a mango of milk isn’t always free, and not all creams don’t chunk
Once upon a time I was a co-op student for an unfortunate battery company. It was there that I began to realize that the Dilbert comic strip was not a significant exaggeration of office inefficiencies or ridiculousness. I asked a lot of questions while I was there, and one of the things that I learned was that the price of liquid nitrogen fluctuates, and happens to be about the price of milk.
This was an interesting idea to me. What if Liquid Nitrogen, being about the price of milk, was as readily available as milk? What if you could buy a jug of liquid nitrogen at the store for a few dollars, or if they came in little ridged containers that were free at cafés? If you were at a fancy café would they try to heat up the liquid nitrogen and serve you a tiny pitcher of nitrogen vapour with your coffee?
The point is that I’m used to milk being almost free. If you order your coffee black, and I order the same coffee but with milk, we will pay the same price. They don’t charge more for creamers, and they don’t charge less for coffee served black.
But it seems to be more and more common in Latin America for milk to cost more – sometimes a lot more. A 10 quetzal coffee will be as much as 15 quetzales if it’s to include a dash of milk. That’s 50% more! In Mexico it was closer to a 25% increase (less, but still substantial). What is driving competitive business practices to result in an option being free in one area, but 25-50% more in another? Is milk so much more plentiful in the United States and Canada? I know that Latin America has cows, but do they not milk them? Or do the cows have a superior labour union?
Interestingly, any amount of sugar can be added to coffee at no extra charge in all places, but I know that sugar isn’t free, and while it is generally cheaper by weight and volume than milk, is there some magic threshold of value in between that of sugar and milk that allow one to be free and one to require an additional charge? More interestingly, can we home in on this threshold by considering the asymmetric values of milk in different countries? Is milk relatively more rare or costly in Latin America?
It doesn’t seem to be. So perhaps it is a social pressure. “We drink our coffee black, so if you want to be a deviant that doesn’t take their coffee black, then we’re going to make you pay. Not because of the increased cost of the milk, but because we would like to financially punish you for not taking your coffee in the same manner that we have deemed acceptable!” Am I breaking some kind of cultural law, and paying the fine in the form of an additional charge? Am I getting a speeding ticket for putting milk in my coffee?
The other day I ordered a breakfast which included two eggs, beans, tortilla chips, tortillas, a fried banana with cream, and a coffee. When I asked for milk with my coffee, I was told that it would cost an additional 5 quetzales, so I decided to have my coffee black. But looking at the banana and cream, I wondered: why is the cream free with my fried banana, but not with my coffee? And… Why don’t I just take the banana’s cream and put it in my coffee?
It turns out that it’s not the same kind of cream, and I ended up with chunks in my coffee. No matter how much I stirred it, the chunks wouldn’t go away. They would get a little smaller, but then they would come back (living chunks!!)
It’s not the same kind of cream.
I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about the chemistry of dairy products or the nuances of the solubility of various materials in coffee. I wondered if the waitress noticed my white chunky coffee – I could feel her disdain, and I actually wondered if she might charge me 5 more quetzales for putting the banana’s cream in my coffee. “That’s not what it’s for!” she would say as she thrust out her hand, “5 quetzales!”
For five quetzales, by the way, I can get a really big mango. Any mango out here, apparently, costs about 5 quetzales.
So when I think about getting a coffee where milk and cream is free… could I get a mango instead? “No cream, thanks. I’ll just take a mango!” A mango! Something that I often feel like I can’t afford is the same price as something that I’m used to getting for free.
I think I’d like it if mangoes were the unit of measurment and currency. One good red mango is pretty sufficient for breakfast, and since we’ve tied it to the price of milk, and thus liquid nitrogen, we could say things like “Gimme three mangoes of milk,” or “It’s starting to overheat! We’re going to need about 10 – no – 20 mangoes of liquid nitrogen over here!” Things like that. Engineers probably wouldn’t like having to measure everything in mangoes, it would be cooler for groceries. Maybe you could even get your change in mangoes instead of little metal coins.
Since you could use liquid nitrogen to cool a room, you could start measuring tempertature in mangoes as well. “It’s to warm in here. We’re going to have to lower the temperature by at least 2 mangoes before the meeting starts.” You might think that a single mango of liquid nitrogen would have differential cooling effects depending on the size of the room and the quality of insulation, and thus would not be a suitable unit of temperature. That’s probably true, but based on the level of competence in regulators that I’ve seen in my lifetime, you could probably get the policy implemented before anyone with decision-making powers acknowledged such shortcomings.