Anecdotally, I can tell you there’s a shortage of powdered milk in New South Wales. I’ve seen Coles Brand Full Cream Powdered Milk listed as “temporarily unavailable”, and—again, anecdotally—I’ve heard Big W is limiting the number of milks you can purchase in one go. I’ve been told pallets of powdered milk are moving overseas in carry-on luggage, where they are marketed to quality-conscious parents as baby formula—but I have no way of proving this, nor of justifying the recent spike in demand.
Worse still, what I’ve just told you is the content driven portion of the piece. The comments I got from retailers were broadly inconclusive—along the lines of “why ask us and not Woolworths?”—as if this article was just another theatre in the proxy war between retail giants. (To be fair, I could not find powdered milk listed on Woolworths’ online store). The process of seeking comment made me feel like a rubber duck circling the drain of a rapidly emptying bath—the more time I spent searching for that precious white powder, the more I lost sight of my previous life.
I called Coles first and was greeted warmly by someone on the other end, who asked me how my day was in a way that suggested they actually minded, until I mentioned I was ‘media’. Those three syllables might as well have been “I fuck dogs” for the way the operator’s voice turned while they redirected me. The media liaison was reluctant to answer questions over the phone—and so asked me to email.
Email sent, I contacted Customs, who, on hearing I was media, tersely redirected me to a similar sounding person in a similar sounding building who felt similar about answering questions over the phone. Some time later, the responses began to file in. Coles wanted me to clarify if it was a specific brand in question (No, just Coles Brand for now) and then asked me why I mentioned Big W’s shortages and what is Coles’ relevance (admittedly, a mistake on my part, but I told them it’s the context broadly) and then they never replied. Customs, who I contacted first as Honi and then as firstname.lastname@example.org, told the former that baby formula (despite my asking about powdered milk) is not a controlled substance and is thus unmonitored (you got me—fair) and told the latter that Customs doesn’t just go about telling people things and it’s none of your business thank you very much.
Much like the murder that goes unsolved at the end of the movie or the cat that unresolvedly runs away, I feel somewhere between frustrated and obsessed. The sight of a backpack drooping from weight arouses a desire in me to tear open the zippers and see whether powder torrents out. Out of reflex, I’ve found myself magnetised to the long life food aisle. Overnight, I woke to the silhouette of a person smoking on my balcony. “You’ll never catch me”, they said before casting a handful of powdered milk over my eyes like a calcium-rich Sandman. There is no end to this kind of uncertainty.