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> So why did the Canadian Cook Book writers allocate 20 to 25 percent of the food budget for milk? I can only conclude that the relative price of milk must have been much higher then than it is now.

Nitpick: milk requires refrigeration, so it's much, much easier to store and transport milk today than in the 1920s. Even if nothing had changed in farming techniques, we'd expect to see cheaper milk because of bulk storage and refrigeration -- we'd pay a pretty penny to have milk delivered from the farm to our homes on a daily basis.

> the cost of lamb chops alone would blow a family of five's entire food budget.

Was lamb a relatively inexpensive meat at the time? At my friendly neighbourhood butcher, per pound lamb chops are as expensive as rib steak. Chicken and pork are by far the least expensive meats.

Since the 'dinners' section goes from lamb chops -> veal shoulder -> roast beef from very light->average->hearty, I get the impression that the book is using lamb as a budget option.

> Milk is a lot more expensive here than in the US, and it's hard for people without a lot of money to afford good quality cheese.

Notwithstanding that dairy production is subsidized in the US, so direct retail comparisons are misleading on both sides of the border. I'm more curious about what will happen to cheese prices with the expanded CETA import quota.

Majromax - "milk requires refrigeration" yup, that's one big reason why the cost of milk has gone down so much. And you're right - it was delivered right to people's doors. In glass bottles. Also: mechanical milking; selective breeding that has massively increased yield per cow. Not sure if improved bovine health has had an effect also.

"Was lamb a relatively inexpensive meat at the time" I wondered about that. I think that chicken was more expensive in the past than it is now, but I don't know if lamb was ever a budget option. I suspect it's more that lamb chops are small, so if you're serving a person a single chop then it's cheaper to serve a chop of lamb than a chop of steak - notice that lamb is the light option which it certainly isn't by any metric other than size. Of course you'll be pretty hungry if all you get for dinner is a single lamb chop!

"I'm more curious about what will happen to cheese prices with the expanded CETA import quota." I don't know. Is the tariff on cheese changed at all?

The Écomusée du fier monde , a Montréal museum about working class life (french speakers will appreciate the pun in the name...) had an exposition a few years ago about milk in Montréal.
And the Guaranteed Pure Milk is a beloved Montréal landmark

Jacques Rene - Thanks for the links.

That Ecomusee link really shows how totally different milk distribution technology was in the first half of the 20th century.

I've been right by the pure milk bottle dozens of times and it's never registered - I need to spend more time looking up at the sky, the stars, and the milk bottles and less time staring down at my feet!

Reminds me of my copy of the Fanny Farmer cookbook.

Really the increased productivity of the agricultural/food sector is the most amazing wonder of the modern world. Within a 10 minute drive of my house there are 3 or 4 grocery stores, filled with foods which would have amazed the epicurean Chinese or Roman emperors of yesteryear and to their subjects would have been the embodiment of heaven on earth. All dirt cheap.

US consumer price index for dairy products, 1935 to March 2017:



they've also got 'milk, cheese and egg' indexes for dozens of other countries:

rjs - thanks for this, the data shows quite convincingly the falling relative price of dairy products in the US. And that's dairy in general, not milk, which may (due to refrigeration etc) have fallen in price more quickly.

Bob - and then think about all of the steps that it took to bring that food to you...

Two things that are different between "then" and "now" (with a major transition sometime in the post-WW2 decades):

* a significant difference in the amount of physical labor and physical exertion
* widespread availability of motor transport and the largely unmatched energy density of petroleum-based fuel

These are not independent. Without the internal combustion engine and a reliable mass supply of petroleum/fossil fuel, productivity would be nowhere near where it is.

Who still walks major distances these days? Most people have difficulty finding enough time in the day to get "make work" style physical exertion (gym, etc.).

Electrification also ("power tools"). For outside use where electricity is hard to obtain, again miniature internal combustion engine driven power tools (motorized chain saws, leaf blowers, etc.). No more guys manually operating a saw or swinging a rake/broom.

"Efficiency" - based on high density and subsidized energy sources. Mechanization, automation, etc. - nothing works without reliable high energy density fuels.

Milk is mind-bogglinngly cheap -until you make a comparison that is actually relevant, i.e. what the rest of the world pays (though some adjustment needs making for other country's subsidies). The usual pro-market folks within government (i.e. Finance ministries) don't weigh in against supply management because:
(1) There is little return in bashing your head against this immovable wall.
(2) The cost of the current subsidy bypasses the fisc and falls directly on consumers. Dairy, eggs and poultry would almost certainly join the rest of the direct subsidy parts of agriculture if supply management were eliminated. Furthermore, the assumption that those losing supply managed protection must be fully compensated for the loss of their capitalized rents would be very hard to displace

Patrick "i.e. what the rest of the world pays"

I don't know where you're getting this information about what the rest of the world pays for milk. The US has cheap milk because of a whole bunch of policy decisions that have been made there. I couldn't find any good recent stats on international milk prices. I found this source http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Cost-of-living/Prices-at-markets/Milk/1-litre that ranks Canada 48th internationally in terms of milk prices - cheaper than countries in the Far East and not far off the more expensive European countries.

US is not equal to the rest of the world.

As an afterthought, somebody hinted at it, but why is nobody considering the amazing amount of technical and scientific progress and productivity increase over the course of the 20th century when comparing who "cheap" stuff has become? Also standards and mandatory expenditures have risen - I cannot just buy all the "cheap" stuff, but have expense categories that didn't exist 100 years ago (of course I also have a car, better housing, in-house entertainment, probably better water quality and city cleaning/garbage service, etc.).

During the post-war boom it was broadly imagined that by about now we would all be living lives of leisure, and where do we stand on that? When approximately everybody still has to put in 40+ hours per week (if not pure work, then certainly physical presence or availability, i.e. not leisure time), I would definitely like to see some progress and falling prices for mass produced/productivity enhanced goods and services. After adjusting for inflation of course.

I would probably talk about distribution if I weren't late for the party.

However, at least from the perspective of an upper middle class consumer, door-to-door delivery is a fairly common way to distribute bulky commodities, and one of milk's main rivals is ice. It's interesting that ice doesn't come up in Frances' budget, but maybe it's not that big a budget element. Refrigeration replaced ice, at least in wealthier households in a fairly smooth and seamless way. It's freezers that are the really "disruptive" technology.

But that's not my point, which is that there was a very cool article in the July 1944 number of Fortune about just exactly this. Farmers don't produce milk so much as raw milk, which is then processed into liquid milk, cheese, butter. In late 1944, the industry was basically an offshoot of the snack business, basically in the same category as jerky. Americans ate 6lbs/year of cheese per capita, with only 20% of the population ate 80% of the cheese. Butter consumption was under heavy pressure from margarine, and there was very little sense of where the ice cream business was going to go. The industry, flush with wartime profits from selling to the Army, was pointing to Europe, where, in some countries, consumers ate as much as 24lbs of cheese per capita per year. There's room to grow, they said; but Fortune was uncharacteristically pessimistic.

Cut to 2015, when Americans ate 34lbs of cheese per capita, annually -And that's before the increase in ice cream consumption and the recent move away from margarine is taken into account.

At that rate, you might be able to see why industrial milk producers are all but giving liquid milk away.

Erik: To a large extent door-to-door delivery also declined with widespread availability of automobiles and places of business and general infrastructure being more "car friendly" (to understate it quite a bit). Once you need a car anyway to participate in society (first of all to get to work), using it for grocery shopping is only an incremental addition to the expense.

In the last two "internet/online business" booms, grocery and general-goods delivery services tried to make a comeback, this time with online order (though probably mostly intended for spot orders, not standing recurring orders). E.g. Webvan which was widely ridiculed after its failure (largely unjustly IMO). More recently things like Google Express, which I also haven't heard much about after the initial hubbub. What has been strong is non-grocery online shopping with delivery by package delivery services. Does that count as door-to-door?

Grocery delivery is probably not a mass phenomenon because people prefer to do their own shopping, unless they really cannot (physical disability or other similarly grave factors). I don't know what markup the delivery service would charge, that also may put it out of reach of even the "middle" class.

Erik - that's fascinating, do you have a link? I wonder who is eating that additional US cheese, and how? E.g. what % would be pizza? Cheese smothered tex-mex dishes? What has been crowded out in the diet by cheese?


I will admit that when I first saw those statistics, I thought to myself, "That's an awful lot of pizza," but I honestly don't know how we're eating all that cheese nowadays. As for what it's being substituted for, the snide answer is that it isn't, but I expect that it's bread.

No link, unfortunately. As far as I know, Fortune's online archives only go back to 2010. If you want to see it, you're going to have to go to the library and look at the dead tree copy. (Hopefully, your school hasn't disappeared them to a secure depository to make room for more administrators, as certain university libraries are wont to do.) Anyone who wants a proper citation needs to speak up before mid-day tomorrow.

Does "cheese" include cottage cheese and cream cheese? Probably. 34 lbs per year is just under 3 lbs per month. If you consume a 1 lb cup of cottage cheese per week (easy), you are already way over your quota. Or consuming a bagel with a (probably too generous) helping of cream cheese every day ...

Also I suspect this is not cheese eaten, but cheese sold for human consumption include that which is thrown away uneaten (e.g. catered cheese platters, other food items containing cheese, etc. that are not used up).

I have a very rectangular piece of cheese in my fridge, which has a specific weight of 0.6 oz per cubic inch (1.033 g/cm3). 34 lbs annual consumption works out to 1.5 oz per day, every day. That's 2.5 inch-sized cubes of hard cheese per day (I prefer cheeses with a low fat to protein ratio). That seems on the high side for daily intake considering "high density" cheese. For cottage cheese, I consume more than that weight for breakfast, but it contains much more water.

I would say that the fact that milk makes up a low proportion of people’s income, is one reason it is protected. An old public choice explanation for tariffs on particular goods, is related. A tariff on a particular good makes up a large part of the producers' income and thus, provides political benefits to politicians. However, it usually only makes up a small proportion of consumer expenditures. Thus, it does not pay consumers to expend resources opposing the tariff (especially considering the greater free rider problem consumers face). Likewise, if milk did not make up a small proportion of consumer expenditures, I think consumer opposition would have made the supply management system less powerful.

When expenditures on a particular good make up a large proportion of people’s income, I would expect protection to go in the opposite direction. Consider rent controls. Rather than the government enforcing cartels for landlords, they introduce rent controls. Likewise, with tuition fees for domestic students. The fees universities charge are regulated limiting what students pay. If they did not make up a large proportion of student expenditures, I would instead expect government to support universities restricting program offerings and admissions to keep supply limited.

A somewhat Caucasian discussion?...


Henry and Derek -

Both great points.

This post is intended, in part, as a response to those who say "Why aren't Canadians up in arms about supply management and the milk tax?!?!?!" One reason people aren't up in arms is precisely the one Derek gives - these days milk only makes up a small proportion of consumer expenditures. Another is Henry's point - as the percentage of Canadians who claim northern European ancestry shrinks, the importance and salience of milk as a political issue may well decrease (though having said that, I was surprised to how much milk was being drunk in Taiwan when I was there recently - lots of milky bubble tea and iced lattes. But it seems to be a more processed, lower fat product than you'd get in Canada, so perhaps less lactose? I don't know).

i) The data turns out to be discontinuous. Through 1975, it comes from a trade association; and, since, from the government.
ii) The data can (and has been) parsed in a number of different ways. Here's a particularly useful article.
iii) Once all the categories are sorted out, "34lbs of cheese per person per year in 2015) breaks down into 20lbs cheese, 10lbs "American cheese," and 4lbs cottage cheese. It's possible to further subdivide the categories --"Italian cheese" is a thing-- but that seems to answer the question asked.


Thanks so much for the sleuthing and the links.

I'm just trying to digest the idea of eating 10 pounds of American cheese per year. I guess that's about 1/2 an ounce a day, or one of those pre-wrapped slices.

Still, yuck.

PS: This "lactose intolerance" thing is almost as silly as "gluten free." If milk and dairy products are dietary staples for "Caucasians" and "Northern Europeans," you couldn't tell it by American milk and cheese consumption habits in 1944; and the dramatic rise in milk consumption that began in the war years, seems to have tapered off from 1970; while the subject at hand, cheese is not as clearly a problem for the lactose intolerant. There is, however, plenty of lactose in yogourt, which is the category-buster of recent years, seeing a steady increase in consumption.

On the other hand, milk is most definitely a dietary staple for South Asians, who traditionally consume it as yogourt and butter. That said, anecdotally, the main driver of the enormous South Asian community consumption of milk in the Lower Mainland has been in chai tea, a relatively recent trend in the sub-continent.

It is true that Mediterranean populations are seen as more lactose-intolerant than northern Europeans, and it is true that the traditional Mediterranean diet is low in fresh milk. It is, however, very high in yogourt and fresh cheese.

The whole genetic thing, especially in its strong form (lactose intolerance is a north European mutation, associated with pasty skin, a love for polka, contemporary country music and bologna-and-Miracle-Whip-on-Wonder-Bread). Pastoral life and high dairy consumption is not "just" present in Europe, the northern half of Eurasia, the Maghreb and Middle East, however. It is also common in eastern Africa. In fact, it is probably easier to list the areas where it is not present. (East Asia, Southeast Asia, the tropical lowlands of the Atlantic basin. . .) In sum, most human genetic groupings are associated with dairying.

This would seem to suggest that the explanatory power of a genetic basis for lactose intolerance in human populations is weak, an opinion I also come to anecdotally, as I sell groceries. Believe me, Chinese Canadians buy lots of milk --Although not nearly as much as Punjabi Canadians. The explanatory power of an age basis for lactose intolerance is, in contrast, very strong, and quite adequately explains changes in the market from at least 1944 on.

Erik: Empirically people seem to observe that certain foods correlate with digestive discomfort. When I take in too much milk (also yogurt), especially in combination with too little fiber, I also get "lactose intolerance". My armchair hypothesis is that with grain products being made mostly from monocultured and highly refined grains, and fluffed up with sugars and fats, most digestive issues are coming from too little fiber in the diet, far beyond what can be explained by actual illness. Being under stress and time pressure ("efficiency" and increased "performance" expectations, also outside work) also is not conducive to good digestion. The lifestyle fad and pharma industries then invent diseases and syndromes that have to be "treated" with pharmaceuticals or marked-up food "alternatives".

Lactose intolerance and cheese.
"White cheese fresh cheese, cottage, ricota, bocconcini are not cheese but dairy products.
Cheese happens when lactose is consumed (it takes 3-4 days) and the stuff begins to hardens and then the second chain of the triglycerides saponifies. Chemically, it os still a fat. But the digestive system doesn't treat as fat. Hence the french-mediterranean paradox. Other causes as well.

There is, however, plenty of lactose in yogourt, which is the category-buster of recent years, seeing a steady increase in consumption.
That depends very much on the way the yogurt is made. Bacteria converts lactose into lactic acid and the low pH then coagulates the proteins, thus you can immediately say the lactose content is lower than milk.

The longer you leave it, the lower the pH and the more sour it gets, thus less lactose. Greeks take the extra step to strain out the whey removing most of the leftover lactose, and Arabs take an additional step to produce labneh which is drained and aged a day or so.

Since common genetic lactose "intolerance" really comes down to poor production of lactase enzyme, most people can digest some level of lactose. The bacteria also use lactase for their digestive process, and the enzyme continues to operate even after the yogurt is consumed.


However modern sweet yogurt has a bunch of extra stuff added to it, and usually is not as sour, nor is it strained down like Greek yogurt.

Cheeses are another thing again, and there are thousands of different cheese making techniques... Your customers with Punjabi heritage are quite likely mixing vinegar with the milk to coagulate it into paneer.

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