Allow me to take you back to September, 2016. Obama was president, Carman still looked like a prison, and life was good. I—a freshman desperately clinging onto his COÖP friends—was getting dinner at Ferris Booth Commons. I had my meal ready but still needed a drink. The Coke Freestyle machine’s novelty had started to wear off, so I decided to grab a glass of milk. It was my first time getting milk at Columbia. It also happened to be the first time I was milk-shamed.
For those (lucky) people who have never experienced this phenomenon in action, “milk shaming” is the act of ridiculing someone for drinking a glass of milk in a Columbia dining hall. The type of milk does not matter; if you drink soy, almond, or oat milk, you are still a target. Much of milk-shaming is silent and manifests itself in quick, judgmental looks. However, verbal comments like, “Wait, are you drinking milk?” can also be common remarks among personal acquaintances or “friends.”
My initial feeling upon being milk-shamed was surprise. I drank milk my entire life. My peers drank it. Doctors encouraged me to drink it. For the first time, I was being told that something normal—even mundane—was now taboo.
No more. Students: It is time that we end milk-shaming at Columbia.
Milk is one of the healthiest beverages in Columbia’s dining halls. It’s rich in protein, potassium, and contains around 30 percent of your daily calcium. When you shame someone for drinking milk, you shame them for living well.
Milk-shaming also exposes a certain hypocrisy among Columbia students. When the milk is masked by coffee? Totally fine. Milk in cereal? A breakfast classic. Even chocolate milk seems to get escape free from scrutiny. But plain milk? Stop the presses! Heresy!
I have tried to understand the milk shamer. What motivates him? Who hurt her? I have come up with two possible explanations.
The first is that Columbia dining does not offer the type of milk that most people drink. There’s no one percent, no two percent, just skim and whole. This “all or nothing” milk fat model certainly does not help normalize milk drinking at Columbia.
The second issue is not the milk itself but the container. Those milk dispensers are—for lack of a better word—weird. They are industrial and out of place in the otherwise warm and inviting Columbia dining halls. They are decorated with pictures of cows. They dispense milk! The most uncomfortable part, though, is the small, white tube through which the milk comes out. It feels like you’re milking an udder. No thank you.
Even though these anti-milk arguments are valid, I believe that they are not the basis of why Columbia students choose to milk-shame. Much like the relationship between bacteria and yeast in kombucha, milk-shaming at Columbia is a matter of culture.
Columbia fosters a culture of milk-shaming. This fact is initially unsettling because there is no easy solution; we cannot start offering two percent milk and expect the problem to go away. And yet, culture is not fixed. We as Columbia students are able to shape it as we see fit.
I propose that we let go of our preconceived notions and end milk-shaming once and for all. If you’re a Deantini fan, here’s your chance to practice Beginner’s Mind. The next time you go to Ferris, be brave and grab yourself a glass of milk (and if you go to John Jay, don’t speak to me). If anyone would like to meet up for some milk, I’d be more than happy to oblige.
If you don’t drink milk, you can still make a difference! When you see someone with a glass, don’t shame their decision. Celebrate it. Recognize your own anti-milk bias and try to unlearn it. If Columbia students created the problem, Columbia students can fix it.
There is no larger point I am trying to make here. As Mark Twain wrote at the beginning of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted.” Don’t try to read into that quote. I mostly added it because quotes are common in Spec columns, and also, I want to impress a professor I had last semester.
As I conclude what (I hope) has been an insightful discussion, I ask Columbia one final question: Got Milk?
Jacob Kaplan is a senior at Columbia College studying history. He wrote last year’s Varsity Show, which had a plot predominantly centered around milk. He would like the National Dairy Council to know that he will no longer be working for free. The Small Pond runs alternate Wednesdays.
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