- coronavirus / COVID-19 / dairy industry / Milk / school closure / School lunch
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The surplus milk problem
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s abrupt decision to call on schools nationwide to shut down starting Monday, March 2nd has spurred criticism from educators and parents, but one initially unforseen victim is the dairy industry.
According to Sankei News, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries reported that out of the 20,000 tons of milk shipped daily, around 2,000 tons, or 10%, are used in school lunches. The school closings will result in 30,000 tons of surplus. While the government wants to prevent waste by turning the surplus milk into skim milk powder, butter, or other dairy byproducts, as reported in Tokyo Sports News, not all processing plants have the equipment to do this.
This means that without a significant increase in purchasing by Japanese consumers, the surplus milk may potentially go to waste.
A call to action on social media
Many Twitter users were quick to respond to this urgency.
For example, in a tweet which has over 196,000 likes and 108,000 retweets at the time of writing, agricultural cooperative adviser Miyabi made the following plea:
"It doesn't matter what brand it is, please buy milk, domestic milk and drink it. It's possible that the milk which was allotted for school lunches will be left over. Dairy cows can't adjust the amount of milk they make. If the milk which is milked from them can't be sold, dairy farmers can't make a living. In the worst case scenario, they can be driven out of business."
Drinking milk in Japan
Japanese people drink far less milk than many other countries in the world. According to data compiled by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Japan only ranked 109th worldwide for milk consumption in 2013 at 73 kg/capita/yr, or less than a third of 17th-ranked United States at 255 kg and 23rd-ranked Australia at 234 kg/capita/yr. In Japan, generally speaking, most people only drink raw milk in early childhood when it is served in school lunches. While milk is used to eat cereal in some families, it's most commonly relegated to occasional use as coffee creamer or baking.
Therefore, while it would be relatively easy to convince consumers in the US or Australia to drink a bit more milk at home, that's a bit of a tough sell in Japan.
A multitude of milk recpies
Resourceful Twitter users, however, quickly found a workaround: if you can't drink it, cook with it! And they began posting recipes which use a lot of milk and dairy products.
Here are a few examples. (All of the tweets below are prefaced with statements explaining the potential waste of surplus milk, but we have removed them in the interest of brevity and to focus on the recipes for the benefit of our readers):
"(...) Heat 1 liter of milk, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a saucepan. Mix over medium heat until separation occurs."
"When the liquid becomes clear, strain through a sieve covered by a cheescloth. If you like it soft, stop here. You can mix it into salads. If you like it harder, wrap it in a cloth and bind it with a rubber band, then drain more water by putting it under a pan or other flat object with a weight on top."
"(...) Gradually blend 50 grams of cream cheese pre-softened in a microwave oven and 4 teaspoons of sugar into 120 ml of milk. Adding a few drops of lemon juice makes it more refreshing. I swear you can drink up a lot of milk this way. It's so tasty!"
"(...) In a microwaveable bowl, add Sapporo Ichiban instant noodles, 200 ml of milk, 220 ml of water and 40 grams of bacon and heat it unwrapped at 600 W for 6 minutes in the microwave. Soften noodles, then heat again for one minute. Add soup pack, sesame seed, 8 grams of butter, one egg yolk, pepper and grated cheese. (...)"
Commenters also drew inspiration from abroad, such as the Georgian specialty Shkmeruli which has recently enjoyed some popularity in Japan:
"(...) Sautee 6 cloves of garlic in a pan with 20 grams of butter until golden, add 350 grams of pre-salted chicken thighs and cook until well browned. Add 300 ml of milk, 70 grams of cream cheese, one cube of chicken bouillon, a pinch of salt, and simmer until liquid thickens. Enjoy with bread and black pepper! Honestly speaking, it's amazingly good."
You'll also find recipes for milk stew, milk pudding, milk jellies, milk caramel and more, often posted with the hashtag #牛乳レシピ (milk recipes).
If these efforts encourage enough people to buy more milk, perhaps waste will be avoided. At the very least, some people will benefit by having new milk-based recipes they can add to their culinary repertoire.