Holy cow! 7% Americans say chocolate milk comes from brown cows

17 June 2017

A surprisingly large proportion of American adults - as much as 7 per cent - believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of US Dairy.

This, as The Washington Post points out, works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking US residents more than the population of Pennsylvania who do not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar.

Whether Indians are on average better educated than their American counterparts may be a moot point - but this is one mistake they almost dare not make, given that the cow is holier than ever in India and 'cow vigilantes' are on the prowl.

The study came from an April survey that calculated 7 per cent of Americans being misinformed chocolate milk's origins. A total of 1,000 participants supplied answers within the survey, according to Food & Wine.

The survey has garnered attention from several major news outlets and the general public - perhaps because it is surprising that any adults at all would believe in the misconception.

But while the survey has attracted snorts and jeers from some corners - ''um, guys, [milk] comes from cows - and not just the brown kind,'' Food & Wine waxed sarcastic - The Washington Post believes the surprising thing about this figure is that it isn't higher.

For decades, observers in agriculture, nutrition and education have griped that many Americans are basically agriculturally illiterate. They don't know where food is grown, how it gets to stores - or even, in the case of chocolate milk, what's in it.

One Department of Agriculture study, commissioned in the early '90s, found that nearly 1 in 5 adults did not know that hamburgers are made from beef. Many more lacked familiarity with basic farming facts, like how big US farms typically are and what food animals eat.

But in some populations, confusion about basic food facts can skew pretty high. When one team of researchers interviewed fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at an urban California school, they found that more than half of them didn't know that onions and lettuce were plants. Four in 10 didn't know that hamburgers came from cows. And 3 in 10 didn't know that cheese is made from milk.

''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.''

Today, many Americans only experience food as an industrial product that doesn't look much like the original animal or plant: The USDA says orange juice is the most popular ''fruit'' in America, and processed potatoes - in the form of french fries and chips - rank among the top vegetables.

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