In a fit of hurried grocery shopping yesterday, I carelessly grabbed a container of what I thought said “Half and Half” for my morning coffee. Unfortunately, I missed reading the words “Fat Free.” No excuse; it wasn’t even fine print. Worse, I didn’t see the “Fat Free” part until I had opened the container and poured some into my coffee.
Food critic though I am not, in my unprofessional opinion, this swill tastes for the world as if it’s half non-fat milk and half non-dairy creamer. (Probably that’s exactly what it more or less is.)
I thought about the language. “Half and Half” is not a brand name, as there are innumerable brands of “Half and Half.” It is supposed to be a standardized dairy product consisting of half cream and half milk. The FDA has a specific legal definition of what is legally called “half-and-half”:

PART 131–MILK AND CREAM–Table of Contents
Subpart B–Requirements for Specific Standardized Milk and Cream
Sec. 131.180 Half-and-half.
(a) Description. Half-and-half is the food consisting of a mixture of milk and cream which contains not less than 10.5 percent but less than 18 percent milkfat. It is pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized, and may be homogenized.
(b) Optional ingredients. The following safe and suitable optional ingredients may be used:
(1) Emulsifiers.
(2) Stabilizers.
(3) Nutritive sweeteners.
(4) Characterizing flavoring ingredients (with or without coloring)
as follows:
(i) Fruit and fruit juice (including concentrated fruit and fruit
(ii) Natural and artificial food flavoring. (Emphasis added.)

Huh? I looked again on the label, and I saw that there is zero fat.
Here’s the label:


I have no problem with the marketing of any product, except that I don’t see how they get around the FDA’s definition of “half and half.”
(Nor am I the first blogger to wonder about this.)
Might it be the hyphens? The FDA uses them, while the product I bought does not. They’d probably say that because they never stated it was half cream and half milk, that they’re not misrepresenting anything.
But half of what and half of what?
They can probably say it is half milk, because the definitions of milk include low-fat, non-fat and other varieties. But there is no FDA definition of “cream” other than those which specify that it must contain fat.
Sec. 131.150 defines “heavy cream” as “cream which contains not less than
36 percent milkfat, while Sec. 131.155 defined “light cream” as “cream which contains not less than 18 percent but less than 30 percent milkfat.”
Which means that even if they are allowed to escape the FDA’s hyphenated definition by removing the hyphens, that only makes it “hyphen free half and half.” There’s still the plain meaning of the words. What do they mean?
Clearly, there is no possibility that the product is half cream. Is it half non-dairy creamer? Shouldn’t they say so?
Not being a vegan, I don’t have to address the highly volatile issue of whether “non-dairy” creamers are in fact non-dairy. But a site on the non-dairy=dairy warpath was kind enough to describe the mysterious product that my fat free half and half container labels “Carrageenan”: “a thickener derived from a red seaweed commonly called Irish Moss.”
Carrageenan is used as a thickener (which probably means that the stuff would be watery without it) and here’s a site which doesn’t seem to like it:

Carrageenan is a commonly used food additive that is extracted from red seaweed by using powerful alkali solvents. These solvents would remove the tissues and skin from your hands as readily as would any acid.
Carrageenan is a thickening agent. It’s the vegetarian equivalent of casein, the same protein that is isolated from milk and used to thicken foods. Casein is also used to produce paints, and is the glue used to hold a label to a bottle of beer. Carrageenan is the magic ingredient used to de-ice frozen airplanes sitting on tarmacs during winter storms.

Sounds thickening to me, but it still doesn’t tell me much about the totality of what’s in the non-milk half of the alleged “half and half.” Are they required to say? Or has “Half and Half” simply been degraded by the industry without the say-so of Uncle Sam’s language police?
I think what is going on here is a literal war of words, with the industry trying to insinuate and weasel its way out of government requirements. Is this product even half milk and half something else? Frankly, I doubt it. There’s no assurance on the label that it’s half anything.
What concerns me is the plain meaning of English. Unless I am wrong, “Half and Half” is being reduced to a meaningless expression (analogous to the old “5 and 10” stores) which not only doesn’t mean half milk and half cream, it doesn’t mean half of anything.
If half is not half, what’s next? Will whole not be whole?
(I don’t want to look.)
If this doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry. I’m trying to make half sense, and I’m not even sure whether I’m halving trouble.
MORE: Looking again at the above label, I notice more smoke and mirrors by the listing of the word “MILK” followed by an asterisk which indicates that this alleged “MILK” adds “a trivial amount of fat.” But I thought milk had fat!
What about the 0% on the label? Does the word “zero” now exclude any “trivial amount”? Why? Have mathematicians been consulted?
I’m wondering. Can they do this with trivial amounts of Mercury, lead or asbestos? Why not? If zero excludes trivial amounts, and words like “half” are reduced to being trivial, then why can’t all dangers be reduced to zero by such word reductionism?
(I think I should go on record as being one hundred percent in favor of half zero tolerance and half zero intolerance, provided the amounts are trivial.)
Will someone please tell me whether “zero” is more or less than “trivial”?
AFTERTHOUGHT: I think this post is a classic example of what can go wrong when logic is applied to things which are not logical. It’s obvious that words like “half” and “zero” literally mean half or zero in the logical (or mathematical) sense. In industry terms, “half” is not half, and “zero” is not zero. That’s because being “too” literal about these things would probably threaten the economic fabric of society or something.
But what about mercury?
Is there zero relativism?