What Happened to Milk?

April 02, 1993

For all the Little Leaguers emulating his batting stance, for all the adults who dream of his fame or his bankbook, not enough people apparently care to be like Cal Ripken Jr. in the milk-drinking department.

Let's not lay this all at the feet of the Orioles' star and milk pitchman; he's got enough pressure. But for a host of reasons, from changing lifestyles to mixed medical advice, milk drinking ain't what it used to be.

That certainly has a major impact on Carroll County, which just dropped from being No. 2 in Maryland milk production (behind Frederick County) to the third spot behind Washington County. Flat demand has suppressed milk prices for several years and many farmers would just as soon convert to raising fruits, vegetables and dried flowers for sale to the encroaching suburbanites as deal with the labor-intensive dairy production.

"If we had the rain in these parts, we'd be into crops. We'd have been out of milk a long time ago," laments Myron Wilhide from his Detour farm.

The public's ambivalence toward milk transcends Carroll County. After World War II, the Mid-Atlantic region doubled its consumption of the white stuff every decade, to about 3 billion pounds of fluid milk in 1970. Two decades later, despite immense population growth from Philadelphia to Washington, we're still stuck at 3 billion pounds.

These days, people reach for "the Right One" and "the Real Thing" instead of "Fitness You Can Drink." Valiant efforts by milk marketers can't keep up with the barrage of soft drink promotions. The increase in fast-food consumption has also hurt milk.

The cow's cola took another hit last year when some doctors, including Dr. Frank A. Oski, director of the Johns Hopkins Children's Center, and Dr. Benjamin Spock, the legendary pediatrician, denounced cow's milk as a possible contributor to medical problems in youngsters. Still, most physicians advise parents to include milk -- which contains fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals -- in children's diets after a year of breast- or formula-feeding.

With the public increasingly enamored with natural ingredients and a crop of baby boomer parents having been raised on the stuff, you'd think milk would have more favored status. Maybe the agriculture industry should halt production, spur a public outcry, then bring it back as "Milk Classic." It worked for the soda folks.

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