Eat ice cream.
These were John Radliff's parting words when I spoke to him last week, and I took them to heart. When I got home from work, I poured a glass of milk and drank it with my dinner. It tasted good.
Milk was the subject of my conversation with Radliff — specifically, chocolate milk.
I had contacted the longtime Cobleskill dairy farmer because I wanted to pick his brain about a potential ban on chocolate milk in the New York City school district.
"Of course it's a concern," he told me, when I inquired about it. "It's just another nail in the coffin of upstate dairy farmers."
A push to ban chocolate milk in New York City public schools might seem like one of those idiosyncratic downstate initiatives that has little bearing on life upstate.
But that's not the case at all.
Radliff and his fellow dairy farmers have been struggling for years due to low milk prices and a worldwide surplus of milk, among other things.
Restricting schoolchildren's milk options will hit an industry that's already hurting; Radliff, 63, estimates that he is one of 50 dairy farmers in Schoharie County, down from about 90 a decade ago.
"What I find ironic is that nobody talks about what is going to happen to the upstate rural economy when we take a key foundational block and remove it," Radliff said. "I don't think people realize the impact that dairy farming has on the rural and upstate economy."
If I thought chocolate milk was really terrible for kids, I would support removing it from schools even if it hurt upstate farmers.
But I don't think that.
I also think there are limits to how far schools districts and local governments should go to ensure that children are eating healthy food. A ban on chocolate milk might be well-intentioned, but it also reeks of unnecessary government meddling.
Or, as Radliff put it, "This is not mom and dad at home making these decisions. This is some ill-informed bureaucrat making a decision because they think chocolate milk makes children hyper and fat."
State officials are urging New York City Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza to shelve the chocolate milk ban.
In a letter to Carranza, New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball argue that chocolate milk "has seen a reduction in sugar while maintaining the 'nutrient-rich benefits of milk' with 'no adverse effect on weight,'" according to the New York Post.
"The benefits of drinking any milk outweigh the benefits of drinking no milk at all," the men write. Ball himself is a farmer
Ball's family owns Schoharie Valley Farms, home of the popular cafe and retail store The Carrot Barn.
I want my son to have a healthy diet.
But I also want him to be able to enjoy the occasional treat, just as I do.
Chocolate milk is a treat.
One that I hope remains in schools throughout the state for years to come.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected]