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Carroll: Got (pea) milk?
It's a sensory overload in the dairy case now
Dairy case
There is a plethora of options in the dairy case now. Some of it even meets the real definition of 'milk.'

I don’t know how we did it, but we did. Those of us who grew up in the 20th century managed to survive fewer than 50 varieties of milk.

In fact, for the first few years of my life, I only knew of two: sweet milk and buttermilk. When I started school, I was introduced to the wonders of chocolate milk. That may have been my first true love.

Our dairy case at my parents’ general store was stocked with Meadow Gold Milk. It was mostly half-gallon cartons of sweet milk, with a few cartons of buttermilk, and eventually a couple of cartons of skim milk. I never drank skim milk as a child, after being told it was sort of watery.

Eventually Meadow Gold started selling gallon jugs of milk, but the selection of flavors in our dairy case remained the same for a few decades. I don’t recall anyone complaining about that.

The other day, one of the weekly supermarket ads featured a sale on something called pea milk. I had to wrap my head around that one. First off, I couldn’t picture myself at the checkout counter with pea milk. What if the scanner didn’t detect the bar code? I’d be standing there, all red-faced while the clerk got on the microphone calling for a manager: “Need a price check on PEA MILK!” Meanwhile, the other shoppers, impatiently waiting in line, would be whispering, “Who on earth would buy something called pea milk? Oh, look it’s that TV guy. We sorta figured he was odd, all along.”

A common definition of milk is, “A liquid derived from cows, consumed by humans.” Maybe that’s why the dairy industry has asked the Food and Drug Administration to deny plant-based companies the right to use the word “milk” when marketing their products.

Take a look at the dairy case of 2018. Sweet milk and buttermilk have been squeezed aside. Most of the space goes to almond milk, banana milk, soy milk, coconut milk, cashew milk, rice milk, and now, pea milk. Not to mention 2 percent fat-free, 1 percent fat-free, lactose-free, organic, and some oddball “milks” with an expiration date of sometime after the next presidential election.

No one is more confused by this than me. I might as well face it, I’m addicted to milk. That is despite the fact it is not cool to drink milk.

I don’t recall milk being socially unacceptable in my youth, but when’s the last time you saw someone under 30 using milk for anything other than pouring over cereal?

If you order milk at a restaurant for lunch or dinner, the waitress is not pleased. The soft drink and tea dispensers are within her reach, but evidently those rare milk orders force her to go out back and milk the cow.

If you ever want to be the odd man out at a social gathering, be the guy who mingles in the crowd with a glass of milk. Soon, your only friend will be the coat rack.

To me, nothing tastes better with dessert than milk. Yet I’m usually the only one in my “party” who turns down coffee or tea, in favor of the white stuff.

That’s why the dairy case is stuffed with the bright packages and non-milk drinks masquerading as milk.

Plant-based milk sales are up five percent from last year, while cow’s milk sales have dropped three percent. Sales of almond milk have shot up 250 percent in the past five years.

When cow’s milk ruled the world, we were bombarded by commercials telling us we HAD to drink milk, in order to grow up big and strong. Well, kids born since 1990 haven’t drunk much milk at all, and we’re looking up at most of them.

What do these wanna-be milks taste like? It’s a mixed bag. A long time ago, a doctor told me I should drink organic skim milk, and I’ve gotten used to it. So much so, that traditional whole milk tastes thick and buttery to me now.

As for pea milk, The Washington Post says, “The process begins with harvesting yellow peas and milling them into flour. That flour is processed, separating the pea protein from the fiber and starch. The pea protein is further purified and blended together with water and other ingredients, including sunflower oil and sea salt.”

I’m happy to report that pea milk doesn’t taste like peas. My quick in-store sampling was ingested with a tiny ham and cheese sandwich. The pea milk was a little too creamy for me, and oddly sweet. Maybe they should call it “sweet pea milk,” and put Popeye on the carton.

So ask for it by name, and trust me on this. Thankfully, it tastes better than it sounds.

David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a book featuring his best columns. It is available on his website,, or by mail. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or Twitter: @davidcarroll3.