that instigated political action surrounding milk.

Interestingly, Dairy Pure milk places purity under feminine control. The commercial stars Dairy Pure’s “Mom in Chief” who appears in each scene carrying the company’s “Five Point Purity Checklist,” ensuring perfection at every step in the chain of the modern food system with the tagline, “Starts pure, stays pure.” As a cheerful and motherly expert, the Mom in Chief first oversees an agrarian fantasyland, checking in on happy cows munching in green fields beneath a blue sky. Notably, the commercial skips from these happy grazing cows to the interior of a perfectly chilled refrigerated truck, which transports the milk to the orderly grocery store shelves consumers recognize. As Dupuis discusses, the vision of the milkmaid, or even the milking process, are absent from this perfect milk story.

It is in the grocery store aisle that control is transferred from Dairy Pure’s “Mom in Chief” to the consumer, also a mother, who purchases Dairy Pure milk for her adorable son, who, in the final scene, drinks a glass with a smile at their kitchen table. Ironically, the mother and her son are African American, an ethnic group of which as many as 75 percent are lactose-intolerant (Bittman 2012). If anything, this reveals DuPuis’ argument that milk is continually lobbied, marketed, and often generally believed to be the perfect food for all citizens to consume.

While Garelick Farms makes no claim that buying their Dairy Pure milk will save the world, it presents a story of progress, purity, and perfection, from the cow in the field to the healthy, happy child in your kitchen.

3 Comments

  1. As a lactose-intolerant dairy farmer’s daughter, this post hits home! I struggle between the realization that milk isn’t all it’s made out to be and the honest hard work my family puts into producing a quality product.

    Like

    • emilycontois says

      What an interesting point of view! There’s certainly more to milk than we often consider at first glance and it’s a fascinating food that embodies food politics and culture in a variety of ways. Thanks so much for reading – and sharing your thoughts!

      Like

  2. Pingback: The Dietary Innovation & Disease Conference: A Debrief – Emily Contois

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