LA Times Op-Ed: Is soy milk really milk?

Assigning the right words to foods and ingredients has always been a tricky affair. Should a food or beverage be defined by its provenance, its chemical composition, its texture, its taste, its color, etc.? 

These questions have surfaced in high-stakes debates lately, not only in the U.S., but in Europe too. Just last week, in a story titled "German Agriculture Minister Says 'Nein' to Meatless Meatballs," NPR reported that "Christian Schmidt said terms like 'vegetarian schnitzel' are 'completely misleading and unsettle consumers.'"

A couple of weeks before that, USA Today reported that "Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., is asking the Food and Drug Administration to enforce the definition of 'milk' -- as in, a beverage that comes from cows -- and require non-dairy drinks that currently market themselves as 'milk' to find another name."

Does the word "milk" when it comes after soy, almond, etc. ever really confuse consumers at the grocery store? This week, the Good Food Institute's Emily Byrd gave this line of thinking the amount of seriousness it deserves in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times: "'What's this almond milk thing? Must be from a cow that ate almonds,' is not a common line of thought."

Regardless of how transparently pro-agribusiness-status-quo these lawmakers' concerns are, and regardless of the fact the American Egg Board and USDA got burned when they covertly tried to strip Hampton Creek of its "mayo" label a few years ago, these debates will likely rage on as long as new foods enter the market and old ones have to compete a little harder on health and environmental and animal welfare.