The Columbia Policy Institute hosted a meeting on an unspoken pillar of America: milk.

While it may have been years since you decided what type of milk you put in your latte, the United States federal government is just catching up. It might seem like an innocuous choice based on one’s personal preferences or dietary restrictions, but alternative milk policy has huge national—if not international—repercussions.

This past Tuesday, the Columbia Policy Institute hosted an event to discuss this exact issue. If the dairy industry is a significant contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, is a shift to alternative products an effective method of mitigating emission rates? Are alternative milk and dairy products different enough to make that shift even worthwhile?

The Columbia Policy Institute, formerly known as the Roosevelt Institute at Columbia, is a “progressive, non-partisan, student-run think tank” that discusses and works through policy solutions on the city, national, and international levels. This September, they changed their name and unaffiliated themselves from the Roosevelt Network, a subsect of The Roosevelt Institute that provides fellowship-based funding to students “who hold identities historically denied political power.” Since then, they have continued with their normal course of action, holding weekly open meetings and planning events for the Columbia community.

Walking into Hamilton on Tuesday night, I knew nothing about the event I was entering beyond the cheeky flyers around campus advertising the event: a cartoon almond with devil horns and the words “The Devil’s Nut” displayed above. I entered the classroom to a very boisterous group of students, milling about already discussing the evening’s topic. It was clear from the get-go that this was a group of serious, interested, and vocal students.

That said, CPI President Jennifer Zhang (CC ‘23) told me that “usually it’s more serious than this.”

As Energy and Environment Center Director Matthew Ruppert (CC ‘24) and Roosevelt Journal Editor Kate Sosland (BC ‘24) led an open round-table discussion on the topic of alternative milk policy, CPI Vice President Edie Conekin-Tooze (CC ‘23) began pouring milk into red Solo cups for a group “blind taste test” of alternative milks. Ruppert and Sosland introduced facts on the environmental impacts of the dairy industry, the role of government intervention, and raised questions to the group on how we as consumers play a role in deciding the future of milk in America.

Students cordially shared their thoughts and policy suggestions regarding milk, all while sniffing their cups of milk trying to determine which alternative it was. People laughed, milk was spilled, and a brief heated discussion on the merits of coconut milk arose.

The meeting concluded with final thoughts in “tweet form” from all attendees (myself included), and a final vote on which alternative milk was the best (oat outranked the other options by far). This lively bunch of students dedicated to pragmatic solutions created an inviting and relaxed atmosphere to discuss real-world problems.

Poster via Ava Slocum