As a kid, I would get all excited each week when the milkman delivered icy bottles of milk, fresh from the old dairy farm down our road. I loved drinking milk, loved it on my cereal in the morning with a few fresh strawberries, which gave it a sweet pink tinge, and loved it in homemade ice cream.
That dairy farm is gone now, and more than 400,000 other small dairy farms have been lost since the 1970s. And these days, I see fewer and fewer kids (much less adults) reaching for a glass of milk. In fact, since 1980, milk consumption in this country has dropped by more than 22 percent.
What happened? When did we stop needing milk?
Many American households still don’t drink the amount of milk they probably should and have largely replaced the milk in their diets with sugary sodas, energy drinks, bottled teas, “value-added water” and bottled water.
That’s a problem not just for kids, but adults too. Milk is one of the healthiest foods we can eat and provides one of the most concentrated and easily absorbed sources of calcium. In fact, 1 cup of milk has 30% of the calcium we need for our bones—and children build all of their original bone mass by the end of adolescence. Chocolate milk is even considered a good recovery drink for athletes.
Government experts recommend anyone over age 9 consume the equivalent of 3 cups per day of low-fat milk, low-fat yogurt or low-fat cottage cheese, and that kids ages 2 to 8 get 2 cups per day.
But the dairy crisis is not just the result of a decline in demand. Recently, the Department of Justice filed an antitrust suit against a large dairy company that has been accused of price fixing, as writer David Goodman describes in “The Future of Milk” in the current issue of EatingWell Magazine. As the small dairy farms go out of business, so too goes the rural landscape, dotted with the cows that were part of my childhood.
The few bright spots in dairy? Local and organic dairies appear to be surviving and paying their farmers a fair price. Even better, a number of small dairies, such as Straus Family Creamery in California, Snowville Creamery in Ohio, Rhody Fresh in Rhode Island and Strafford Organic Creamery near my home in Vermont, are making local, premium milk that has a rich, fresh-from-the-farm taste that I remember—and some are even delivering it in the old-fashioned glass bottles I used to love.
Certainly, I don’t expect everyone to go out and start gulping down glasses of local, organic milk. Or any kind of milk. I understand some people might not like the taste or do find it hard to digest. But there are lots of other ways to get dairy, and its nutrition benefits, into your diet. You can start by fitting milk into your meals with these healthy cheesy recipes for No-Bake Macaroni & Cheese, Black Bean Nacho Pizza and more.
How much milk do you drink? Tell us what you think below.