Monday, October 4, 2010
We drink milk from bags. Does that make us weird?
She runs through the milk drinker’s skillset: the proper triangular cut, the cautious first pour, preventive measures to keep an overfull bag from collapsing.
Collectively, the viewing world outside Ontario leaned back in its seat and said, “What. The Hell. Is that?”
“My friends find it pretty amusing, because we all grew up in Toronto,” Ng, a 22-year-old York University student said. “We thought it was normal.”
Apparently not. Ontario, the world has seen your milk drinking habits, and the world now thinks you’re a weirdo.
Ng posted her milk-drinking video as a way of illustrating the differences between Canadians and Americans. They drink milk out of jugs. We drink it out of bags. She titled the whimsical instructional, “Milk in bags, eh?”
When it went viral a couple of days ago, it was retitled “How Canadians Drink Milk.” Any Albertan will tell you that is plain wrong.
On the popular Web aggregator Digg, feeling about Ng’s milk expose is running strong. Commenter sentiment ranges from ‘Whaaaat?’ to ‘Ew’. A few Americans managed to make it a public health-care issue. A few Canadians made it a We-hate-Toronto issue.
“Only in Ontario,” someone reassured the panicky herd. “They also cheer for the Leafs, so you can see where the problem begins.”
They drink bagged milk in Quebec and the Maritimes. But it rarely passes the other direction, across the Ontario/Manitoba border, unless it’s packed away for a camping trip.
“Ahem. This … should read ‘How East Coast Canadians Drink Mlk’,” one uppity cowboy sniffed. “Out west we do it like normal people. Carton or plastic jug.”
Yeah, well, in Saskatchewan they think there are 12 beers in a “case,” so who are they to judge?
Bagged milk also hits an impassable imaginary wall at the 49th parallel. Almost uniformly, Americans are jug/carton people. Wisconsinites, people who know something about dairy, buck that trend.
Among other forward-thinking nations that have warmed up to the plastic udder – South Africans, Argentines, Hungarians and Chinese. Those latter also bag beer, which means we have some catching up to do.
The Soviets used milk bags, though central Europeans rushed to embrace the carton once the Wall came down. For ten shekels, Israelis can buy a Kankomat – a bag-holder that includes its own cutting device.
The U.K. is in the midst of a painful switch to bags, driven by complaints that Britons refuse to recycle jugs. When they first appeared a couple of years ago, the Daily Mail sounded the alarm: “End of the milk bottle? Supermarket begins selling milk in a BAG.”
In 1967, DuPont debuted the milk bag in Canada using equipment developed in Europe. The local dairy industry jumped on the change, happily abandoning the hassle of breakable glass bottles.
For a while, bag popularity lagged behind a new generation of reusable plastic jugs. But bag adoption picked up speed in the mid-70s, spurred by the conversion from imperial measurement to metric.
Retrofitting a bag-making machine from a gallon to a litre was a matter of cutting the plastic in a different spot. Resizing a plastic jug meant redesigning entire production lines.
All Ontario retailers made the switch by 1983 – except Becker’s corner stores. They doggedly clung to their trademark jugs, even after they were absorbed by Mac’s Convenience.
“We still have a core group of customers who have a strong loyalty to the jug,” said Mac’s spokesperson, Bruce Watson. Today, Mac’s sells jugs and bags side-by-side.
The great early ‘80s bag migration was a matter of no little disruption at the time. Everyone seemed happy buying jugs, and then returning them for a 25 cent deposit. Kids especially. Gen X got fat trading those empty jugs for candy.
At the time, manufacturers pointed out that bags are better at preserving milk. Some finicky types still say they prefer the taste of milk in the carton.
Bags also use 75 per cent less plastic than jugs. What killed the returnable jug system was your uncle’s habit of storing gas or weed killer in it before returning it for washing and reuse.
“I ran a store at the time,” said Watson. “People did bizarre things to those jugs.”
Today’s jugs are shredded and recycled after a single use.
Drinkers discovered that milk in bags costs less than a comparable amount sold in a jug. Mainly, that’s got to do with economies of scale. As bags began to dominate the market, the cost to manufacture single-use jugs jumped.
Today, you can’t find a young Ontarian who remembers that unhappy time when you risked a shoulder injury trying to get a drop of milk out of a 3-quart jug.
Alain Lamarre, DuPont’s marketing and sales manager for liquid packaging, estimates that 75 to 80 per cent of the milk sold in Ontario is bagged. Across the entire country, about half of Canadian milk drinkers use bags.
The other half? They’re still suspicious. Like Stones/Beatles, this is an issue with the ability to divide families.
Ng’s been buried under the response. Enough American doubters piped up that she felt compelled to film a follow-up showing bagged milk at the supermarket, “just to prove it really exists.”
If they think that’s discombobulating, the next entry is going to blow their minds.