No fact has shocked me more since I’ve started “My Canada” research to discover that Canadians are 29th — twenty-ninth — in world per-capita milk consumption.
As I teenager, I travelled to Germany (no. 16 on the current per-capita consumption list) on a school trip and we were billeted with German families, who found the Canadian teens’ interest in drinking milk odd, to say the least. Milk was for very small children and maybe a teen might drink an occasional carton of flavoured milk; I remember being given a small tetra pack of banana-flavoured milk when my hosts understood, yes, I really did drink milk with a meal.
So, what happened? How are milk-meh Germans, and so many other peoples, drinking a whole lot more milk than Canadians do, these days?
A 2015 Globe and Mail analysis cites several factors for why milk-drinking habits have changed so rapidly in this country: an aging population; an increase in immigration from countries where dairy over-all or liquid milk in particular are not a usual part of the diet; a rise in veganism; and consumers opting for rice, soy, or almond milk to substitute for dairy milk. I’m looking at you, soy chai latte.
Another 2016 report from the Alberta Department of Agriculture and Forestry shows that while consumption of liquid milk tumbled 21 per cent from 1996 to 2015 in Canada, other forms of dairy products increased sales, such as yoghurt, cheese, and cream, which doubled in consumption over the same period, attributed to the rise of “coffee culture” and the cream that goes into all those double-doubles.
So while perhaps I share this Canadian quality with fewer of my fellow Canada-dwellers than in the past, I shall go on the record to declare: I drink liquid milk. From bags. And given it’s one of the few things guaranteed to weird out our American friends, I consider it my patriotic duty to keep doing so.
Lisa Jackson, writing for The Food Network, explains that “DuPont, a Canadian food and packaging company, unveiled thin, plastic bags that could be used to store and sell milk in 1967. Gradually, the dairy industry began ditching glass bottles and adopted this newfangled plastic pouch, which was far more practical and cost-efficient. Plus, Canada’s conversion to the metric system in the 1970s made the switch a no-brainer: while plastic jugs and cardboard cartons had to be redesigned and manufactured to be sold in metric units, plastic bags could easily be re-sized.”
In Ontario, three-quarters of liquid milk sold to consumers comes in bags and, across the country, is 50 per cent. It never caught on in the U.S. but Jackson reports a few other countries now use the same packaging method.
The bags certainly create less waste than cartons, although I have never risen to the level of environmental efficiency I once saw visiting a friend in Prince Edward Island: her mother sliced open the top of empty milk bags, washed them out, pegged them to the clothesline to dry, and then used them as freezer or sandwich bags.
Main photo: Kelley Teahen. Milk pitcher purchased at One of a Kind Craft Show in Toronto from Christina Trigonopoulos, “Colours by Chris.” Link goes to the artisan’s Facebook page.