Nov 29, 2011

SIGH: The Whole Milk Debate


Luke O’Connell

On a recent trip to America, I was struck by the natives’ contempt for “whole milk”, a harmless drink which has served as the very bedrock of Irish society since the foundation of the state (and before, I suspect). A passer-by, for example, was overheard obnoxiously announcing to her friend or partner or whatever it was, “I mean, he drinks whole milk! Who does that?” Well, I thought, who indeed. On mature reflection I realised that this problem was not merely “state-side”. It is already rife in our own culture. Even the 2 litre bottle of Tesco Full Fat Milk in my fridge today boasts in large writing “Less than 4% fat”, as if it’s something to be proud of. If you ask me, if that really is the fattest they can come up with, then maybe someone should be finding out what Tesco is doing with all that fat. Feeding it to their fatter English customers, no doubt. Every little helps.


A sign in the trendy wi-fi hotspot Insomnia informed me that they use low-fat milk in all their products unless specifically requested not to do so. In other words, if you really want to drink “full-fat milk” (or regular milk, as it used to be known), then you will have to let everyone else know. I decided to be this man. I could see a grown man ahead of me in the queue creepishly settling for low-fat, skimmed, no-fat, fatless, low-milk milk. Too much time spent with his overbearing wife. Uncomfortable with her own weight issues, I thought, she had banned him from his own simple pleasures. Even now, away from the dull chills of their home fridge’s Avonmore “Supermilk” (whatever the fuck that is), he couldn’t muster the heart, the joie de vivre, to order some old-fashioned Dark Blue. By this stage in his emasculating marriage he was probably lactose intolerant. I wondered if he could still look a cow in the eye. I decided to be this man, as I’ve said already, repeating myself now for effect.

“Full-fat milk please!” I yelled when I got to the till. The woman (predictably, as Insomnia doesn’t seem to hire the male sex) looked at me inquisitively, as if she hadn’t heard of the original Dark Blue blend. “Fat as a fool, please! Milk with nothing added, nothing taken away, please!” The queue was beginning to deepen and its members began to whisper among themselves. Some of them pointed while others used their iPhones to read the Wikipedia page about full-fat milk. As the foreign barista’s (a strong word, admittedly, to use for an Insomnia employee) look intensified, she asked “Coffee?” and I suddenly realised my mistake. I had ordered in the wrong order. Sheepishly, I asked for a black coffee, since I don’t like any of the fancy options, but this presented a problem: a black coffee, by definition, is served without milk, full-fat or otherwise, as you probably know. The name gives it away.

There was a pause here. Neither of us knew what to do. In the end I offered a truce: the black coffee, but with a small portion of full-fat milk in a separate cup. She seemed relieved that I was so keen to settle the situation and immediately accepted my offer. When the coffee was ready, I downed the milk in one, made an “Ah!” sound to illustrate my thirst being quenched, and left the shop with the coffee in my hand. For a moment, I felt I had achieved a moral victory of sorts, but this quickly subsided.

My own mother’s milk, which I consumed with relish for much of my early life, was not skimmed by some bald man in a factory, nor fortified with unknown quantities of vitamins by scientists, and what harm did that do me? Why this need to suck all the life out of natural goodness? Light cigarettes, light beer, sugarfree chewing-gum, fake butter, hot chocolate made with water… If you’re going to try, go all the way. Children are fatter than ever. Big fat gluttonous fools, the lot of them, the statistics said this week. The obese are a growing minority, infiltrating all strands of society. Let them have a Dark Blue childhood. When I sire my first child he will be forbidden from going anywhere near Supermilk. All the fortified wine he likes, but he can get his kicks from something less sinister than steroid-pumped milk. If he turns out to be a fat little child, I will make him run to the shop to buy the house milk and back again, twice if necessary, and he will have no shame or fear of persecution for asking for milk as fat as his mother’s arse.

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