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Big Milk has taken over American schools

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article explores how the dairy industry has maintained a strong influence over school food policies in the United States, despite declining milk consumption and growing scientific evidence questioning the necessity of dairy for children's health. It traces the history of milk's promotion as a "superfood" and the government's role in subsidizing and marketing dairy products, particularly in schools. The article also discusses the challenges faced by advocates trying to reduce schools' reliance on milk and introduce more plant-based options.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The history of milk's promotion as a "superfood"

1. What are the key points about the history of milk being promoted as a "superfood"?

  • The idea of milk as a "superfood" for children began in the early 1700s with Dr. Taylor's claim that an all-milk diet cured his and his patients' epilepsy
  • This idea was later picked up by Scottish physician George Cheyne, who recommended an adaptation of the all-milk diet that included vegetables but no meat
  • Cheyne's belief in an "Edenic, blameless diet" with milk as a "life-giving proxy for mother's milk" became widely accepted, despite not being closely related to any nutritional reality
  • Milk acquired an "exalted status" as a healthy food for children, which the author considers "one of the biggest mistakes in the history of modern nutrition"

2. How did the US government's actions shape the promotion of milk as a superfood?

  • In 1862, the US government established the Department of Agriculture and agricultural research centers, which were devoted to maximizing agricultural output, including dairy cows
  • This led to the industrialization of the milk sector and the creation of enormous surpluses, which the government then sought to offload through the National School Lunch Program established in 1946
  • The law required schools to serve students one cup of whole milk at every meal, locking in the dairy industry's biggest customer and raising prices for dairy producers

[02] The decline of milk consumption and the dairy industry's response

1. What factors contributed to the decline in milk consumption over the decades?

  • The discovery of lactose intolerance among many people of color in the 1960s
  • The growing popularity of soda, juice beverages, bottled water, and plant-based milks
  • Concerns over dietary saturated fat in the 1970s and 1980s, which led the USDA and HHS to advise Americans to eat dairy and other animal fats in moderation

2. How did the dairy industry respond to the declining milk consumption?

  • In 1983, Congress passed legislation to create the National Dairy Promotion & Research Board, a semi-governmental organization overseen by the USDA with the goal of increasing dairy sales
  • This generated over $400 million annually for advertising and research, leading to campaigns like the famous "Got Milk?" campaign
  • The dairy industry also embedded dairy scientists in fast food companies to formulate new, extra-cheesy menu items to boost cheese sales, which have soared even as milk sales have crashed

[03] The dairy industry's influence on school food policies

1. What are the key ways the dairy industry has maintained its influence over school food policies?

  • The National School Lunch Program, established in 1946, required schools to serve students one cup of whole milk at every meal, locking in the dairy industry's biggest customer
  • The USDA has rules prohibiting schools from directly or indirectly restricting the sale or marketing of fluid milk, which led to a school principal requiring a student activist to also promote the benefits of cow's milk
  • The dairy industry has complained to the USDA about schools offering water as an alternative to milk, leading the USDA to issue a "clarification" memo warning schools not to make water available in a way that interferes with milk selection

2. What are some of the proposed reforms to school milk policies?

  • Schools should not be required to serve milk, and students should have the choice whether to take it
  • Flavored, sugary milks should be further limited or banned in schools
  • The USDA should stop classifying dairy as its own food group, as Canada has done
  • The influence of the dairy industry on the USDA's dietary guidelines committee should be reduced, as some members have received funding from dairy companies
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