I found an interesting story in the RedStar Magazine, the local expat magazine in Qingdao. The June 2013 issue had a story about milk in China. The ‘government’ wants every Chinese person to consume 500 grams of dairy every day. That is about 1 liter of liquid or 17 ounces. Not much in my opinion but I guess you have to start somewhere.
Those of you from the US and Canada that have lived in China know that milk here is not like any you have ever seen or tasted before. It is darned expensive to buy refrigerated milk if you can even find it. Most of the milk we drink or use is UHT milk, that stuff sits on the shelf at room temperature and has a use by date of something like a year. It doesn’t taste like milk; but it does taste better than powdered milk.
Some interesting statistics about milk in China, the average Chinese drinks just 2.5 gallons of milk a year. My now grown sons and daughter will attest that there were times in my younger life that my family drank more than a gallon of milk a day. I think that there many days where we might have even drank 2.5 gallons a day especially if there were chocolate chip cookies to be had. You know that those chocolate chip cookies and Oreo cookies tasted so much better with several glasses of milk.
China is consuming lots more milk and milk products than it has in the past make no doubt about that. It is also producing more milk than it has in the past. It is now 3rd in the world in milk production, producing 6.1% of the global milk (Only the US and India produce more).
The real problem with milk in China is that there are no good ways to regulate milk production. The fact that China is lax on regulations or at least the ability to regulate industry is no secret. What I find to be interesting is that there are a lot of similarities with what I heard a kid growing up.
I grew up in Wyoming, USA. The wild west in many ways compared to the world around me. I moved to a little Mormon town in Wyoming that was better known for a cheese factory and its bars and steakhouse than it was for anything else. I have heard jokes from others that suggest that my grandfather was responsible for ensuring that both of them remained in business during the lean years. He was known to enjoy the drink on just about any occasion.
He had a small farm that had been in his family from the time it was homesteaded and settled, nearly as long as WY has been a State. This little farm is really just a speck on the map of the US. It is much smaller than it could have been but that is another story about government exceeding its authority and a place so small that rules and laws are easily ignored (reminds me a little of China and its corrupt officials just a little). Someday I might even feel inclined to write that story. The little farm was neglected as one might imagine when the owner prefers drink over everything else.
It had a few Holstein cows that were milked in an old barn. The barn was old and worn out, I mean really worn out; it has a plank floor that had been worn by the years of cows hooves walking on them, it was caked and crusted with many years of cow manure that couldn’t be scraped from the planks no matter how hard you tried. The walls were not air tight by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn’t very sanitary and might even be considered quite scary if you were afraid of spiders. The space between the bottom of the barn and the ground was a nice hiding/living space for the various vermin that live in WY, like skunks. The money made from this little enterprise wasn’t much but it had paid for my mother’s family needs along with the money my grandmother earned working in the cheese factory processing milk into cheese. Honestly, if you believe the jokes, the farm paid for drink and the cheese factory paid for everything else that the little family needed.
When we moved to that little farm we were asked to help take care of it on those occasions when the drink impeded my grandfather’s ability to care for it properly, and we ended up buying it from my grandparents and running it. It meant lots of work. It meant that we were also forced to bring the production standards up to the regulations that went into effect shortly before we started taking care of it ourselves. We had to build a new barn and we quit shipping milk in cans and started shipping milk in bulk. The inspectors came regularly and we produced milk to the “B” standard. It was good enough to make it into cheese but it wasn’t good enough to sell it to drink. Now there is nothing wrong with “B” standard milk, it is probably better than most milk that is milked in China right now. It was produced at a standard that was 100’s of times better than my grandparents did; and I drank lots of it during those years of milking cows. There really is nothing like skimming the cream off the top of a gallon bottle that just came out of the refrigerator and then mixing the remaining contents up to pour on your cereal. Many a day goes by where I wished I was still drinking that kind of milk instead of the pasteurized stuff we get at the grocery store.
The milk was cooled and temperature controlled using a refrigerated system until it was picked up. Granddad put his in a can and put those cans in a pool of water that was cooled by running water into it from the tap, so in the winter it was colder than it was in the summer, kind of opposite of what you would want to do. But, it was as good as you could do. It was done that way for as long as anyone could remember. My mother told stories of her childhood that what was kept for the family was actually cooled in a little spring just down the hill from the house. I actually lived the same way that first summer we moved back to Star Valley because we moved on short notice and other arrangements had not been made to live otherwise.
When we moved the government was just beginning to get professional about food safety, there were lots of folks that didn’t like the government getting into their business like that. You know that Americans are not very willing to let the Government tell them what to do, even when they recognize that it is really the best thing. China is now in that situation of transition.The transition will put many of these little farmers producing milk out of business because they will not be able to invest in their little farms, they can’t invest and still live. The inspection process will be monumental in this country. A task I doubt will ever be accomplished. The problem is I think many of the Chinese consumers will feel the same way. The government knows that they have to create a trust between the producers and the consumers. China has a lot of change that has to occur to support that transition. There is a well established distrust built into the culture of China that will certainly stand in their way.
They told us when we moved here that China is about relationships. The family is the ultimate, and those connections are the pinnacle of trust. When you are accepted you get into their circle but you will never be in to the point that you are trusted like family. The rest of the people are not trusted, in my opinion, they are distrusted or looked at like they were just another animal to be used and manipulated. Just one man’s opinion. The Chinese dairy industry or at least some of them have done nothing in the past to change that opinion or to foster trust, and in fact scandals have only reinforced this distrust. The ability to regulate and inspect China’s dairy process have proven difficult or impossible.
The Chinese that have means import the milk products they consume, the expats do the same. They don’t buy local, they don’t even buy milk byproducts that are from within China. The Chinese don’t trust Chinese. The trust will return slowly and at some cost; the ability to say when would require more than prophetic ability.
It is a noble goal, increasing the consumption of milk and products, that will certainly help the Chinese of the future. The science of milk consumption is pretty well proven. Sure there are those that would argue that milk or milk products shouldn’t be consumed, they call themselves vegan and don’t consume any animal products. I scoff at their logic and know that there is no way I could live without milk or eggs or cheese or well, meat. I guess that I could give up some of those, and in China I have just about given up on red meat, but I can’t imagine life without milk or cheese or yogurt (yoghurt as it is spelled here). I certainly miss going to the corner store and buying a cool and refreshing milk product, like chocolate milk. I look forward to my visits to the US and having a cool glass of milk with my chocolate chip cookies.
If you haven’t tried that one, you have to do it; regardless of how you feel about dairy. It is a real treat.