We spent a lot of time buying food, we don’t always think about where it comes from. If you’ve lived in a city your whole life, you’re probably unfamiliar with agriculture. And if you’ve lived in a rural area your whole life, you’re probably unfamiliar with industries in metropolitan areas. We all tend to live in social bubbles.
The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy conducted a nationally representative survey of 1,000 American adults, asking about the role milk plays in their daily lives. The answers yielded a surprising result: seven percent of people believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. And 48 percent of people weren’t sure whether or not chocolate milk comes from brown cows.
Of course, chocolate milk doesn’t come from brown cows. That’s a wild agricultural myth. Would that mean strawberry milk comes from red cows, and milkshakes comes from cows that were shaken?
Chocolate milk is simply the combination of milk, cocoa and sugar. Seven percent of Americans may seem like a small number, but considering the country’s population, that works out to be 16.4 million people. It’s humorous that so many people believe something so absurd, but it also raises a concern: why are people so misinformed?
The researchers said that people living in urban areas are more likely to believe the ‘brown cow’ myth, due to their ignorance about agriculture. “It’s an exposure issue,” said Cecily Upton, the co-founder of the nonprofit FoodCorps, in an interview with The Washington Post. “Right now, we’re conditioned to think that if you need food, you go to the store. Nothing in our educational framework teaches kids where food comes from before that point.”
Indeed, most of the people surveyed didn’t understand how food makes it to the table. “All informants recalled the names of common foods in raw form and most knew foods were grown on farms or in gardens,” the researchers concluded. “They did not, however, possess schema necessary to articulate an understanding of post-production activities nor the agricultural crop origin of common foods.”
According to writer and historian Ann Vileisis, ignorance about food production began with the rise of the industrial food system. Technological advances made it possible to ship foods over great distances. As more people moved to cities, they came less familiar with agricultural life. After all, there’s no reason to ponder where your food products from – and in the case of a hot dog, would you really want to?
“Indifference about the origins and production of foods became a norm of urban culture, laying the groundwork for a modern food sensibility that would spread all across America in the decades that followed,” wrote Vileisis in her book, Kitchen Literacy. “Within a relatively brief period, the average distance from farm to kitchen had grown from a short walk down the garden path to a convoluted, 1,500-mile energy-guzzling journey by rail and truck.”
As the world continues to change, we should keep informed about basic agricultural facts – although it would be pretty cool if chocolate milk came brown cows.