Got Milk? Increasingly, the Answer Is No

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According to recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, U.S. milk sales came to about 6 billion gallons last year. Sounds like a lot, but it’s actually the lowest total since 1984. Why are we drinking less milk?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently ran a story trying to get to the heart of why American consumers have turned sour on milk. The reasons are many, including the rise in popularity of other beverages ranging from sports drinks to soda to bottled tea—and especially bottled water. Other studies indicate that consumption of milk has fallen, understandably enough, when the economy falters and milk prices spike, as they did in 2007 and 2008. Correspondingly, there was a noticeable surge in sales in 2009, when milk prices dropped.

But overall, the decades-long trend has been a steady decline in drinking milk. One reason is that on-the-go Americans are less and less likely to be eating breakfast at home — and as the Journal Sentinel explains: “Americans still drink more milk at the breakfast table than during any other time.” As for commuters swinging through the drive-thru on their way to work, it’s exceptionally unlikely they’ll be ordering a bottle of whole milk to swig during the course of their ride. Employees munching breakfast at the cubicles are probably skipping milk too; you don’t want to risk spilling milk on your desk and keyboard.

That’s why the dairy industry is pushing a strong “breakfast-at-home” initiative. “It’s our territory that we have to defend,” [CEO of the Milk Processor Education Program Vivien] Godfrey said. “Breakfast at home accounts for the highest portion of milk consumption, by far, of any meal occasion. So we are going to ‘fish where the fishes are.’”

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Many kids have access to milk at school, of course, but students have also been shying away from milk due to simple preference, as well as the perception that milk is fatty and high in calories. This is especially the case when it comes to whole milk and “flavored milk,” which in most cases means chocolate milk. Many schools have banned sales of flavored milk—notably, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver led a campaign last year to stop sales of chocolate and strawberry milk in Los Angeles schools—and while the changes may help curb childhood obesity, they also appear to be decreasing the overall amount of milk that kids drink. One study in Colorado found that schools that “do not offer flavored milk, especially chocolate, see much lower overall milk usage when the elimination occurs.” In school cafeterias with the ban in effect, milk sales declined between 30% and 76%.

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In addition to years of “Got Milk?” ads, the dairy industry has taken many steps to try to boost milk sales. Some of the strategies may seem odd, perhaps even a bit desperate. One recent idea is the marketing of chocolate milk as a sports recovery drink—an alternative to Gatorade, Powerade, and such. The protein, carbohydrates, sugar, and sodium in chocolate milk may be good for helping muscles to recover, but the concept is a tough sell: When you’re sweaty and parched and out of breath, is milk anywhere in the top ten cold beverages you crave?

Interestingly enough, a once-favorite complement to a tall glass of milk has also seen sales plummet over the years. The Boston Globe reports that sliced white bread—for decades, a classic when paired with peanut butter, jelly, and a glass of moo juice on the side—has been surpassed in sales by wheat bread at least since 2006. Consumers have turned away from white bread because wheat and multigrain breads are considered healthier and, often, tastier.

Tiffany Faison, who runs a Southern barbecue restaurant in Boston called Sweet Cheeks Q, where white bread is still served with most dishes, told the Globe that white bread has become something of a guilty pleasure:

“Talking about eating white bread is like a dirty word, like saying you drink soda,” she says.

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Or perhaps a bit like saying you give your kid chocolate milk every day.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

40 comments
AdolfRosenbloom
AdolfRosenbloom

Yeah, soy is great for men, especially if they want their own breasts to play with.

Jess
Jess

ATTN DAIRY FARMERS : Prepare to go Bankrupt and live on foodstamps for your family.

Jamie Roberts
Jamie Roberts

Many more people are wising up and buying soy, almond, coconut or rice milk - all much healthier and less cruelly procured than cow's milk (which is meant to nurture cow babies, not human babies). Dairy products, most of them filled with growth hormone, antibiotics and pus, are finally being exposed for what they are: unhealthy, expensive and cruiel.

Bea Elliott
Bea Elliott

Female cows are forcibly artificially inseminated to become pregnant and continue lactating. After 9 months, the dairy industry steals these baby calves shortly after they are born. The "worthless" males who can't make milk are either killed immediately or kept in isolation for a few months to become veal. The unfortunate females calves follow their mother's sad lot all the way to the last moments on the kill floor when they are no longer "productive". 

 

Adult humans do not need cow's milk any more than they need goat's milk, wolf's milk, camel's milk, giraffe's milk. Unweaned infants do remarkably better on their own mother's breast milk which is what our species was intended to consume. There's absolutely nothing beneficial to the human diet in cow's milk that can't be gotten through plant based sources. 

 

Thankfully there's abundant plant based alternatives that are just as nutritional, just as satisfying and just as versatile in cooking. Some even have twice the amount of calcium and vitamin D as cow's milk does. 

 

Dairy is also destructive to the environment and a tragic waste of resources. Perhaps it is time for "unweaned" adults to look beyond what deceptiveness and hype the dairy industry is pitching at you in order to keep their profits and their cruel practices in check.

keallaigh
keallaigh

If you can milk a cow, you can milk the soybean.  Back in the 70s I made my own soymilk from the bean.  It took awhile, but was fun!

Nikki Lindsey
Nikki Lindsey

I've recently become a vegan, which is now why I no longer eat any dairy. The veal industry exists only because dairy cows need to continuously lactate,  so they're impregnated regularly. The females are then taken to be raised to be dairy cows themselves, and the males are kept in too-small cages until they're slaughtered for meat. And don't even get me started on all the antibiotics and hormones in the milk... no wonder children nowadays are starting puberty before they're 10 years old!

Devan Paulus Compart
Devan Paulus Compart

Just want to clarify that most calves from cows are either retained in the herd or sent out for beef production (so they would be on grass for probably close to a year and then in a feedlot for a few months). Very few are used for veal; however, some still are. And the cows only lactate 9 months of the year... they get a 3 month vacation where they will be on pasture. 

Also, no milk contains antibiotics. Milk is very strictly regulated to ensure that any cows that are receiving antibiotics have their milk tossed. 

And yes milk contains hormones, but so do a variety of products (ie. soy, seeds, etc). This is not the root of early puberty. In fact, the most likely cause of early puberty is exposure to intact males and sexual material at a young age (most likely due to the internet and more risque films). Also, better nutritional status can induce early onset puberty. 

Kartik Srinivasan
Kartik Srinivasan

Cows milk is the best thing to drink.....if you are a calf. Better to eat fruits and veggies or juice them.

snowman95
snowman95

"Humanity is the only species that drinks the milk of another species."  Forgot who said it first, but not appetizing when you think about it in those terms.  The Chinese have done fine for thousands of years without it because they eat calcium rich foods.  Those of us of northern european ancestry inherited lactose tolerance genes because milk conveyed a survival advantage.  I wonder if those genes also generate cravings, or of it is just a cultural habit.

DwDunphy
DwDunphy

I love milk, but have severely limited my consumption because it became impossible to regulate my weight while drinking it. You cannot accurately gauge your daily calorie intake when so much is taken up by simply drinking milk.

Also, growth hormones are doing a number on large sections of the population. If I was a dad, I don't think I'd be an advocate of milk for my kids. Life's tough enough without them charging into puberty three years before nature intends.

Devan Paulus Compart
Devan Paulus Compart

There are no additional hormones in milk due to the use of growth hormones in cattle (which is actually really infrequent these days). However, milk naturally contains hormones. However, so do a variety of foods (soy products, seeds, etc contain a much higher hormone content than a milk). The hormones consumed by foods have not been proven to cause early onset of puberty. In fact, the more likely root of the problem is exposure to more risque images, films, behavior earlier in life. I realize this sounds silly, but it is in fact one way to cause animals to reach puberty earlier (just expose them to an intact male animal earlier in life). Also, better nutrition can induce early puberty. 

AllerFoodie
AllerFoodie like.author.displayName 1 Like

Seriously, dude . . . I've read two of your comments now that make absolutely no sense AT ALL. Where do you get your research?

blueskunk12
blueskunk12

Part of the reason fewer people drink milk is because we keep being told that milk is bad for us.

So-called nutrition experts report that milk is high in calories, low in nutrients, meant for cows instead of people, loaded with cholesterol, causes phlegm build-up,  etc.

I say instead of listening to experts who don't even know you, talk with your doctor, find out what your individual body needs, and to blazes with the nutrition experts.

Bea Elliott
Bea Elliott

I have spoken to my doctor and listened to countless other dieticians - No one recommended cow's milk to me. Calcium needs are met through leafy greens. Vitamin D - Through sunshine. It was recommended that plant based milk was just as good - If not better than cow's milk. In the end - Five years later... Turns out they were absolutely correct! Issues with phlegm build-up have subsided, my cholesterol level is back to normal and I've lost 10 stubborn "baby-fat" pounds. Five years later - My bones are still healthy - So I've got everything good to say about almond, rice, oatmeal, hazelnut, hemp, coconut and soy milk. Nutritious and satisfying! Best thing I ever did! ;)

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Warrendf1
Warrendf1

Ok so don't drink Cows milk because cows are malnourished and don't drink Almond, Coconut or Soy - although Soy has issues too. Most of it is GMO and Soy is one of the worst offenders of deforestation .So people tell me what am I to drink.I think I'll get Captain William "Buck" Rogers to jet across to the milky way I think best idea.

AdolfRosenbloom
AdolfRosenbloom

@Warrendf1 Drink what you want, don't listen to the sissies who worry about every little thing.  You and I can ride to hell together beer in one hand and a full glass of milk in the other.  

The dirty little secret is, they ain't living forever either.  They're just a bit more scared of that fact than most.

MeredithKendall
MeredithKendall

A lot of adults eat cheese and yogurt as workday snacks in lieu of

drinking milk. A serving of yogurt (I like Greek or coconut milk) is

more filling and tastes better. I don't care for viscous beverages.

Water and tea are my friends.

I haven't drank milk since I was

15 years old, and apparently I have the bones of a teenage boy despite

being a thirty year old  female. Runs in the family. My 95 year old

great grandmother who has since passed only had one fracture in her

life, and her doctor told her to eat more food with high levels of

potassium. No issues after that. Then again, she rarely ate boxed,

processed food (note I said boxed - ate bacon from the butcher daily and

used mass quantities of cream and butter in her  cooking) and was a

physically active lady.

I am by no means a fan of the garbage

sports drinks, sodas, milk and milk alternative products with as much

sugar as soda, and juice that is more syrupy gunk than actual juice as I

do not prefer to deal with the moody blood sugar crashes that come

along with them. But at least the plain dairy stuff has some nutritional

value.

That said, we really don't know much about the links

between genetics, bone mass, and calcium absorption. It appears that

weight-bearing activity and Vitamin D supplementation has a significant

affect in building bone mass in women with osteoporosis, possibly more

than calcium intake. It also appears that countries that do not

traditionally eat dairy foods have lower rates of osteoporosis despite

also having lower bone mass than Caucasians. Interesting correlations

that need more study. And though milk has been a common source of

nutrition since those of Indian descent made their way to Russia and

Europe (so goes one theory), it wasn't until the USDA came up with the

four food groups that milk became known as something to drink mass

quantities of for good health. Assuming people didn't have dangerous

jobs and could afford food, lifespans had been pretty well up prior to

the USDA's marketing.

PoodleSheep
PoodleSheep

Hopefully it's at least partially because more people are realizing eating cow secretions is detrimental to their health.  Seriously, it's a severely messed up thing that we do.  Well, *I* don't do it any more since I realized how foolish it is.

Mike259
Mike259

I find it funny how people's tastes and perceptions change over time. We've been drinking milk since livestock was domesticated and now all of the sudden people are sticking their noses up. 

Back in the 80's meat was bad and eating too much proteins was like asking for cancer, now diet gurus recommend you stuff your face with all the meat you can and any other type of protein you can eat.

I think back in the early 80's, butter became bad for you and margarine was the thing to put on your toast. Now I've been reading that it's the other way around. 

Bread used to be good. Whole grain was the rage in the 90s. Good for digestion. Now you get weird looks from people if you ask for some bread. People wrap their burgers in a piece of lettuce.

LOL

jesuguru
jesuguru

I love cow secretions, especially frozen cow secretion with whipped cow secretion.

iklindo
iklindo

I stopped drinking mild and basically ingesting all dairy products when the started messing with rBGH.  Yes yes yes, they label the products for the most part, but it's just not worth it anymore.  Stop tamping with food, create an organic and healthy product and people will eat it.

JosefBleaux
JosefBleaux

Milk is bad for you, especially whole milk, it's full of fat and cholesterol.  Low fat and skim milk tastes like crap.  No other adult animal on the face of the Earth drinks milk in nature.  It's unnatural for an adult to drink milk.  Lots of people are allergic or intolerant.  Personally, I never liked it and never drink it.

Javier Zamparelli
Javier Zamparelli

How about the dairy industry should go back to not pasteurizing milk (the sensical way to drink it)...perhaps it's because the cows are so malnourished and sickly that they would produce disease ridden milk (what they currently produce).

sgtbilko
sgtbilko

Okay, if the zombie apocalypse is going to happen, this post just started it: Louis Pasteur's corpse is going to claw its way out of the grave just to come and eat your brain.

Devan Paulus Compart
Devan Paulus Compart

The reason we pasteurize milk is not related to the cows. Milk that comes directly from the cow is very clean and safe. However, it can very easily pick up bad bacteria from the transfer pipes, stray dirt on the outside of the udder (the udders are cleaned pre-milking to help prevent this), transfer trucks, holding tanks, etc. Pasteurization prevents humans from then consuming these bacteria. 

Also, cows are not malnourished or sickly when milked. That would reduce milk yields and basically make the cow worthless. Plus, the milk would probably have to be tossed anyways.  All dairy cows have nutritionists and veterinarians to ensure that they are fed the highest quality diets and are very healthy.  

dairyfarmer
dairyfarmer

ok so people today are drinking less milk than in the past and the obesity rate is higher today than it was in the past so do you think that maybe the "celebrity doc's and chefs are leading us in the wrong direction? 

future graphics
future graphics

Yes the article did not mention other alternatives such as Almond, Coconut or Soy - although Soy has issues too. Most of it is GMO and Soy is one of the worst offenders of deforestation. Overall Dairy Milk is a myth. No other mammals drink it as adults. Besides with all the toxins, hormones and antibiotics in Milk the thought of giving that to a child is insane. Yes Organic Milk is an option - but so are other ways to get the same nutrients!

Phyrra
Phyrra

I can't drink cow's milk. I drink almond milk. I'm sure that I'm not alone.

Michael Henreckson
Michael Henreckson

I don't see any mention of soy, rice and other milk substitutes. Judging from people I actually know and people I hear ordering at Starbucks, lots of people opt for these instead of milk. If you're not counting these as milk, I'm amazed that the article mentions sports drinks but makes not reference to immediate milk alternatives. 

Jamie Roberts
Jamie Roberts

I agree, Michael. The omission leaves the article incomplete.

edmund kwan
edmund kwan

The industry is controlled by diary producers.  Once the truth comes out, it will accelerate so it is best to keep it under the lid.

JosefBleaux
JosefBleaux

 Why drink milk or any substitute?  Go with orange juice or other natural products.

sgtbilko
sgtbilko

How are massive, heavily irrigated citrus groves more natural than cows?

Alex Wills
Alex Wills

Because soy milk isn't milk. It's just soy bean juice with a pretty name.

Lora Pfundheller
Lora Pfundheller

My 1 1/2 year old granddaughter's pediatrician told her parents to limit the amount of milk she drinks.  Apparently, he is concerned that milk is "too filling" and she will not eat a healthy diet if she fills up on milk. Not just any liquids, mind you, but specifically milk. Poppycock, I say. My kids drank milk and water almost exclusively growing up. I had no problem getting them to eat a varied diet, and none of them were obese like so many kids are today. I always thought that milk was considered an important part of a health diet. When did that change?

DwDunphy
DwDunphy

 Yes, but the problem may be your kids drank an altogether different type of milk. Still regular vitamin D milk, but with the chemicals now added to a milk-producing cow's regimen, along with the steroids and antibiotics to keep so many steer in such close quarters from contracting diseases, the milk is radically different from that which you used to know.

Devan Paulus Compart
Devan Paulus Compart

Milk does not contain any chemicals or antibiotics. It is very, very strictly regulated to ensure these things are not in the milk. No chemicals are even used in the dairy industry (or any other animal industry for that matter as it would be detrimental to the health of the animal). All milk from cows given antibiotics is tossed. Also, antibiotic use is generally for udder infections (due to the udder hanging low to the ground and coming in contact with dirt). This is as much a problem now as it would have been in the past. 

Jamie Roberts
Jamie Roberts

Sorry, but unless you buy organic milk, it is full of antibiotics.