7% of Americans think that chocolate milk comes from brown cows

When I was a kid, and loved chocolate milk, my dad used to tell me,  “You know, don’t you, Jerry, that brown cows give chocolate milk?” Even then, well before I was a teenager, I knew that was bullshit. Yet, according to several sources, including CBS 4 in New York (click on the scoreenshot below to go to the article—and a video), many Americans actually believe that crazy myth. The report:

Seven percent of American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a new survey.

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy conducted a survey of more than 1,000 adults 18 and over in April 2017. It not only found that seven percent thought that chocolate milk only comes from brown cows, but that 48 percent of people aren’t sure where chocolate milk comes from.

The survey findings were released ahead of June, National Dairy Month.

What’s perhaps the worst is the finding that “48% more” don’t know the source of chocolate milk, meaning that 55% of Americans are in the dark about this childhood staple.

It’s interesting that the article feels the need to give the answer (!):

For the record: chocolate milk is made using regular old cow’s milk and flavoring.

There seems to be a pervasive ignorance about the nature and source of food among my fellow citizens:

The Washington Post notes the survey findings reflect a general agricultural illiteracy among Americans: a 2011 survey of fourth, fifth- and sixth-graders at an urban California high school found more than half the kids didn’t know that pickles were cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce were plants. Four in 10 didn’t know that hamburgers came from cows — and three in ten didn’t know that cheese is made from milk.

I hesitate to think where these kids think that cheese balls come from. And are fish sticks plants or animals?

h/t: József

76 Comments

  1. Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    What worries me most is the uneducated feel no need to learn. They simply don’t care. But they crave the latest fad or fake news story on social media. Hugs

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      “What worries me most is the uneducated feel no need to learn.”

      I think there’s a whole culture of people not feeling the need to learn, educated or uneducated, in the post Google generation.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

        At the same time, Googling provides an answer to much ignorance. Need to fix your lawn mower? Google it.
        Need to understand quantum mechanics? Google it.

        • Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

          I used to read Dictionary’s and Encyclopedias, and History books, and Atlases when I was growing up because I wanted to know things, and I couldn’t carry them all in my pocket. I wonder if I would do that if I were growing up today, and how negatively it would have affected me.

  2. rickflick
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    The 7% doesn’t surprise me. If you think of the intelligence of the population as a bell curve. The 7% could represent the low tail. Not surprising. The 48% who admit to being puzzled however is quite worrisome. If you assume this comprises those with the lowest IQ it would have to include many near the mean. What does that mean?

    • darrelle
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

      Exactly what I thought. The 48% number is the really surprising one to me. I wonder how the question was posed. Was it multiple choice? What were the answer choices?

      • Barney
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:27 am | Permalink

        I can’t find the questions or possible answers (the dairy industry web page points to press reports about the survey, and the press point to the industry page). I wonder if some were thinking when answering “no, I don’t know if it’s real chocolate” (like ‘bacon flavoring’ that’s never seen a pig) or “no, I don’t know the name of the plant we get chocolate from”.

        • Starr
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

          This is what I was thinking as well. I don’t know exactly how commercial chocolate milk is made, and while that isn’t the same as “knowing where it comes from” I could certainly understand someone interpreting it that way, and answering “No”.

          I could also understand someone not knowing for sure if chocolate milk is milk at all! After all, lots of what we call ice cream, isn’t really ice cream. I think it is perfectly possible for someone to be unsure whether what is marketed as chocolate milk is actually milk, or something wholly artificial designed to have the consistency of milk.

          After all, I have some chocolate milk in my fridge, but it was made with almonds, not dairy milk.

          • Barney
            Posted June 16, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

            Funny you should mention that – from just a couple of days ago:

            EU court bans dairy-style names for soya and tofu

            Since December 2013 EU regulations have stated that designations such as milk, butter, cheese cream and yogurt can only be used for marketing and advertising products which are derived from animal milk.

            There are some exceptions. Coconut milk is allowed, for example, as are peanut butter, almond milk and ice cream.

            However, soya and tofu are not exempted.

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-40274645

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      “If you assume this comprises those with the lowest IQ it would have to include many near the mean. What does that mean?”

      I think maybe it means you overestimate the mean. I was going to tell my stepdaughter in-law, who’s visiting, about this story, but then it occurred to me she’s likely part of the 48%, and honestly she’s not that dumb compared with what I consider the average Alabamian I interact with.

      • rickflick
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

        Of course, IQ is not the only factor.

        • Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

          “Of course, IQ is not the only factor.”

          I don’t know about that. It seems to me that any reasonably intelligent person who has ever had milk, and chocolate would be able to reason the answer out. That being said maybe the people who think it comes from chocolate cows are among the smarter ones, and a significant percentage of the other 48% don’t even know that milk comes from cows at all.

  3. BJ
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    If brown cows did, in fact, give chocolate milk, would this constitute evidence for evolution and natural selection to these people? Probably not. It would simply be a wonderful gift from god.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      If cows could fly….

  4. J. Quinton
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Whenever I read about these surveys, I always take into account Lizardman’s Constant:

    Beware of Phantom Lizardmen

    I have only done a little bit of social science research, but it was enough to make me hate people. One study I helped with analyzed whether people from different countries had different answers on a certain psychological test. So we put up a website where people answered some questions about themselves (like “what country are you from?”) and then took the psychological test.

    And so of course people screwed it up in every conceivable way. There were the merely dumb, like the guy who put “male” as his nationality and “American” as his gender. But there were also the actively malicious or at least annoying, like the people (yes, more than one) who wrote in “Martian”.

    […]

    Public Policy Polling’s recent poll on conspiracy theories mostly showed up on my Facebook feed as “Four percent of Americans believe lizardmen are running the Earth”.

    (of note, an additional 7% of Americans are “not sure” whether lizardmen are running the Earth or not.)

    Imagine the situation. You’re at home, eating dinner. You get a call from someone who says “Hello, this is Public Policy Polling. Would you mind answering some questions for us?” You say “Sure”. An extremely dignified sounding voice says – and this is the exact wording of the question – “Do you believe that shape-shifting reptilian people control our world by taking on human form and gaining political power to manipulate our society, or not?” Then it urges you to press 1 if yes, press 2 if no, press 3 if not sure.

    So first we get the people who think “Wait, was 1 the one for if I did believe in lizardmen, or if I didn’t? I’ll just press 1 and move on to the next question.”

    Then we get the people who are like “I never heard it before, but if this nice pollster thinks it’s true, I might as well go along with them.”

    Then we get the people who are all “F#&k you, polling company, I don’t want people calling me when I’m at dinner. You screw with me, I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to tell you I believe lizard people are running the planet.”

    And then we get the people who put “Martian” as their nationality in psychology experiments. Because some men just want to watch the world burn.

    Do these three groups total 4% of the US population? Seems plausible.

    I really wish polls like these would include a control question, something utterly implausible even by lizard-people standards, something like “Do you believe Barack Obama is a hippopotamus?” Whatever percent of people answer yes to the hippo question get subtracted out from the other questions.

    • BJ
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      “‘Four percent of Americans believe lizardmen are running the Earth.’

      (of note, an additional 7% of Americans are ‘not sure’ whether lizardmen are running the Earth or not.)”

      This is colloquially known as “Alex Jones’ audience.”

    • darrelle
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

      Very nice!

    • nicky
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Aren’t the US ruled by shape changing lizards? With an orange one on top?

  5. Joseph McClain
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Seven percent of the Americans I know would answer “brown cows” just for the hoot of it.

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Or ‘How nows’ as we call them in Britain…

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      My uncle taught me the true name of milk, “moo juice”.

  6. Craw
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how to put this politely. It is silly to think people don’t mess with surveyors who ask them stupid questions. So it is silly to take this number seriously.

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Related: I seem to remember a social psychology textbook or the like asserting that 5% of all questions on such surveys asked will be answered affirmatively.

    • dallos
      Posted June 17, 2017 at 1:56 am | Permalink

      Most questions about religion or elves are silly questions, so we shouldn’t take the answers seriously.

  7. busterggi
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Never underestimate the stupidity of the average person and always remember that half the population is below average.

  8. DryEraser
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    I met someone at a state university in the US who could not entertain the idea that humans are animals. Maybe just a case of defining terms.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Oh, I’m sure there are many such people at universities in the US.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

      Just tell them they are actually a “human bean” not a human being.

  9. Nullifidian
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Cheese balls come from castrated cheddar wheels.

  10. Randy schenck
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I wonder what the percentage is if you asked if they know the difference is between milk cows and regular cows. Or even worse, a heifer.

  11. Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Ah! There is no accounting for human dimwits…
    When my chum Ana was 13 (last year) she only just discovered that there are not, as she put it, ‘boy coys’! No bull!

    • Randy schenck
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      You just have to steer her in the right direction.

  12. Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    What udder nonsense!

    • busterggi
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Bag it!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Milk them for all you can get! It’s mooving how many believe this! They really should have someone tan their hyde for such silly beliefs.

      • Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

        It’s pasture bedtime, Diana. No moore puns.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted June 17, 2017 at 7:51 am | Permalink

          Ha ha. I’ll CUDdle my pillow.

          • Filippo
            Posted June 18, 2017 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

            Just don’t chew it.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted June 18, 2017 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

              😸

  13. Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Coincidentally I was explaining that pickles come from cucumbers to an adult on the weekend, and a programmer at that.

    Your fish sticks comment immediately reminded me of the South Park joke about them.

    • busterggi
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Wait – pickled beets are actually cucumber? How do they get them that color?

  14. CJColucci
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    Many years ago, I delivered beer for a living. One of our biggest customers was a chain of dairy stores. One day, I was stacking 110 cases of beer to wheel into the store when a kid came up and asked why I was delivering beer to a dairy store.
    I asked him if he knew how milk was made. He told me that cows ate grass and drank water and produced milk.
    I told him that certain breeds of cows — beer cows — ate barley and hops and drank water and produced beer,
    The kid seemed satisfied and left, no doubt to share his newfound knowledge with others.
    I am going to burn in Hell forever.

    • busterggi
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I hope you like warm milk.

    • darrelle
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Funny!

      Such is the power authority figures can have on young minds. I remember visiting older cousins when I was about 6 years old, they were all teenagers, and they had me half convinced that money grew on money trees. At first there was no doubt in my mind that they were full of shit, but over about 10 minutes of fine acting to try and convince me . . . I really wasn’t sure anymore.

  15. jeffery
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    “There seems to be a pervasive ignorance about the nature and source of food among my fellow citizens”- there seems to be a pervasive ignorance about JUST ABOUT ANYTHING among our fellow citizens these days: I’ve met LOTS of people who haven’t read a book in years, and don’t have any books, or even magazines, in their homes. You’d think that maybe they could pick up a lot of information from news articles and documentaries, etc., but their attention span is not sufficient to watch them (this is especially true of young people- I had a young guy move in below me who told me he liked to listen to music; I was relieved to find out that he only plays music for about five minutes before he’s out the door again). It’s one of the reasons texting and Twitter are so popular- people don’t seem to be able to handle more than a few words at a time. Reading comments on news articles shows that few people have ANY knowledge of even recent history, and most of them couldn’t find Syria on a map if their lives depended on it.

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      And we’ve got a president who proves your point, Jeffery.

  16. Gabrielle
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    About 20 years ago, I was on a business trip to Iowa with an older colleague, a chemical engineer with about 30 years experience. As we were driving along the highway through a rural area (most of the state), he pointed to some beef cattle and said “They have a lot of dairy farms here in Iowa.”
    Now, I thought it was hilarious that he couldn’t tell the difference between beef cattle and dairy cows. But then again, I grew up in a small city in Pennsylvania, with farms just a short drive away, with a big farm show every year, and where we were taken to visit a small farm when I was in kindergarten.
    He, on the other hand, grew up on Long Island (outside of New York City) and worked his whole career in urban Philadelphia. Places with no farms nearby, no agricultural fairs, no field trips to farms (too far away). It is understandable that he was cow-clueless.
    But this doesn’t prove that he was some kind of ill-informed American, who was just shy of being stupid. He was a smart and hard-working person who simply did not grow up or live anywhere near farms.
    I have more such stories about my former husband, a dyed-in-the-wool Philadelphian, but that will have to wait until later.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      I think we just refer to them as city slickers. We could probably find some folks in Des Moines who know very little. My story about Chocolate Milk and the milk business was during my time in Okinawa. One of our responsibilities was delivering food and milk to the Military school lunch programs. So I had to warehouse and deliver the milk to the schools. One thing I never wanted to do was run out of chocolate milk. The phone would ring and ring when that happened.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

        One thing that you can’t easily find in NZ, but which we make a lot of money selling to Asian countries, especially China, is chocolate cheese.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

          Why not. Chocolate milk, chocolate cheese. Maybe chocolate cottage cheese?

    • Posted June 16, 2017 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

      Gabrielle, I grew up in farmland in Bucks county, just north of Philadelphia, so I know a lot about farming and where food comes from. But anyone who grows up there today would have no chance to learn about farming, because all the farms are now housing developments. And I went to college and graduate school in the Lehigh Valley, when it still had lots of farmland. My major cultural shock was when I went for my interview for a postdoctoral position in New York City!

  17. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    As a kid, I had a small, rubber halloween skeleton that was black. I asked my dad if black skinned people had black skeletons & white skinned people, white skeletons. My dad didn’t shit me, like he sometimes did for LOLz, thank goodness.

    A kid these days would probably be accused of being racist for asking that question now.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Hell, in some places you would be racist if you are white and drink chocolate milk.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

        Of course. It’s symbolic of your wish to dominate brown-skinned people.

        Or maybe just to have a better tan.

  18. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    When Arthur Miller was trying to educate Marilyn Monroe in the ways of Jewish cuisine and brought up Matzah balls, she is reported to have asked “Is there any other part of the Matzah you can eat?”

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    And that fact that many brands of chocolate milk have brown cows on the bottle probably helps exacerbate the problem.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      Well, there are several breeds of diary cows that are brown or brown & white. Jersey is brown. Guernsey and Ayrshire are brown and white. Then of course we get into the whole milk cows and the 2%…just kidding.

  20. nicky
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    Many, if not most, dairy cows are black & white, btw.
    A different, more serious 🙂 question is: do brown eggs come from brown chickens and white eggs from white chickens? What about the eggs from black chickens?

    • dallos
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      There are purple dairy cows in Switzerland.

      • nicky
        Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        Yes, they even manipulated the expression of skin cells to spell (white on purple background) ‘Milka’ on the left side, wonder if that spells akliM on the right side.

    • nicky
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      Looked it up, the colour of the egg generally corresponds to the colour of the earlobe. So yes, white chicken white eggs, brown or black chicken brown eggs
      I guess that does not go for chickens with bright blue earlobes, since these are caused by diffraction and reflection, not by pigments.

  21. eric
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Good lord. When my kid was three he knew that “the cows ate strawberries and then gave strawberry milk” was a joke. And he thought it was a good joke, too. The idea that a full grown adult would believe something equivalently stupid is…depressing.

    • busterggi
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      I’ve always felt sorry for the cows they keep in the freezers so we can have ice cream.

    • nicky
      Posted June 16, 2017 at 9:12 pm | Permalink

      My children know one makes chocolate milk with milk and cocoa, they’ve seen me doing it on a regular basis.
      My 3 year old considers the brown cow an extremely witty joke, my 6 year old thinks it is just corny.

  22. Posted June 16, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    A better title for the article would be “7% of Americans have a sense of humor”.

  23. Posted June 16, 2017 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  24. Gabrielle
    Posted June 16, 2017 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    My former husband, the dyed-in-the-wool Philadelphian, spent very little time outside the city growing up. However, I was able to convince him to go to a county fair in the suburbs, when he was about 30 years old, where we saw a cow being milked. He turned to me and said “What are they doing? That is disgusting.” I explained that they were milking the cow, and this is where milk comes from. He said, no it doesn’t, milk comes from the grocery store. When asked, he said he didn’t know where the store got it from, but they obviously got it from somewhere. But not from a cow. I then explained what a dairy is. To no avail.
    Hubby happily consumed cheese, butter, sour cream, ice cream, and on and on. He had no clue about where this all came from, and he didn’t care to know. But he wasn’t a stupid person, just a real city slicker.

  25. Dale Franzwa
    Posted June 17, 2017 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    In that screenshot, the rainbow colored fan should tell you that WNBC-TV is ch. 4. WCBS-TV is ch. 2. But, what the hey, you’re a Chicago guy, Jerry.

    Back when I used to teach in Brooklyn, I got a homework assignment from a student who thought that potatoes grew on trees. I may have mentioned in my comments something about checking your facts before putting your ignorance on display (or maybe I said something else, that was several decades ago).

  26. Filippo
    Posted June 17, 2017 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    “The Washington Post notes the survey findings reflect a general agricultural illiteracy among Americans: a 2011 survey of fourth, fifth- and sixth-graders . . . .”

    I wonder what percent of Amuricuns belief that this illiteracy is the fault of the public school system.

  27. Posted June 17, 2017 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

    Oh my gosh. I just. Can’t. Even. Brain-freeze! 😳😂😊

  28. Posted June 23, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Oh no that’s so terrible! The post made me almost laugh, thank you for the statistics. Good job.


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