Laurel Gordon, an 18-year-old high school senior, was named the 2010-2011 Dairy Ambassador for Grays Harbor County on Washington’s central Pacific Coast. According to The Daily World newspaper in Aberdeen, Wash., Gordon will be one of the contestants vying for the title of Washington State Dairy Ambassador this June.

To qualify, contestants must be single, a legal resident of Washington, have a neat, professional appearance without any tattoos or piercings and have worked on a dairy farm or shown dairy cows for FFA or 4-H.

That last requirement is no problem for Gordon, as she lives on a dairy farm near the little town of Elma, about 30 miles west of Washington’s capital of Olympia. The farm is operated by her parents, Jay and Susan Gordon, and has been in the family for 150 years. Her parents took over about 25 years ago and recently converted to organic production for the Organic Valley co-op.

As strict as the Dairy Princess rules might appear, however, one requirement that seems logical is absent: Gordon doesn’t drink milk. She prefers soy-based beverages.

Got milk? No thanks. Not for Gordon.

Digging a little deeper

When I shared that much of the story with a few friends and colleagues—those who actually cared, anyway; the ranks of people with any interest at all in dairy farming are growing pretty thin—I was hit with an avalanche of cynicism. Typical, most people said. The girl just wanted to find some obscure beauty contest to enter, more than one person said, and if doesn’t matter whether her qualifications are authentic or not.

She’s probably a closet vegetarian anyway, others suggested.

Nobody inquired further, and I guess that’s a sad commentary on the mercenary mindset that wasn’t spawned by the current slew of reality TV shows but has undoubtedly fueled the notion that everyone’s only in it for the money.

That much you know.

Now, for the rest of the story (with apologies to the late Paul Harvey).

Laurel Gordon doesn’t drink milk because she’s lactose intolerant.

That’s right. The girl who’s been promoting dairy products across the county, handing out samples and telling elementary school kids to drink their milk, can’t drink milk herself unless she takes special pills. Someone with her condition consumes milk, and the result is something straight out of the “side effects can include” warning on prescription drugs: abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, bloating, nausea and abdominal distention.

“People think it’s pretty funny [that I can’t drink milk],” Gordon told the newspaper. “I’m kind of a joke around my friends.”

Despite her condition, however, Gordon does eat certain cheeses and yogurt because they contain minimal lactose, and she enjoys a glass of lactose-free milk on occasion.

Gordon is carrying on a proud family tradition, following in the footsteps of her three older sisters, who also served as dairy ambassadors. She told the newspaper that although she gets mixed responses from people, even other teen-agers who initially give her “weird looks” eventually warm up when they learn why she’s wearing a tiara.

“(This experience) really taught me how to step outside of my comfort zone,” she said.

There’s only one problem this feel-good tale, though: Last year, Gordon was the only applicant to be the local dairy ambassador. She said she would have preferred to have some competition.

One can only hope that her parents will continue to have some competition in the future, as well.

We already know there are plenty of people who are lactose-intolerant. We don’t need any more becoming dairy-farm intolerant.

Dan Murphy is a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator