You won't find any vegans on The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board. Most of us are verified meat-eaters and, though one of us is vegetarian, all of us regularly enjoy cheese, cream, butter and milk.
But you don't have to embrace a plant-based diet to see the ridiculousness of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's bullying attack on Miyoko's Creamery. The department has ordered the small Sonoma County company, which makes nondairy, vegan cheese and butter, to stop labeling its products as such.
"In a December letter, the department told Miyoko's it needed to stop using dairy words on its packaging and marketing materials," wrote Janelle Bitker of the San Francisco Chronicle. "That included no longer calling its vegan spread 'butter,' removing its 'lactose free' claim and taking down a photo on the company's website of a woman hugging a cow."
State officials apparently think Californians aren't smart enough to know the difference between real dairy products and plant-based substitutes. Come on. Nobody buys almond, oat or soy milk by accident.
After all, peanut butter and almond butter both have "butter" in their names, but no one mistakes them for the dairy versions. Most grocery stores sell a popular skin moisturizing product called cocoa butter, but nobody spreads it on toast or eats it like chocolate. No one unwittingly pours the constipation medicine called Phillips Milk of Magnesia on their corn flakes because the word "milk" appears in the name.
Consumers have brains. An increasing number of them are choosing to eat plant-based diets for environmental, health or humanitarian reasons. That's because human dependence on products derived from animals results in earth-heating carbon emissions, pollution and the depletion of water. In addition, diets high in certain animal fats are linked with cancer and heart disease. And not everyone has a stomach for the brutality that results when we use animals as food sources on an industrial scale.
"We feel entitled to artificially inseminate a cow and then steal her baby, even though her cries of anguish are unmistakable," said actor Joaquin Phoenix in his Oscar acceptance speech on Sunday, typifying the viewpoint of animal rights activists. "Then we take her milk that's intended for her calf, and we put it in our coffee and our cereal."
Which brings us to cow hugging. The silliest part of the state's letter to Miyoko's Creamery was its demand to remove a photo of a woman hugging a cow from its website. What public interest is threatened by the cuddling of large bovine creatures?
Miyoko Schinner, the company's CEO, called the department's demands "absurd," according to the Chronicle. She responded to the state's demands by filing a lawsuit. Other plant-based companies in California have received similar warnings, said Michele Simon of the Plant Based Food Association.
"Miyoko has decided she isn't going to take this lying down and she's fighting back," said Simon. "It's quite a ridiculous situation where you have companies around California that are innovating and providing consumers with healthy, more sustainable options. The last thing companies need is their state government getting in their way."
Let's face it: For meat and dairy lovers, no vegan confection can quite compare to the flavor and texture of products derived from animals. So it's unlikely that most of us will adopt a plant-based diet, regardless of the benefits. Each of us has the right to make that choice for ourselves.
But vegans and vegetarians also deserve the freedom to make choices, and that includes the freedom to call their chosen products what they are: vegan, plant-based versions of milk, cheese, butter and cream. California officials should back off and find something more productive to do than censor cow hugs.