Drink It Black

» May 5th, 2014

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), an organization that provides a humane label for meat and dairy products, hit my inbox today with a downright giddy press release celebrating a Seattle-based barista for “her award-winning cappuccinos [with milk] from cows raised in accordance with the highest animal welfare standards.”  That would be, of course, AWA cows.

I quickly found myself percolating over a single question. Should I really get excited that AWA is glowing with press-release pride because  five varieties of milk made by a Washington dairy have consumers frothing with culinary excitement? Something about the celebration of a supposedly delicious animal product—milk!— by an organization that cares for animals smelled rotten to me.

The triumphant barista’s emphasis on dairy quality over animal welfare only intensified my skepticism. She explained, ”Milk is a big part of my score. It just didn’t make sense for me to invest a lot of time in the right espresso, and not the right milk.” Indeed, bring in some happy udders! With a sort of sinister pride, AWA explained that the barista “tasted over 10 different milks while she was getting ready for the competition, but noted ‘Pure Eire Dairy just stood out.’”

AWA Program Director Andrew Gunther, for his part, was  thrilled. After all, yet another gentle exploiter of animals had “achieved success through their [AWA's] product.” He added, ”It’s no coincidence. High-welfare, sustainable farming equals great food. Knowing that Laila sources her milk from an AWA farm underpins that assumption.” Maybe the farmers will now get as rich as their cream. It’d be no coincidence.

Consider the logic here. By treating cows relatively well, you get better tasting milk and win awards. When you get better tasting milk and win  awards, you encourage consumers to drink more milk, or at least not give it up. If you encourage milk consumption, specifically from cows raised according to specific welfare standards, you ensure that your label will last at least as long as a brand seared into a cow’s ass.

Forgive me if I’m not frothing with excitement over AWA’s dubious accomplishment. Adding insult to injury, milk isn’t even necessary for coffee. Purists eschew, if not abhor, it. So not only is AWA helping to make milk taste better, it’s encouraging an expansion of the product’s application. Good for the labeling business, I guess.

In any case, I can do AWA one better and insist on the simplest and most humane solution: drink it black.




10 Responses to Drink It Black

  1. Janine says:

    No need to drink it black! Soy milk or any other plant-sourced milk is delicious in coffee!!

  2. John Maher says:

    To paraphrase John Gunther, Dairy Be Not Proud.

    Properly brewed coffee — the black soup of the Mehmet Turks — can only be savored if brewed straight up. America is among the worst countries in the world for coffee and has commodified it into a tasteless over roasted morass of sweetened cruelty and cutsey branding. I confess to using a Frieling French Press instead of the Djezba to make my ‘as close to animal friendly sourced as possible’ beloved Trieste (where Rilke wrote the Dueno Elegies) style coffee but that is my only concession.

    The welfarists are misguided. Let the Barrista rock grafixEFX tops with some soy, almond or cocoas for those without taste. AWA should be sued for fraud by anyone who has relied upon a false and misleading label in purchasing a product containing cruelty ‘cos the cows ain’t smiling so matter what the label says.

  3. Jennifer Mora says:

    Do consumers honestly believe that cows are “proud” to give them milk? This seems to be the myth. See this Yoplait frozen yogurt commercial and hear the words auto-tuned “I wanna meet the cow that made this.” http://youtu.be/p1vgmeRA_aU
    Do people think that cows are employees? Where do these mythical creatures work so tirelessly, like Santa’s elves, putting together milk or butter and then taking a relaxing break in the fields chewing cud? This feels like part two (first the foodies and their butter) and now this obsession with the perfect milk for coffee. I can see how someone would eschew plant milks also.

  4. James says:

    Uh, because cows suffer when others don’t drink it black?

    • April Moore says:

      I doubt this dairy farm in Vermont services hundreds of thousands of people. I don’t know what your criteria for “zero suffering” is, but let’s remember how milk is produced: keeping cows perpetually pregnant and their udders hooked up to pumps for hours on end. What do you think happens to the calf (or calves) they birth? They are taken from their mothers and either killed on the spot (for rennet–a key ingredient in most cheeses) or thrown in a cage to become veal or leather. No dairy farmer is going to let their lactating money machines give the milk to their own babies. It’s a dirty business. Cruelty aside, the dairy industry consumes (and pollutes) the most water than any other industry. 190 gallons of water = 1 stick of butter. Absolutely ridiculous.

  5. Mary Finelli says:

    For those who can’t stomach it black, there are fine soy creamers available. Just skip the ones that use palm oil. Trader Joe’s makes a good one.

  6. Mountain says:

    Hey James,

    Thanks for letting me know about one of the very few grass-only dairies in the United States.

  7. Lynn Davis says:

    James, thanks for this article. I doubt most people who line up for cones in the summer, or douse their coffee with 1/2 cream realize that cows have to REMAIN pregnant in order to produce milk, are attached to machines and expend the amount of energy of one marathon per day, or that her calf will become the product of the veal industry, that her horns will be seared off without anesthetic, or that her hooves will be become broken and damaged as a result of a lifetime of standing to produce an extra, unneeded commodity, or that after five years, she is sent to slaughter for hamburger “low grade” meat. Anyone who refuses to know the truth about how their food is produced is afraid, and are causing harm to themselves, other beings, and our plant.

  8. Lynn Davis says:

    A related comment…I saw that “Modern Farmer” won a National Magazine Award: http://mashable.com/2014/05/02/modern-farmer/?utm_cid=mash-prod-email-topstories&utm_emailalert=daily&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=daily

    This shows me that people may be turning the opposite direction in terms of awareness, to outright denial of reality.

  9. Mountain says:

    “I can do AWA one better and insist on the simplest and most humane solution: drink it black.”

    I, too, drink my coffee black. But whether that is the most humane solution depends entirely on what the coffee drinker will consume instead of cream or milk. If the coffee drinker is a vegan, it is probably more humane to drink their coffee black, since whatever alternative source of calories they consume later in the day will probably harm fewer animals than the milk or cream would. But a vegan wouldn’t really be considering whether to put cream or milk in her coffee, now would she?

    If an omnivore switches from putting cream in his coffee to drinking it black, he won’t magically consume fewer calories for the day, he’ll substitute more of something else instead– that’s one reason diet sodas don’t work; people compensate for the absence of calories. So, drinking his coffee black is only more humane if the food he’ll eat later (or with his coffee) causes less harm to animals than the cream or milk he is now leaving out of his coffee. And for most omnivores, it probably isn’t:


    Animal Visuals is a pro-vegan website that underestimates the number of animals killed in crop production (and thus, underestimates the number of animals killed to feed farm animals), but they are the best source I can find so far. And the ratios should be about right, even if the absolute numbers are off.

    As you can see, dairy harms more animals per-calorie than vegan foods (fruits, grains, vegetables), but harms far fewer animals than other animal products (73% less harm than pork, 98% less harm than chicken). So, an omnivore who drinks his coffee black, but then compensates by eating more animal products is almost certainly being less humane, not more. Of course, omnivores eat plants too, but the average American gets 40% of their calories from animal products, so it’s a safe bet that the average American does more harm by drinking his coffee black instead of adding milk or cream.

    Of course, when you, James, say to drink it black, I’m sure you mean: become a vegan and drink it black. But if an omnivore stays an omnivore, but switches to drinking their coffee black, he’s probably doing more harm than good.

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