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It’s a common misconception that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, like Jerseys and Guernseys, while white milk comes from the black and white Holsteins.

Jersey breeder and La Crosse Tribune columnist Paul Larson of Mindoro called it the “biggest misconception” he hears when it comes to people guessing where their food comes from.

“It’s actually just Brown Swiss that make chocolate milk. Guernseys and Jerseys make half and half,” Larson said.

Honestly, it’s amazing so many people get it wrong, when everyone know the best chocolate comes from Switzerland. Of course, the best chocolate milk come from the country’s cows (I also assume the Brown Swiss are excellent at climbing mountains and skiing, as every living thing from Switzerland must be. You can’t live that close to the Swiss Alps and not ski).

Strawberry milk, on the other hand, is trickier. Cows don’t naturally come in pink and no amount of breeding experimentation did anything about that. Nope, the strawberry flavor comes from white cows that have been dyed bubblegum pink. It’s certainly not that the flavoring is added later.

OK, so in reality, the breed of a cow does not give its milk any sort of artificial flavor, but that doesn’t stop people from believing it.

According to a national online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, 16.4 million people, or 7 percent of U.S. adults, believe that brown fur is an indicator of milk flavor.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Larson said about the things consumers think about how food is produced. “It’s not just milk. It’s how everything is made. People listen to what the marketers tell them.”

While most people in the local community have pretty close ties to agriculture yet, Larson still sees a lot of misinformation that lead to consumers getting additives and things they don’t need, because they don’t understand how food should be packaged and displayed.

For example, Larson said, while meat is typically displayed in clear plastic wrap, it’s better for it to be covered and out of direct light. Left to its own devices, meat will turn greyish brown in the light, which naturally leads to people not buying it because it looks disgusting. To avoid the new look, the meat gets a special carbon monoxide treatment to keep it artificially red, and more appealing to the meat-eater.

“People aren’t asking the right questions, and it’s simply because they don’t have enough information,” Larson said. “That’s kind of why I write my column.”

Larson isn’t alone in trying to educate people. Local school districts are doing all they can to make sure students know both where their food comes from and how it gets to them.

“You could delve into the nutritional aspects of it, you can delve into the economic aspects of it, but the reality is that knowing when your food comes from is all-encompassing,” said Kerri Feyen, the school nutrition director for both West Salem and Bangor. “I can’t think of anything that’s more important than feeding your body and knowing where you food is coming from.”

On a nutritional level, knowing where food comes from lets people know exactly what they’re taking in, letting them avoid things they’d rather not eat.

“Those byproducts can have a negative impact on your health,” Feyen said.

Feyen procures 15 percent of all items used in her kitchens, including equipment and chemicals, locally, according to a recent local foods procurement review. When you narrow the review down to food alone, it’s closer to 20 percent.

“If you’re purchasing things that are fresh and local, you’re putting that money into the pockets of the farmers that might be your neighbors,” Feyen said.

That in turn gives your neighbors more money to spend and feed into the local economy.

“It’s sort of this cyclical event that happens,” Feyen said.

With the Farm 2 School and Harvest of the Month programs

Feyen went a little rogue last year, venturing out from the traditional field-harvested plants, like corn and apples, to bring in edamame, garlic and mushrooms.

“It’s things that kids aren’t necessarily used to on a regular basis,” Feyen said.

While edamame, which is an immature soy bean, may not be typical fare, it went over swimmingly in the schools.

“We served it fresh. We didn’t cook it, we didn’t smother it in cheese… It was simply in a pasta salad with a bunch of other vegetables,” Feyen said. “They get to taste-test it and then it’s on the regular menu a couple times a month.”

Americans as a whole may be pretty ignorant on where their food comes from, but our local kids won’t be.

Jourdan Vian is the suburban weekly editor for the River Valley Media Group, overseeing the Houston County News, Coulee News and Onalaska Holmen Courier-Life.

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City government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

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