Saturday, 1 September 2012

The Milkman Cometh


When I was a child, as is true for many of you, the milkman delivered the milk every other day. Milk came in one variety, whole, and in one size, one quart glass bottles. The bottle were sealed with a cardboard tab and a wrapper. The cream would have settled at the top in a slug. If my Mom needed cream for anything she would skim it from the top of the bottles but otherwise we would just shake it back into the milk - homemade homogenization. Viola'. The next time you took the milk from the fridge the cream would have once again have separated and you would give the bottle a shake to mix it back in. Until this day I cannot pick up a carton of milk without giving it a little shake. It is an automatic response.

The milkman also delivered cream in little half pint bottles but these were a luxury we could not afford and didn't really need. Of course the milkman also delivered cheese and other dairy products but in those days of childhood money was very, very tight and it was all my parents could do to afford the milk I and my siblings would drink.

In the winter, if the milk was not retrieved from the front stoop soon enough, the milk would start to freeze and push that slug of cream up through the lid. This was unflavoured but very real ice cream. Father tells me that his mother was continually chastising he and his brothers as they would eat this frozen cream every chance they got thus denying the adults the cream from their coffee.

When milk started to be sold in cartons and plastic jugs and even in plastic bags for a while it never tasted the same to me. It simply didn't taste as good. It certainly was never as refreshingly cold as milk in glass bottles. The truth is that we seem to have lost something good when milk lost those one quart glass bottles. It would seem that a lot of people agree with me or, at the least, there is a lot of nostalgia for the old glass bottles. A few years ago a diary in Vancouver began selling milk to a custom market in those old bottles and its sales took off. I know why. Milk tasted the way it should again.

Of course it wasn't exactly the same. Milkmen have, in most of the country, gone the way of the Dodo bird. The bottles may have been glass but you had to drive to the store to get them. Milkmen died out quicker than the Cod industry. You do remember salt Cod, don't you? Well, unless you were born Down East in the 50's maybe salt cod isn't in your memory bank.

"According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 1950, over half of the milk delivered was to the home in quart bottles, by 1963, it was about a third and by 2001, it represented only 0.4% percent. Nowadays most milk is sold through supermarkets in gallon jugs. The steady decline in home-delivered milk is blamed, of course, on the rise of the supermarket, better home refrigeration and longer-lasting milk. Although some milkmen still make the rounds in pockets of the U.S., they are certainly a dying breed."

So, I have to ask, why are milkmen a dying breed? Well, if you ask the milk industry they will tell you it is just too expensive to deliver milk door to door.

Do you believe that? Because I don't. Not for one split second do I believe it. For over a hundred years milk was delivered door to door by milkmen and farmers and dairies still made a profit but suddenly, in this age, it is too expensive. 

Our politicians and scientists are screaming at us that we are living in a world running out of resources, running out of oil. We are told that we are destroying our environment, that global warming is the greatest threat to ever face mankind. We must either learn to go green or we will perish.

So, I live in a small community of roughly 12,000 homes. Let us suppose, not unreasonably, I think, that each day one third of them representing 4,000 homes, make their way to one supermarket or another to pick up a plastic jug or cardboard carton or two of milk. That would be 4,000 automobiles out polluting the atmosphere and burning up our fossil fuels just to get milk. Well, it's not just to get milk is it? Once they are in that supermarket they will surely purchase something else even though they hadn't planned to do so. That means more profit for the supermarket who, in many cases, actually owns the dairy supplying the milk. Doh. Go figure. But I digress. In a world of diminishing resources it makes a lot more sense to have 10 or 15 milkmen delivering milk door to door in 10 or 15 milk trucks then it does to have 4,000 Moms jumping into their SUV's to drive to Safeway and that would provide employment for people again but it would mean less profit for the supermarkets and we all know corporate profit comes first.

(Originally posted to Multiply January 10, 2009)


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