My eyes were opened to all of the choices in the milk case of the dairy aisle about 10 years ago. I was in a local grocery store, invited by the store’s on-staff dietician to take part in local ag food day and was handing out samples of flavored milk from a local fluid milk supplier.    
With surprise, I watched for hours as people walked around me to grab almond, oat, rice and other milk alternatives from the dairy case. Sometimes they put plastic jugs of both cow’s milk and milk alternatives in their carts and said, “I am lactose intolerant, but my kids like to drink whole milk.” Most kids were delighted with the flavored milk I gave them, but many adults declined.
There were some lessons I took away from that experience: kids typically enjoy whole milk and flavors in their milk, many people consider themselves lactose intolerant, and the dairy milk offered was not fulfilling their needs or desires and they had switched to alternatives.
I don’t mean to accentuate the negative, but it was astounding to me, because I did not realize this transformation had taken place. Our family drinks pasteurized whole milk from our bulk tank, so I had paid little attention to what was offered in the milk case. Now when I shop in a grocery store or at a convenience store in the beverage section, I continue to be amazed at the vast array of choices for what a person can have to drink.
As I have recently learned from listening to an I-29 Moo University podcast about national dairy checkoff strategies, only 9% of the milk produced in Minnesota goes to fluid milk. The rest is going to plants where cheese, butter, cultured dairy products and byproducts, such as whey, dried lactose or skim milk powder are made. That is what Minnesota dairy farmer and DMI and Midwest Dairy board member Charles Krause said in the podcast.
Krause went on to explain that the checkoff is there to help dairy companies use research, develop products including a supply chain, and assist people in selling that product. He explained that the checkoff dollars every dairy farmer contributes through milk sold helps to build partnerships with food companies, such as fairlife®, Taco Bell® or McDonald’s. The fastfood places are selling value-added milk products through their menus for us, Krause said in the podcast. Taco Bell®, for instance, has 90% of its menu items that include some dairy, such as cheese, sour cream or cheese sauce. Today, while generic milk ads no longer appear on T.V., an ad for fairlife® or another branded dairy food pops up every so often on T.V. or digital media.
I have thought a lot about dairy foods in the past few decades. That is because when hosting tours at our farm, speaking to kids, adults or in the community, we try to inform people about dairy foods’ good value based on their nutrition and their importance in our diet, as well as how delicious cheese, yogurt, ice cream and (insert your favorite here) are!
But I don’t talk very much about fluid milk options. I have sat around our kitchen table with people who are typically selling us something and have them say, “I don’t drink milk. It doesn’t agree with me.” What can you say to that except, “Well, you can still enjoy yogurt and cheese.”
Milk options in schools are problematic. I grew up drinking Polka Dot Dairy milk in little cartons in the Hastings Public Schools. I don’t recall ever having milk that did not taste good. I suppose the milk was very fresh since the Hastings Co-op Creamery was in our town. I’ll bet it was whole milk and kept cold and served that way. I wish that could be the case in every school today. I know that it is very difficult and complicated, involving layers of science, rules, regulations and bureaucracy. I know there are efforts to allow whole milk to be served again. I know chocolate milk is a winner for kids. I do not know how to pull those facts together to get things changed. I hope someday it will be.
In the meantime, there are many bright spots in our stories we can tell about dairy goodness. People like cheese, yogurt, ice cream and so much more. A recent blog from a New York based millennial writer, Emily Sundberg, who was traveling around Europe this past summer proclaimed, “The real international delight, I realized, is pouring whole, full-dairy milk into your coffee; it is perhaps the most civilized activity in which a person can partake.” She confirmed her realization with coffee shop baristas back home in New York and found that people are ditching the milk alternatives and going back to basics.
It is November and time to enjoy your Thanksgiving coffee and pie with real cream and a tall glass of milk.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.