Reading Michael Moss’ book Salt Sugar Fat, I learned something about “2%” milk.

We don’t buy much milk, and when we do we buy whole milk.  But the best-selling milk is “2%” milk.  So what does that mean?  From the book:

Through the 1960s, sales of milk plunged as it bore the brunt of public concerns about fat, both in terms of its calories and its links to heart disease.  At the same time, however, the dairy industry figured out a way to soften this blow to their business by putting the phrases “low-fat” and “2 percent” on milk in which a little of the fat had been removed.  The popularity of this defatted milk grew so fast that it now outsells all other types of milk, including skim, which has no fat at all.  But there is a marketing scheme at work in this:  The “2 percent” labeling may lead you to believe that 98 percent of the fat is removed, but in truth the fat content of whole milk is only a tad higher, at 3 percent. 

If someone had asked me to define “2 percent” milk, I would have guessed it was milk that had 98% of the fat removed.

There’s nothing inherently deceptive about the “2 percent” label, as long as you understand that whole milk could be labeled “3 percent”


12 comments on “2%

  1. At


    I found a chart that compares the different kinds of milk. I usually buy the kind with 2% fat, and from the chart I see that a cup of it has 130 calories, only 20 less than a cup of whole milk; it does, however, reduce the amount of fat from 8g to 5g.

    Speaking of dairy products, my wife and I recently watched a 12-part series about the universe by Neil deGrasse Tyson. He made the point that “heavy” cream is misnamed because it floats on top of milk.


    • Bill says:

      I suppose another way of looking at it is that 2% milk has 1/3 less fat than 3% milk.

      Tyson does a great job of making cosmology somewhat comprehensible to us non-physicists. Or at least he makes it somewhat less incomprehensible.


  2. have to watch out for skunks and per scents


  3. Bill, I guess I never gave a thought to what other people think about 2% milk. I grew up and spent my high school years milking 13 cows every morning and night. I knew that the milk was rated by the content of the butter fat which was 3.xx%. I’m just naïve in thinking that every body knew that. Now that you have pointed it out, I can see how one would think that 98% of the fat has been removed. We used a machine to separate the milk from the cream. The cream was sold at the local creamery five gallons at a time. I seriously doubt now that I look back that it covered the cost of feeding the cows but it did give me some great memories that have followed me through out my life time.

    As Steve pointed out cream is not heavier than milk. I always understood that the term meant it was thicker than milk but there again having grown up in the farming culture, things of that sort were things that everyone just understood. It’s sad for me to think that there are generations of people that only know that food comes from a store down the road a ways. They have no idea what it takes to bring the gallon of milk for them to drink or grow that vegetable for them to buy and eat. As a result cheap food has caused a wasteful mentality toward food consumption. It’s a sad thing to think how much food is wasted and how obese we as a society have become.

    Have a great 2% milk day.


    • Bill says:

      The milk we drank when I was kid came from the cows we milked by hand. It was on the table in large mouthed jars. We’d blow back the cream as we poured out the milk (unless you wanted a lot of cream).

      A pity that so few people know what it’s like to drink real milk.


  4. Leigh says:

    Interesting! Not that I buy much milk but since reading Nourishing Traditions I have a completely different view of fats in general. Of course, homegrown milk isn’t homogenized so it doesn’t stay whole, but we use both milk and cream, also whey, so we get it all in the end.

    Sounds like a book I should read.


    • Bill says:

      Even though I drink very little milk now, I grew up drinking the real stuff. But I have to admit we loved it when the cows got into wild onions or went dry. Then we got to drink “store milk”. I loved that it had no cream. (I didn’t know the word, but what I loved was the homogenization. But I also preferred the rare store-bought rolls to my mama’s homemade biscuits. Thinking back on that I can only shake my head.


  5. The world of store-bought food is rife with these kinds of misnomers if not outright deception. Like so many things, people often prefer ignorance over personal responsibility. I’m very grateful you and Cherie are working to inform people of those things that have a direct impact on our lives.


    • Bill says:

      Oh, thanks for your kind words Teresa. We’re just stumbling along on our own journey and don’t pretend to have all the answers. But I do enjoy sharing and participating in this important conversation.


  6. shoreacres says:

    I learned about 2% some years back. I’m quite a fan of milk, and went researching to see whether 2% would be better for me, or if I needed to switch to skim. I’ve been drinking skim for years.

    However! I buy Promised Land milk, which is from an all-Jersey herd in Floresville,Texas. The difference in taste is remarkable. Promised Land skim tastes as good to me as whole from other dairies.

    Promised Land was purchased by Grupo Lala of Mexico in 2009. In double-checking that, I found this brief post with a link to a very interesting chart of who-owns-what in the world of so-called organic foods.


    • Bill says:

      The milk from Jerseys is generally regarded as the best. They’ve been supplanted by Holsteins in the industrial model (because Holsteins produce so much more milk and it’s all aggregated, pasteurized and homogenized anyway).

      I’ve seen that chart from Cornucopia. “Organic” has been largely co-opted by the Industrial Ag Complex.


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