ArsTechnica1 had an article yesterday about FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announcing that the FDA would crack down on non-dairy products using the word "milk". (That article referenced an article and video in Politico2.)
Really? There's an issue with using the word "milk" to describe a milk-like liquid, like "soy milk" or "almond milk" or "coconut milk"? It certainly seems to me to be a common and well-understood usage. Is an American consumer going to be tricked by a label saying "Soy Milk" and be horrified that it contains no dairy? No, I think it goes the other way, if there's a label that says "Whatever Plant Product Milk", the expectation by the consumer is that it can be trusted to contain no dairy.
Almonds are mentioned specifically: "An almond doesn't lactate, I will confess," Gottlieb said. As an American, the term "almond milk" seems both valid and unambiguous. But let's look it up, and see what we can find.
From the online OED3, milk, n.1, definition 5.a.:
"A culinary, pharmaceutical, cosmetic, or other preparation resembling milk, esp. in colour. Usually with the principal ingredient or use specified by a preceding or following word."
Its first citation for this, from 1399 (text dating 14254), specifically mentions almonds:
"a1425 (a1399) Forme of Cury 72 in C. B. Hieatt & S. Butler Curye on Inglysch (1985) 114 Cast þerinne gode mylke of almaundes."
The OED also has a definition for almond milk:
"A milky liquid prepared from ground almonds, used as a drink and in cooking, and also applied to the skin, etc., as an emollient."
The first citation for that is from 1381:
"1381 Diuersa Servicia in C. B. Hieatt & S. Butler Curye on Inglysch (1985) 64 Seþ hem in almande mylk or in kyne mylke."
In short, it has been in English usage for well more than twice as long as the United States of America has existed. To me, that unquestionably makes it acceptable usage. There are certainly specific political reasons5 to ban the word "milk" from soy milk or almond milk containers. But there is no basis, in either the English language or in consumer expectation, to do so.
And lots of lobbyist dollars. ↩