Health & nutrition

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Milking our emotions

Portia Huffam
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ
BOTTOMS UP: Waitara Central School student Portia Huffam, 6, downs a glass of milk which primary schools throughout the country will be getting free next year.

Full marks to Fonterra for extending their free milk offer to all primary school kids in New Zealand next year, though a couple of marks off for a decent dollop of commercial cynicism.

And I can't help but think - in terms of the love affair between Kiwi kids and white gold - the cow has bolted and the cowshed gates are swinging in the breeze.

My three girls have milk on their cereal and the odd milkshake but they do so with a certain apathy that leaves me nostalgic. I grew up on a farm and vividly remember getting the billy of fresh milk out of the vat each morning, pouring generous measures over my porridge with a sibling fight to see who got the creamy layer on top.

That's presumably the emotional reaction Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings is looking for.

"New Zealand is the largest exporter of dairy products in the world but at home we're not drinking as much milk as we used to," Spierings  said. "We want to be the dairy nutrition capital of the world and this starts with our kids."

The problem with that lofty sentiment is two-fold.

Firstly, Fonterra's premium milk brand, Anchor, is ridiculously expensive.  A quick check online shows a 2 litre container of blue top goes for $4.70. That hurts, especially when money's tight and you can go a couple of aisles over and get a 2.25lt bottle of Coke for $3.67.

I know it's a hoary old chestnut but that particular comparison holds true - every morning on the way to school, we pass primary kids wandering along swigging Fanta or Coke. Why wouldn't they?  It's sugary, cheap and vastly cooler than milk.

And then you have the taste. We usually buy Home Brand milk ($2.98 for 2L) because, in all honesty, it tastes just the same. Homogonised means exactly that; mass-produced, store-bought milk anywhere has the taste and consistency of a cup of white water.

We've got friends who swear by unpasteurised milk, which they get from a milk collective as "pet food" - a nifty way of evading New Zealand's strict rules on raw dairy products. Check out some of the rationale behind it here.

It's funny how our dairy habits have changed. My parents, still on the home farm, stopped getting milk from the vat years ago and switched to low-fat spreads instead of butter, after a couple of dodgy cholesterol checks.

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Eggs too went through purgatory but now they're fashionable again, while commonsense would suggest a bit of butter on your toast could be less harmful than the highly processed vegetable spreads which adorn most fridges (including ours).

My grandfather is 98 and has had the odd fall recently but he's blessed with bones as durable as his remarkable brain; he reckons growing up in South Otago's "Land of milk and honey" definitely had something to do with it.

But that was a different age, when truly crap foods hadn't really emerged, sitting eye-level at convenience stores for impressionable yet savvy kids, and most people still had a solid connection to the land.
Those days are long gone and it's going to take a bit more than free milk for Fonterra to successfully bring them back.

- Essential Mums

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