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7 Percent of Americans Think Chocolate Milk Comes From Brown Cows. Here’s Why That Matters.

Topics: Data & Research
agriculture industry

Many modern Americans are out of touch with the agriculture industry — in a big way. If there was any doubt about this fact, it was squashed by the results of a recent survey. It turns out that, when given multiple answers to choose from, 7 percent of Americans think that chocolate milk actually comes from brown cows.

This statistic should raise serious red flags. American’s relationship to the agriculture industry matters. And, right now, the connection is awfully weak.

7 Percent Selected “Brown Cows”

The survey, which was commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, was first reported on by the Washington Post. It was a national survey, conducted online, with 1,000 participants.

Some have quibbled with the way in which the survey question was worded. Perhaps phrasing the question as “where does chocolate milk come from” threw off respondents, who then expected the answer to be a natural source, like brown cows, something that doesn’t involve human interference. Additionally, it’s unclear exactly which options respondents were asked to choose from. This might help to explain the surprising statistic a little.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that 7 percent of people selected “brown cows” as their response when asked where chocolate milk comes from. That probably indicates that many are more than a little disconnected from the agriculture industry, no matter how you cut it.

This Problem Isn’t Entirely New

The Washington Post noted that there has been concern for decades regarding American’s agricultural illiteracy. Many people don’t understand how food is grown or how it gets to stores. They noted one study from the early ’90s which found other gaps in general understanding:

  • 1 percent of adult respondents weren’t sure which animal the meat for hamburgers comes from.
  • 5 percent of the adults surveyed didn’t know that animals can be a valuable source of medical products.
  • Respondents were more positive about agriculture when they also demonstrated a better understanding of agriculture.

Other studies have unearthed similar findings. One school in California found that more than half of their fourth, fifth and sixth graders didn’t know that pickles were cucumbers or that tomatoes, onions and lettuce were plants.

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The Answer Is Education and Exposure

Today, many Americans have limited exposure to many aspects of the food production process. This is especially true for those living in urban areas who may never have seen a farm in action. The only way to combat this gap in understanding is through education.

“At the end of the day, it’s an exposure issue,” Cecily Upton, co-founder of the nonprofit FoodCorps, which brings agricultural and nutrition education into elementary schools, told 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.”

Perhaps educational initiatives could also seek to address the gap in understanding as it regards farmworkers’ labor, which is incredibly difficult and demanding. And, these jobs are also often extremely low-paying. If these kinds of understandings continue to fall away, American agricultural workers, and the industry itself, is likely to suffer.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think that Americans should improve their understanding of the agriculture industry? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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