06/25/2013 12:53 pm ET Updated Aug 22, 2013

Milk, Right? What's in a Label?

What confusion we have in the world today! For example, ask most people where their milk comes from and they might say, "from the store." Ask them what it is and they might say it is white liquid that goes on cereal or they might say it comes from a cow, and maybe that it is a good source of protein and calcium. Back in the 70's in a battle against natural milk, the dairy lobby pushed to re-name fresh natural whole milk to be called "Raw Milk" inciting all kinds of paranoia about the dangers of bacteria in the unprocessed milk. Raw sounded disgusting at the time, just the way the dairy lobbyists intended. The laws in many states still prohibit "raw milk."

When I was growing up my father, a retired diplomat, always had a cow or two that he would coax into the barn, squat next to on a stool and milk into a stainless steel bucket for his 11 children to put on their cereal, drink cold or skim the cream from to make butter. I did the same with my children for 10 years and since then have always sought healthy "raw" milk when I could get it. Well, in the 1970's "Whole Milk" was redefined to mean pasteurized, homogenized and Vitamin D added! Not really "Whole" since putting milk through a pinhole breaks up the molecules, destroys the lecithin which is naturally there to digest the cholesterol and makes the cream invisible. But it does have a much better shelf life, I'll grant you.

I remember reading about a study at Yale back then that showed that homogenization destroyed lecithin, but I can't find any record of it and the new name for milk went through just fine... until now! They are threatening to redefine milk again so they can add synthesized GMO sweeteners ostensibly to help reduce obesity. Here is a quote from that, unfortunately, is only partly right on this one:

Tell the FDA that changing the definition of milk is just plain misleading. Right now, if a company puts artificial sweeteners into chocolate milk, they have to label it as "reduced-calorie chocolate milk," making it clear that there's a difference between it and sugar-sweetened chocolate milk. The industry would rather just call their product "chocolate milk," and force whoever is choosing it to read the fine print to figure out what's in it....Urge the FDA to keep the definition of milk as-is, so people won't be misled about their dairy products.

"Whole Milk" already isn't what it used to be! There may be more info in small print now but let's stop engineering and over-processing and adding stuff to food without saying so. We at least need a chance to opt out like in the security lines at the airport! I always prefer a friendly human pat down. I don't know what is in those big expensive machines.

A few words on a milk label may seem like a minor detail but current events (drone wars, NSA spying etc.) remind us daily that lines need to be drawn somewhere or freedom and privacy suffer. We live in a free country, right? Or are we just plain asleep and don't know what we are eating or who is watching us on the internet, on the streets and yikes maybe through the video eye of my computer...! If you read Toqueville's historical thesis based on pre-revolutionary France you will realize that systematic techniques for lulling citizenry into acquiescence are not new.

The problem today is that so much is virtual or veiled that it is hard to know what is real. Every conspiracy seems to eventually be put forward in movies and documentaries which only the believers watch. Seeing their vision played out on the big screen proves protesters right so the motivation to protest is reduced. If there is political or commercial manipulation it is so obvious as to seem ok. Transparency can become the tool for apparent transparency in the form of partial truths. Vulnerability can be used as an art-form for manipulation. Vulgar language is everywhere so it is no longer considered vulgar...just a way to emphasize a little bit. We have become used to it; and to whole milk that may not be good for you.

"Impact Investing" is another label that we need to watch closely since it could range from philanthropy or concessionary investing to high return investments with social and/or environmental benefits. So much depends on the intention behind language. And so much depends on each of us becoming increasingly observant, a skill set which takes time to develop. Christopher Fry's famous poem "A Sleep of Prisoners" ends powerfully with these words: "It takes/ So many thousand years to wake,/But will you wake for pity's sake!"

By the way, if you like dairy: goat, camel and sheep's milk are all naturally homogenized. If you want to have a positive impact with your investments let your advisor know.