Got Milk? Most Americans Don’t

Can you recall the last time you indulged in a glass of creamy, white cow’s milk? If you’re like most Americans, you’re going to have to think about that a moment. According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, the average American drinks 18 gallons a year. While that may seem like an awful lot, it is actually a significant decline from the 30 gallons that we were consuming in the 1970s. Where did this American milk obsession come from in the first place?

Beginning in the early 20th century, nutritionists wanted to learn more about the potential health benefits of milk. So, they began feeding dairy to rats and comparing the results to other rats that were fed with vegetable products. The results were surprising. Melanie DuPuis, a professor at Pace University, explains what the scientists observed saying, “These rats that had dairy products would be sleek and healthy-looking and larger, and the other animals would look scrawny and unhealthy.”

Unsurprisingly, enterprising dairy lobbyists latched onto these results. Over the next fifty years, it became common practice for Americans to drink several glasses of milk a day. In fact, medical authorities actively encouraged a daily consumption of two to three 8-ounce glasses. However, by the time the legendary “Got Milk?” ads came onto the scene in the 1990s, consumption was already on the decline. 

Already, at the height of milk’s consumption in the 1970s, new research had come out that raised questions about milk’s effectiveness in preventing osteoporosis. Not only that, but the necessity of this calcium-rich product for overall health came into question too.

Fast forward 40 years and with such widespread concern over the growth hormones used in dairy cows and the proliferation of other calcium-rich beverage options, consumers have only become more skeptical of the benefits milk touts. 

Milk Alternatives in the 21st Century

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Kadison is the chief executive officer at MilkPep – The Milk Processor Education Program – explained to NPR that there is an even newer barrier for the milk industry to overcome: “What’s going on with that decline in the young kids really has a lot to do with their gatekeeper moms.”

She believes that with more and more moms embracing milk alternatives like soy, almond, and coconut. Kids, as a result, are learning to automatically reach for these non-dairy alternatives instead of a glass of cow dairy.

And she’s not wrong. According to Nielsen’s, almond milk, has seen sales grow 250 percent over the past five years. Clearly, this preference for non-dairy alternatives is no fleeting trend. 

A Small Glimmer of Hope for the Milk Industry

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Despite the general movement away from cow’s dairy, there have been small resurgences in the popularity of milk in a few niche categories. Foodies, for example, are beginning to show some love for pure, organic whole milk, incorporating it into their sauces, desserts, and main dishes. Athletes, too, have discovered the magic of milk preferring the chocolate variety for their post-workout recovery snack.

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go. For the dairy industry to once again situate itself at the top, it’s going to take a lot of work. What do you think? Would you go back to drinking real cow’s milk regularly?

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