“Oh, the farmers and the cowhands should be friends”


One of the nice things about moving to a new neighborhood is that you see new signs. This one is just south of the Starbucks closest to our house. The first time I saw it, I laughed out loud. I had said “decaf” as often as everybody else and had never heard the “calf” in “decaf.” [1]

I didn’t think the main slogan was all that funny by itself, but I was still laughing about “de-calf,” so I gave it a pass. Then I got down to PeTA, the sponsoring organization. I don’t think the folks at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA) are funny at all. Then I noticed that in that new PeTA context, even “de-calf” didn’t make me laugh any more. Ah well. Other things still do.

not-your-milk-2As I continued thinking about the sign (I do walk by it every day), I began thinking about the premise. That’s just the way my mind works. Negatively, the premise can be put this way: the milk does not belong to you unless you are a calf. Positively, we could say that the milk is the rightful property of the cow’s progeny, not the cow’s owner.

I got to talking about the sign with some friends and said that the sign had an implicit premise. I didn’t think that was a controversial thing to say. The premise is that the use of the cow’s milk is appropriate to the calf and not to others. But one of the premises that emerged in the discussion was that the person who said this—for our purposes, let’s imagine that a person said it, not that it is the product of an expensive ad campaign—and that the person might have meant something else.

That surprised me, I have to say. I have always thought that the premise belonged to the formulation. “This way of saying it,” I would say, “requires that premise, however the author might have intended it.” And then the conversation went on, leaving both premises lying on the table without further attention.

not-your-milk-1Another unfunny way to think about the sign is to think about the alternatives the sign offers. Nothing against coconut milk, of course, or soy milk. It isn’t that I have some fantasy that little coconuts or little soy beans are being deprived of milk that would otherwise have been theirs.

It may be that the reason for placing a calf in the picture was to imply that when we take the milk, the calf is being deprived of it. But that is as much a fantasy as the little coconuts and soy beans. The way we produce and distribute milk has nothing at all to do with whether the calf’s needs are being met.

Then things got completely out of control and it occurred to me that so far as this particular PeTA sign is concerned, it would be perfectly permissible for one’s own mother to pump and store her breast milk so that in later years, you could put it in your coffee. Naturally, I am not suggesting that they would favor that. Some of the folks at PeTA are surely mothers and would see the humor in it. I am saying only that that solution fits comfortably within the standards they laid out in their sign.

not-your-milk-4I don’t think the sign would have gotten under my skin the way it has if I had not enjoyed it so much the first few times I saw it. I saw it as a clever pun (de-calf your coffee) rather than as a moral admonition. And when I saw the sign for what it was, I had the feeling that I had been ambushed—as if someone had whacked me on the knuckles while I was still laughing.

OK guys. I’m not laughing anymore. You can change the sign any time you like.

[1] The Lagunitas Brewery supports Oregon Public Broadcasting, which is a fine thing for them to do. But I didn’t pay much attention to it until they began to claim that Lagunitas puts the “pub” in “public radio.” Then I bought Lagunitas beer for a while just as a thank you.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
This entry was posted in Living My Life, Words and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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