FoodCorps Co-Founder Talks Nutrition Education in The Washington Post

By Caitlin Dewey, The Washington Post

Seven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy.

If you do the math, that works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people. The equivalent of the population of Pennsylvania (and then some!) does not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar.

But while the survey has attracted snorts and jeers from some corners — “um, guys, [milk] comes from cows — and not just the brown kind,” snarked Food & Wine — the most surprising thing about this figure may actually be that it isn’t higher.

For decades, observers in agriculture, nutrition and education have griped that many Americans are basically agriculturally illiterate. They don’t know where food is grown, how it gets to stores — or even, in the case of chocolate milk, what’s in it.

One Department of Agriculture study, commissioned in the early ’90s, found that nearly 1 in 5 adults did not know that hamburgers are made from beef. Many more lacked familiarity with basic farming facts, like how big U.S. farms typically are and what food animals eat.

Experts in ag education aren’t convinced that much has changed in the intervening decades.

“At the end of the day, it’s an exposure issue,” said Cecily Upton, co-founder of the nonprofit FoodCorps, which brings agricultural and nutrition education into elementary schools. “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.”

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