Recently I picked up a jug of milk, unscrewed the cap, poured a nice cold glass of milk. Milk in one hand and a cookie in the other, I sat down to enjoy my snack. Biting into the freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie, I take a sip of milk only to realize it wasn’t the reduced fat 2% milk that I thought it was but it was fat free! It was skim milk cloaked in a jug with a blue cap to disguise itself as reduced fat milk.
After that horrific experience, I learned one of the harsh realities of life. The fact that a blue cap on a milk jug meant two percent milk was something I took for granted my entire life. Now, 20 years later, it had come back to haunt me. That day I learned that the United States government, something I had until that day viewed as a perfect and infallible pillar of American society, and its Department of Agriculture does not enforce what the cap colors on milk jugs. Is this the kind of society we live in, where standards don’t are not enforced and dairies can run amok with milk cap colors? It’s barbaric. It was on that fateful night that I resolved not to rest until this scourge of American consumerism was defeated.
The predecessor of the plastic milk bottle we know and love today was patented in 1962 by Walter Zaleski and included a plastic cap that looked pretty wild. The bottle became popular in the 70s and 80s alongside the milk carton. Both eventually replaced glass bottles of milk altogether. Zaleski, despite his milk packaging pioneering, did not specify any standards for the cap, leaving us in this mess today.
As the Chinese general and philosopher, Sun Tzu, wrote, “the first step to defeating your enemy, is knowing him.” I set out into the closest market, documenting everything. Unfortunately, it only carried on brand of milk and every different kind was in a jug with a different colored cap, so there wasn’t much to actually document. How could I get to the bottom of this if I couldn’t compare cap colors across milk brands?
Then it hit me: of course the milk industry would ensure that no two milk brands with different cap color standards would ever be stocked in the same location. At that moment, I realized how deep this conspiracy could go and I started to fear for my life. Before I went further, I set up a dead man’s switch that will inform of my loved ones that Big Milk had finally gotten me. They will then be instructed to post here and alert the world that I was killed by the milk industry in my quest to standardize its milk caps.
I trekked on hoping to discover the truth, secure in knowing that if the milk industry did try to retaliate, the truth would become public. Starting with the milk company that first comes to mind, Alta Dena, whose milk I have drunk for most of my life, red caps mean whole milk, blue is two percent, and one percent and fat free milk are teal-ish and purple-ish, respectively (but that’s only what I’ve been told, I can’t see the difference, they both look pink to me). I continue this online expedition surveying large national milk brands and a few more regional ones that happen to come up. From my exhaustive research, I have compiled what may be the most comprehensive charts on milk cap colors. The colors in the chart are only approximations but they do the job.
This chart speaks for itself and is a clear reflection of the chaos within the American milk industry. Red for whole milk and blue for reduced fat milk seem pretty standard across the nation but as we take away more milk fat, the consistency of cap colors disappears as well. This is obviously a huge problem and we must push to resolve it.
We must commend Tuscan Dairy and Meadow Gold for having the choosing the most popular cap colors in each category and thank them for attempting to follow a standard in the face of anarchy.
During the compilation of this chart, I discovered something much more sinister than the lack of color consensus among dairies, something that puts me in even more danger. Many local dairies that I denote in my chart with an asterisk are owned by Dean Foods, and branded with the Dairy Pure line of milk. Even in this mass consolidation of small dairies, Dean Foods cannot or, possibly, will not enforce standard cap colors in its Dairy Pure line of milk. Why?
What motive could Dean Foods have for not enforcing a consistent color scheme for the caps and labels on its milk jugs? Why would they intentionally sow these seeds of discord in milk-consuming American families?
Is it right to blame Dean Foods? Maybe the colors of caps in milk jugs were in place long ago and now it’s too late to change them. Local dairies serve a very small area since milk is extremely perishable. Milk stocked on the supermarket shelf will not come from more than 500 miles away, if that, and milk from national store brands like Walmart’s and Kroger’s, just comes from local dairies and is rebranded. Possibly because supermarket shelves usually aren’t stocked with more than one or two brands of milk, there’s never been a need to standardize the caps.
Consumer pressure can force dairies to standardize their milk caps. As milk consumers, we have the power to drive standardization. We must contact our dairies and our representatives and demand standardization!
Acknowledgements: This journey in uncovering the secrets of Big Milk has been long and hard and I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends and family. Special thanks to Noelle for doing a color check of the colors in my milk chart, since I can’t see the weird pastel colors in the caps of low fat and fat free milk very well.