In 2012, while eating at a random Chinese restaurant in Toronto, I ordered a glass of milk with my food. For me, nothing was uncommon about this occurrence. I had been doing it for years. The looks of confusion upon delivering my request were also not uncommon to me. But what was uncommon, was the bubble tea cup the milk was brought out in, complete with those gigantic straws. It was such a unique moment for my milk ordering ways, I decided to take a quick photo of the glass of milk with my iPhone. No biggie. Unbeknownst to me at the time, it would start a tradition of photographing my milk ordered in public and sharing these photos online. I’ve been #MilkingIt for three years now.
But let’s back up a bit. What’s the story of milk? Not the entire story of its history. Just its history with me. Like most, my initial journey was due to being born a mammal, which involved drinking milk to become a healthy toddler. But as I continued to grow, I switched from my species’ milk to another, and never stopped consuming it. I guess most mammals don’t do that, not even the majority of my own species.
For a conservative estimate, I consume about a gallon of milk every 2–3 days. Whole milk. The red label option. For the Canadians out there, that would be the 3.25% variety. Delicious stuff. It never occurred to me that most people taper their milk consumption as they grow older, or that they avoid milk when paired with certain foods. Or that a condition such as lactose intolerance could actually be such a thing. A cruel, cruel thing. I just really enjoyed drinking milk and found it to be the best drink choice with practically any type of food.
As an adult, I’ve found more than a few moments where I have to justify why I continue to drink milk. “Because it’s delicious?” is my standard response. Because it is. Throughout these years, I’ve had co-workers warn me of the dangers of colon cancer, or that I was contributing to future calcium deposits in my body, or that I was wrecking my digestive system. Even in “Snatch,” one of my favorite movies of all time, they dedicated an entire scene of the film to educating the “Turkish” character about his milk consumption throughout the film.
I wasn’t deterred, but I was tired of feeling like what I was doing was somehow odd or wrong in others’ eyes. So after I made that simple photograph while sitting in Toronto’s Chinatown, I had a dumb idea. Why don’t I just celebrate my dedication to drinking milk? So when I crossed the border into Buffalo the next day, I had another glass of milk while at a coffee shop, and the pattern was enacted. I posted both images to Facebook and tagged the locations for each. A few weeks later, I boarded a plane to teach a photography class across Ireland, and I kept the streak of photographing and uploading/geotagging my milk at every eatery I visited. It was almost like my own version of the scene in “Amelia” where the flight attendant carries the gnome across the world. These milk photos became my tourist postcard.
I’ve never actually stated anything publicly about what has turned into an interesting photo side project of mine. It’s pretty low impact on the workload … it’s simply doing what I would normally do in a restaurant, take a quick photo with my phone, and then get on my way to utilizing the milk and food for their actual purposes. But I have answered questions that pop up throughout the postings over the years.
“Why do you like milk so much?” Because it’s delicious.
“Do you like chocolate milk?” no
“Who has the best milk?” Hood, which can be found throughout New England. I think it’s due to their opaque packaging.
“You should drink organic milk.” If you’d like to pay the organic tax, sure! It is, in fact, quite tasty!
“Want to try some goat milk?” I have, and it’s delicious.
“What about soy milk?” It’s horrible. I tried almond milk, too, and couldn’t get past the texture. Seriously, I had a spell of about a week where I tested out other types to see what the fuss was about. They all ended up expiring in my refrigerator.
“Have you ever tried quitting milk?” Yes, actually. Once, just to see if it could be done. A few years back, I was marathoning the “Lost” television show and decided to try going cold turkey. It lasted less than two days. I distinctly remember looking into the refrigerator and feeling a shaky urge that I can only assume heroin addicts can relate to when I saw the milk just sitting there, going unused. By the second night, I had a glass poured and drank while watching all of the island residents search for Walt.
I’m not doing the milk postings for any larger reason or attempting to address some social concern. I’m not advocating for the cattle farming industry, though I do hope it continues doing its thing. It makes me happy to hear that both New York and Vermont have milk as their official state drink, but if they didn’t, I wouldn’t feel a well of sadness within me. No, it’s mainly because I enjoy drinking it a lot, and decided to take a little control over the narrative that people like to use when they decide it’s appropriate to discuss my milk consumption.
Once, at a restaurant in Baltimore, I asked the waitress for a glass of milk with my food. She said of course, and then asked if I needed it served in a sippy cup. I wasn’t sure how to immediately respond. The level of sarcastic sass she had in her statement just made me respect her even more. I was proudly drinking milk at a table surrounded by beers, and she was brilliant in giving me just enough grief to make the glass of milk even more memorable.
The best glass of milk I’ve ever had wasn’t due to the actual quality of the milk. Instead, it was about location. I was at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, and they had a cafe up there. I ordered a way overpriced glass of milk and sat next to the window to look out at the top of the skyline beneath me. My glass of milk sat in my view of the city. It helped me cement the memory.
I call the project #MilkingIt. It’s a simple enough hashtag that gets to the point. Sometimes I deadpan that it’s a project I’m milking for utter brilliance. The moans are fittingly appropriate.
Years before this idea even existed (or smartphones were around that could easily take high quality imagery), I had a unique experience when purchasing milk in Paris. Apparently pasteurization was invented in France. That’s what I was told, at least. Anyway, in many of the grocery stores, you have the option to purchase milk cold, or it can be found on a normal shelf and then cooled when you get home. Not unlike the options you have with beer or soda. It freaked me out. I trusted the Parisians and didn’t notice any signs of warm dairy disease from its citizens, but it just felt too weird to purchase warm milk. I kept to the cooled versions.
For the #MilkingIt project, I set a few ground rules for myself. First, it needs to be milk ordered in public, ideally at a restaurant or other eateries. Occasionally I’ll order food at one place, then walk down the street to a grocery store and purchase a quart of milk for my food. This setup is also photographed, particularly if I remain in the eatery to consume the food. If I order takeout and get milk on the way home, I’ll usually also photograph this milk consumption, though I don’t treat it as a hard rule.
I tend to not photograph my milk when I’m just eating a home cooked meal and pouring a glass from the refrigerator. I’m not sure why I didn’t include this activity in my milk photographing goals, but it just seems too pedestrian to me. No big deal. But if it’s a particularly interesting glass of milk, or there’s a specific reason why I’m doing it, then yeah I’ll take a photo. Also, if I’m somewhere specific for an extended period of time, I tend to taper off on my milk photos. For instance, every summer I teach classes at the Maine Media Workshops. They have a buffet-style kitchen where we all eat every day. It’s a public eating space, in a way, but it quickly becomes my home. A few photographs here and there, but the photos are so consistently the same over the weeks that just having a few serves the purpose well enough.
For the past three years, I’ve photographed every glass of milk ordered in a restaurant, except for one. That still bugs me. It was a business meeting, and I was so caught up in the discussion that it slipped my mind. Horrible, I know. But otherwise, it’s always part of my public eating ritual. First dates, dinner parties, you name it. They are all memorialized with a photo of the glass of milk. This activity has even led to some fun cooperation with others. More than a few times, I’ve sat down with friends and they start photographing my milk for me, in case I, for whatever reason, will not be able to participate in the activity.
Photographing my milk has also led to some new extra benefits. For instance, if I just landed in a new city and am meeting up with a friend for lunch, often they make a cameo in the photo just because they’re sitting in front of me. It’s become a game to see how unique the cameos can become. Also, sometimes my milk postings on social media alerts acquaintances that I’m randomly in town, and it leads to some great meetups that weren’t originally planned for.
All because of milk.
I’ve never broken a bone in my body. I like to attribute that to milk. Milk produces strong bones, is what I’ve been told my whole life. Whether or not this is true, I don’t know. The causation isn’t needed, but at the least, it’s a fun correlation.
I don’t know when the project will end. I have no interest in not drinking milk, nor am I particularly bored with taking the images. In some weeks, they become the only things I feel like posting to Instagram. Originally the project existed on my personal Facebook page, but I scrapped that account and shifted the posts over to my professional photography page. Eventually, judging by my posting frequency, I was turning into more of a milk photographer than a creator of fictional narratives so I decided to put the focus back there and offload the milk images solely to Instagram.
I like to think this project started with a bubble tea cup of milk, but ultimately, it never had a start date. My love for milk has simply always been.