Teaching Starter: Milking Classification

Soy Milk with Soy Beans
Image used under Creative Commons from mc559.

NPR and WBUR’s Here and Now featured a fascinating example of the power of classification.

Dairy farmers say makers of plant-based milks — like almond milk and soy milk — are stealing away their customers. As Harvest Public Media’s Luke Runyon (@LukeRunyon) reports, the fight boils down to the definition of a single word.

If you ever teach on the definition of religion, you know that such battles have a long and high-stakes history.

Jason W. M. Ellsworth at Culture on the Edge offered a critical take worth classroom consideration.

In the case of the milk classification wars, one can see how legitimation can privilege particular peoples while maintaining both the social and economic order.

Looking for a quick drop-in lesson. Play the radio story, handout the transcript, and start something with these classroom exercises.

1. Who cares about the dairy war? Map it by drawing bubbles of the different players.  Connect these with line segments, writing the contention between the players along the respective segments.

2. Substitute “religion” for milk in the transcript. Where does it work given what the class has discussed? Where doesn’t it work? What’s going on with synonyms like “dairy?” What insights do you glean from this comparison?

3. Where have you seen similar word battles? Make a list and bring it back to the difference “religion” makes (or doesn’t).

Are you mIlking this exercise for all it’s worth? Tell us how in the comment section.

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