Believe it or not, 7% of all American adults think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows. That number works out to 16.4 million people, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy.
While your initial reaction might be to stifle a laugh, think about it. That’s a whole lot of clueless milk-drinkers who have no idea that chocolate milk is made from milk, cocoa and sugar. The results of this survey suggest that an alarming number of Americans don’t really know where their food comes from, how it’s made or grown, and how it finds its way onto grocery store shelves.
How Much Do Americans Really Know About Their Food?
A study conducted by the Department of Agriculture in the early 1990’s found that nearly 1 in 5 adults did not now that hamburgers are made form beef. It seems that now, almost three decades later, not much has changed.
Cecily Upton is co-founder of a non-profit known as FoodCorps, which brings agricultural and nutrition education into elementary schools. “At the end of the day, it’s an exposure issue,” she explained. “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.”
Studies have shown that people who live in urban areas know less about where their food comes from. People who typically know more about food include those who live in agricultural communities, those with higher education levels and those with higher household incomes.
A team of researchers interviewed fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders at an urban school in California. They found that more than half of the students didn’t know that pickles were cucumbers or that onions and lettuce were plants. Four in 10 students didn’t know that hamburgers came from cows, and three in 10 students didn’t know that cheese is made from milk.
The researchers concluded, “All informants recalled the names of common foods in raw form and most knew foods were grown on farms or in gardens. 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 the USDA, orange juice is the most popular “fruit” in America. And one of the top “vegetables” Americans eat are processed potatoes, in the form of french fries and chips.
Groups like FoodCorps and the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization are working with teachers and students across the country to add nutrition and agriculture studies to their school work. Cecily Upton said, “We still get kids who are surprised that a french fry comes from a potato, or that a pickle is a cucumber. Knowledge is power. Without it, we can’t make informed decisions.”