It wasn't until I left home for college that I even considered the possibility of milk that was not 2%. Growing up, we always had the gallon with the dark blue top—4 ounces at breakfast, 4 ounces at dinner.
2% was my normal, so much so that I was confused when I arrived on campus and the choices next to the cereal station were limited to skim and whole. And even today—when I use whole milk to make yogurt and soften coffee—I was still surprised when Daniel Horan, the C.E.O. of Five Acre Farms, a supplier of local milk to the New York City metro area, told me that 80% of their fluid milk sales come from whole milk.
That's not a fluke for Five Acres. Dr. Bill Weiss, a professor in the Department of Animal Sciences at The Ohio State University's Agricultural Research and Development Center, told me that while fluid milk consumption has been decreasing in general, whole milk is up year over year; skim milk consumption, on the other hand, which has been trending upwards for the longest time, is on the downswing. (As compared to fluid milk consumption, per capita dairy consumption—which includes cheese, yogurt, sour cream, etc.—has been increasing a little bit every year, practically forever.)
The USDA's Estimated Fluid Milk Products Sales Report from May 13, 2016 affirms Dr. Weiss's point: Conventional whole milk was up 5.2% from the previous year, whereas fat-free milk was down -10.2%.
And when we polled our Twitter audience, they—you?—corroborated (keep in mind that this is, of course, a selection bias here).
If you consume cow's milk, what kind do you buy?— Food52 (@Food52) May 19, 2016
So why is whole milk on the rise while reduced fat, low fat, and fat-free milk are all slumping? Perhaps it's another death knell of the 90s low-fat craze—and a sign of the growing perception, and the articles and studies that support these beliefs, that there are good reasons to choose whole milk rather than its lower-fat siblings (taste being only one of many).
Stay on top of the recent (or recent-ish) milk news, then make an informed decision yourself:
The Controversial Life of Skim Milk (The Atlantic)
The whole truth about whole milk (The Washington Post)
Could low-fat be worse for you than whole milk? [The Guardian]
The Case for drinking whole milk (Quartz)
The Full-Fat Paradox: Dairy Fat Linked To Lower Diabetes Risk (NPR's The Salt)
If you're finding all of these reports (which can seem contradictory and ever-changing) a little hard to stomach, then keep the words of Professor Marion Nestle, expert on food politics, in mind: "In nutrition, there are no absolutes, only relative statements in the context of everything else someone eats," she told the Guardian: "I don’t think the kind of milk or milk at all matters if the overall diet is reasonable. Everything in moderation."
Tell us: What kind of milk do you buy (and does that vary depending on its intended purpose)? Has this changed over time?