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Why I Don’t Get My News From Food & Wine

June 21, 2017

So the crazy thing about bad information is that it can seem less bad the more it’s passed around. The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy apparently did some kind of online study that Food & Wine wrote about. But in their report, Food & Wine only linked back to this landing page for Undeniably Dairy.

There I found only one thing that mentions the study. And if you click on it, instead of being shown the actual study, you’ll be whisked off to another story on about the study. And that story brings you right back to the Food & Wine report.

At least it makes a perfect circle.

To add insult to injury, in the piece, there is actually a link to an actual abstract of an actual study on fluid dairy. But that one covers much different ground. It is about the nutritional intakes of those who consume flavored milk vs. no milk. And guess what? Those who drink milk get more of the nutrients found in milk than those who don’t drink milk. Mind, blown.

So, as far as I can tell, it is this Food & Wine piece that legitimized this study enough that the Washington Post Wonkblog used it as a hook for its story on consumers and food awareness. It’s hard to know what to make of the study’s findings, since we can’t see the study itself. However, I’m suspicious about some of the conclusions Food & Wine draws based on the data they provide.

I’m going to show some examples by quoting the Food & Wine story, and offering an alternative reading.

“First off, 48% of respondents said that they aren’t sure where chocolate milk comes from. Um, guys, it comes from cows – and not just the brown kind.”

Thanks for the snark. But this sounds like the result of a poorly worded online survey. Because, you know, chocolate milk doesn’t actually come from cows at all. It comes from dairy processing plants, where milk from cows is mixed with things like seaweed, sugar, corn starch, and artificial flavors to make that delicious treat we pretend is a healthful alternative to water.

“Still, 7% of people – and remember, this survey talked to actual, grown-up adults – still think that chocolate milk only comes from brown cows. Actually, chocolate milk gets its flavor and color from cocoa beans.”

We covered a bunch of this yesterday. Although Elisabeth Sherman makes the distinction in her story of using the word “only” from brown cows. Since most cows are brown, I’m willing to bet there was at least some confusion about what kind of cows are used for dairy and what kind are used for meat, I don’t leap to the same conclusion that Americans are complete idiots. For what it’s worth, chocolate milk never sees a cocoa bean, ever. If we want to be precise, chocolate milk isn’t even chocolate at all. It is milk mixed with cocoa powder. And while that cocoa powder might be the source of chocolate milk’s color, additional flavorings are often added.

“A fair chunk of people are still hanging on to their taboo kitchen habits: 37% secretly drink milk straight out of the container, while another 29% use their kids as an excuse to buy chocolate milk for themselves.”

That 37% seems high. And then I remembered, milk is now being sold these days in single serve containers. Surely there are plenty of people who go to the fridge, and forgo a glass to drink right from the carton. But that number is likely bolstered by those who buy milk by the pint or the cup and drink it right from the bottle.

“And despite the fact that healthy lifestyle diets are all the rage right now, only 5% of people abstain from drinking milk altogether, making it a continued staple in most people’s homes.”

No. This smacks of dairy industry desperation. The fact that 5% of people abstain from milk, does not make it a staple in most homes, much less a “continued” staple. That’s just not how numbers work. Of those 95% who don’t abstain, how many drink milk frequently versus occasionally? And how has that number changed over time? To say it’s a continued staple in most people’s homes, you would need to show significantly different numbers.

“In fact, it seems to still be one of America’s favorite beverages: One quarter of participants reported taking a trip to the grocery store before 6 in the morning just to buy milk.”

Seems madam, nay it is. I know not seems. What a weak claim. And what’s worse, given how it’s written, the author knows that it is weak. Do you know how I know what my favorite beverage is? It’s always in the house. If people are running out before 6am just to get milk, that says the only time they think about milk is when they find themselves to be out of milk.

Incidentally, I’m not making that last part up. That insight was the critical finding from focus groups, which ultimately resulted in the got milk? advertising campaign.

“We just can’t seem to escape dairy in any of its forms: An additional 95% of people surveyed currently have some type of cheese in their refrigerator.”

I like the notion of “some type of cheese”. Clearly this includes processed american slices, those green tubes of shaky cheese, and industrial bulk block cheeses. But “we just can’t seem to escape dairy in any of its forms” continues the theme of stretching the data further than advisable. Because, for example, I think most American have been able to successfully avoid kefir.

It’s the conclusion of the Food & Wine story that I think is the biggest tell, “So there you have it. Even though an unfortunate number of people can’t seem to figure out where it comes from, milk is still beloved by Americans.”

Except the actual numbers show that liquid dairy consumption has been on the decline among American consumers for decades. Decades. I’m not making that up. Here’s the report that shows the data, instead of an online survey completed by a thousand adults (who took the time to fill out a survey on milk while they were online).

More than anything else, this feels like an attempt to make milk relevant. Some kind of piece of industry created news that allows reporters to talk about milk in an irreverent way. I can almost hear the pitch from the PR company to the marketing director to spin a snarky story with a viral hook. Perhaps that tone will pique the interest of millennials who, when not busy killing casual chain restaurants, are also decimating the dairy industry by washing down avocado toast with vanilla almond-milk lattes.

Ugh. I hate it when publications that I otherwise respect get played by our corporate overlords.

One Comment leave one →
  1. enough already! permalink
    June 21, 2017 2:40 pm

    Very good analysis, Daniel. Some of the results they claim do not seem credible. That is one of the reasons I no longer subscribe to Food and Wine.

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