Shut the front door! 7 Percent of Americans think brown cows produce chocolate milk

Making chocolate milk is easy. All you need to do is mix chocolate powder with regular milk, add some cocoa and sugar, and then you get to enjoy your drink. However, several million people say you don’t need ingredients at all — you get your flavorful chocolate milk treat straight from the cow itself. Apparently, seven percent of American adults — yes, adults, not little toddlers who think that the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus are real — believe that brown cows make chocolate milk. And no, this is not a joke. There are people who believe in the existence of magical cows from whose udders gush Ovaltine.

An online survey from the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy showed that around 16.4 million Americans — a population as big as the state of Pennsylvania — have no knowledge about the food ecosystem. In an interview with, Center for U.S. Dairy‘s parent organization Dairy Management, Inc. spokeswoman Lisa McComb said the survey was done by market research group Edelman Intelligence, noting, “Responses came from all 50 states, and the regional response breakdown was fairly even, with a slight uptick (approximately 10 percent higher) in the South.”

The survey found that 48% of adults in the United States have no idea where milk comes from (although 29 percent of them have children who are presumably drinking said milk treat and 37 percent of them drink milk out of the container).

McComb said the survey was done online. Although not yet released in its full form, the survey contained these key observations:

  • Nine in 10 Americans say they ingest a dairy product at least once a week.
  • Forty-two percent of milk consumption happens during early morning as part of breakfast.
  • Ninety-five percent of the respondents store at least one cheese variation in their refrigerators as of the moment.
  • Sixty-three percent of those who were surveyed said they prefer staying at home, eating cookies and drinking milk, rather than going out, on a Friday night.

To ease confusion on this matter, the Center for U.S. Dairy formally defined chocolate milk as “cow’s milk with added flavoring and sweeteners”. (Related: Dairy Un-Forbidden: Discover the Virtues of Raw Milk)

In line with these findings, the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization is offering a basic lesson on all things dairy on its website to celebrate this month’s National Dairy Month.

For a deeper look at how Americans view the country’s food industry, read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It might shed light on where people are in their understanding of food and food ecosystems; for instance, a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1990s showed that almost one in five American adults were not aware that hamburgers were beef.

At the end of the day, it’s an exposure issue. 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,” non-profit FoodCorps co-founder Cecily Upton said.

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