Friday, February 29, 2008

A Swedish Milk Shortage

I go through a lot of milk. It is delicious. Unfortunately, I seem to go through it too quickly here in Sweden. Not because I have increased my milk consumption. If anything it has probably decreased, which is a shame. Because milk is pretty good. But I digress.

I go through milk seemingly so quickly because it comes in small packages. The largest I have yet to find at any of the normal grocery stores is 1.5 liters. That’s less than half a gallon for those of you scoring at home. That doesn’t last long with as much milk as I put on my cereal every morning.

I just want a big jug of milk that will last a while. But I can’t have it. And it makes me wonder. How do large families survive? I have two brothers. We dominated gallons of milk in our prime. My poor mom would buy enough gallons to fill a small bathtub full of milk. What if we had stayed in Sweden? Surely we would have brittle bones, skinny shoulders, and little muscle mass. Much like most Swedish men actually. I kid, I kid. Kind of. Swedish men are skinny.

Anyway, the logical solution would be to buy two at a time. Maybe three. But they don’t last as long. I don’t know if the pasteurization process is different or what the deal is, but they just don’t last. And for all the deliciousness of milk there’s not much worse than a sour liter of milk. And so I make numerous trips to the grocery store.

This is obviously a conspiracy. Because I am unable to just buy a gallon of milk. There are just so many delicious things in grocery stores. And who am I to pass up a deal? I blame my mother for this by the way. Bargains have no chance against a woman with three boys, two fridges, and two freezers. Damn you NBC, damn you.

But in all seriousness, this is something I have really struggled to get used to. The large grocery trips are just not as common. There is more planning involved. More quick trips for just a couple of items. And I don’t think I really like it. I much prefer the one fell swoop approach to grocery shopping. But so it goes.

Welcome to Sweden. And Swedish grocery stores.

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  1. Skinny shoulders and little muscle mass? That's funny considering that Swedes are one of the most milk drinking people in the world.

  2. maybe they get skinny from running to the store so often to buy more milk???

  3. hey, watch the way you talk to NBC!!

  4. Your comment about bargains had me laughing. When you say NBC do you mean the channel?? I didn't realize getting milk was such a problem over there. Kind of crazy.

  5. wahhhhhh? I hear ya man. I HATE not being able to buy gallons of milk over here in sweden..whats the deal? all we get are like..2 sizes..pah!

    I also hate the short trips too....i just miss my stores back home...go once a week or every 2 weeks and im set!! all the food i need and maybe i might MIGHT have to pick up milk...sometimes

  6. I live pretty much right next to two grocery shops so I have no problem going there often. besides you always meet someone you know! And if the milk don't last good in one or two packages why would it last better in a big package?

  7. oh how I miss ICA, and oh how I remember the milk dilemma. I never realized I didnt have enough milk until 2 seconds before I needed it for my cereal! The last thing i wanted to do at 8am in the morning was to skate down the hill in solna to get to the ICA!

    Hairy, now that I remember that would be a pain in the ass to lug milk and oj gallons along with the rest of the groceries the 1/2 mile back up the hill! It's one thing if you are driving to the store, quite another when you are on foot.
    Oh, and I love how the groceries stores in Sweden charge you 5 krona for plastic bags...we need to do that here in the states to cut down on our waste!

  8. Those 5 kronor often goes to organisations like Röda korset, UNICEF etc. Is that so much to ask of you? to give 5 kronor that will go to poor people that don't even have 5 kronor?

  9. that's a great idea. i think aldi's does that.

  10. anonymous- If you read what I said "we need to do that here in the states to cut down on our waste"

    I THINK groceries stores in the US should charge for will cut down on our waste.

  11. i think some grocery stores here in the US are thinking of charging and encouraging people to use canvas reusable bags. good idea!

  12. I do not think the average Swedish refrigerator is overly suited for 1-gallon jugs of milk. It won't fit into the refrigerator door compartments, and one might have difficulty getting it to fit into the shelves.

    The 1-liter cartons of milk fit like a glove into the refrigerator door compartments.

    And the (lack of) size of the average Swedish refrigerator is also why making large grocery trips are not all that suitable.

    Of course there are exceptions, but most refrigerators I have seen in this country are not big enough to be practical for the large/infrequent grocery trips.

  13. @ anonymous – I love that no matter how jokingly I say it someone has a statistic to prove me wrong. I would love to hear the stat that backs that up, the source of that stat, and also a top 10 list of the most milk drinking countries in the world. You know. For research.

    @anonymous – this is very possible. Good point.

    @anonymous (probably NBC herself) – I’m just saying. It’s a compliment really.

    @rinalyn – actually NBC happens to me my dear mother. It just so happens she has some glorious (depending on your TV watching habits) initials.

    @Mrs. CeCrux – agreed. Maybe we are just spoiled Americans who are unable to adapt. Or maybe big grocery store trips are just so much better. I say the latter.

    @anonymous – it’s true I suppose that the short grocery store trips could be seen as a social outing. And you’re right it wouldn’t last longer in a bigger package. That’s why I made the comment about the pasteurization process possibly being different.

    @Travis – seriously, the milk dilemma only becomes a dilemma when you need it. For me around 7 am. Which is lame. And you make a good point about the walk. But think of the muscle mass that would be built by hauling gallons of milk up a hill.

    The grocery store thing is interesting. You get real good at bringing your own bags with you. Except sometimes you need to be careful. The older bags can be haggard which doesn’t bode well for the trip back when the bag is filled to breaking.

    @anonymous – read carefully. He liked it.

    @rinalyn – I know that IKEA in Tempe, Arizona does it also.

    @Travis – some people struggle apparently.

    @anonymous – Interesting to see how that will go over. Probably a good time to do it with the green movement gaining momentum.

    @Tim – you make a good point. A gallon would definitely not fit in the door. But my 1.5 liter package actually doesn’t even fit in the door of my fridge either. Which is pretty lame. And you are exactly right about the size of everything. I just think it is so interesting because it really does lead to quite a few more grocery trips.

    @everyone who commented - I must say – I am really surprised by the number of comments this post elicited. Seems to have struck bit of a nerve. I am constantly amazed at what people relate to.

  14. #1 anonymous

    no it wasn't meant to "prove you wrong" or anything. i just thought it was a bit funny and a bit ironic taht you said that since Swedes drink a lot of milk. I have absolutely no statistics to prove this, I just 29 years experience of living in Sweden. There might be a lot of countries that drink more milk but whatever... chill out, I just thought it was funny and a bit ironic. I know you joked when you said it, or half-joked... I actually like your blog,a s well!

  15. I guess it all depends on what you're used to.. =) I'm glad we don't have those gallons over here! When I lived in the States it freaked me out how long the milk lasted, being used to an expiration date of about a week.. I didn't drink any milk at all (except in coffee) for almost two years. And I LOVE milk.

    And don't get me started on the bread... Bread is NOT meant to last as long as it does over there.... =)


  16. @anonymous # ett - my fault. I got a little fired up. there have been a few posts lately where my every sentence has been scrutinized and attacked for not having accurate numbers. thatnks for clearing your comment up actually. I apreciate it.

    @anonymous - go to france my friend. There they flashpastuerize. That means that the milk can be kept at room temperature forever. Or at least forever as opposed to what I am used to. It's frightening.

    I actually haven't noticed the bread thing to be honest. Except for a little extra humidity then good old Colorado. but I got used to the humidity at university. or not used to but learned what in the hell it was and why my towel took nearly all day to completely dry.

  17. so I felt kind of bad about being a bit defensive. and I searched for milk consumption but couldn't really find much, however I did learn that in 2004 the per capita intake of milk for Americans was 21.2 gallons or just over 80 liters. And now we know. Thanks agricultural marketing resource center (

  18. Here are some statistics from the Interantional Dairy Federation:

    Table 1. Per Capita Consumption of Milk and Milk Products in Various Countries, 2006 data.
    Country Liquid Milk Drinks (Litres)
    Finland 183.9
    Sweden 145.5
    Ireland 129.8
    Netherlands 122.9
    Norway 116.7
    Spain (2005) 119.1
    Switzerland 112.5
    United Kingdom (2005) 111.2
    Australia (2005) 106.3
    Canada (2005) 94.7
    European Union (25 countries) 92.6
    Germany 92.3
    France 92.2
    New Zealand (2005) 90.0
    United States 83.9
    Austria 80.2
    Greece 69.0
    Argentina (2005) 65.8
    Italy 57.3
    Mexico 40.7
    China (2005) 8.8

    Source: International Dairy Federation,

  19. Those figures pretty much confirm what I've always suspected: That swedes are huge milk drinkers. I'm a swede myself and not that much of a milk drinker, but it seems everyone else is...

  20. good work to anonymous for pulling the stats. and I love that there is an international dairy federation.

    it seems for the most part northern europe is all about the milk.

  21. Ack...I can't touch this after researching what milk really does to our bodies... :o)

  22. At last Finland comes first in something! Other than the alcoholics statistics :P Nice job, Finland!


  23. @isle dance - but its just so delicious.

    @robban - poor Finland.

  24. First I want to say that I just discovered your blog and I love it. Being a swede myself it's very interesting to see what people from outside thinks of sweden. And you write well also.

    About the size of milk packages; It seems to me everything in the states are bigger compared to swedish stuff. I've only been there once but actually that was one of the bigger impressions i got from there.

    So not just milk packages, also the beds, the refrigerators, the doors, the chairs, the cars (especially the cars!) almost everything seems to be in a larger size in America... maybe because americans in general are bigger than swedes? As not every swede is skinny, not every american are fat - but i DO think its a difference in general body size, where americans are the heavier ones.

    It makes me wonder... is things smaller in for example japan, where the people are smaller too?

  25. @izi - glad you found the blog. and youre right. a lot of stuff is bigger in the us. you bring up a good point abou japan. and I have no idea. but it would be interestign to know if the size of packaging, cars, beds, etc. is relevant to the average size of people in the country.

  26. Dude I recently found this blog and have been blowing it up. Love it. Makes me feel better. An outlet for my (Swedes: Lol -laughing out loud). But I gotta go with Sweden on this one. American food portions of everything are too big, adding to fatness. Studies show now that the smaller the plate you eat from or package, the less you will eat. And, more importantly, the pastuerization. Yes, it is different than in the US. It is much milder, lower heat. This means the milk has more of its natural enzymes, the vitamins have not been destroyed too much, and it is more like real milk. American regular milk is a ruined food. It is one of my favorite things about living here. In the US I used to buy raw milk from a local farmer. At least in Sweden I don't have to go through all that trouble. Yay Swedes!

  27. Btw, the milder pastuerization means that it does not last as long. As it is more fresh, more natural, it will spoil quicker. And yes, that is a good thing. Its like food with preservatives. It last longer, but what is it doing to your body?

  28. @m8surf - glad youve been enjoying it. I did manage to find a 2 liter package at wily's so I was pretty pleased about that.

    Youre definitely right about the portion size American vs. Swedish. But I will say about the portion size, Greece dominates even the American portion size. It was absolutely amazing. I had never seen anything like it.

  29. I'm some months behind but this post has made me smile because one of the things that annoy me the most about living here are the constant small trips to the store... Ah, but we will survive :)

  30. yeah its just one of those little things tat gets a bit annoying.

    but youre right. we wil survive. the swedes manage to at least.

  31. You comment on milk packages is funny. I've lived in the U.S. for a decade, and yes, it's nice o be able to swoop up an entire gallon of milk at the grocery store. On the balance, however, I prefer Swedish milk packages. How do you stack plastic containers in your refrigerator? Can't be done. Much easier to take maximum advantage of the space in the refrigerator if the milk is sold in brick paper containers. Foldable paper containers also take up less space in the trash. If your milk gets spoiled, chances are that the temperature in your fridge is too high. The colder, the longer the milk lasts, but has to be above freezing point, of course, and has to be balanced against the cost of electricity.

  32. "The large grocery trips are just not as common."

    Huh? They aren't? I have lived for many years in both countries and never noticed any difference, although I think it depends on where you choose to do your grocery shopping. In many parts of Stockholm (in case that's the place you are comparing with), the stores aren't that large. In fact, many are quite small. Real estate is expensive, and a lot of people in the inner city don't have a car, but leaving the inner city of Stockholm, you can find the kind of large grocery stores that you are used to from back home.

    Maybe the real difference is that in many parts of the U.S., life is not meant to be lived without a car, while in Swedish cities, it is more up to you.

    You have a point in that the concept of walking to the grocery store seems alien to most Americans. People would stare at you like you are some kind of weirdo if you do that, and American paper grocery bags have no handles (!) so you have to sort of hug the darn bag... It doesn't exactly get any less weird when you discover that you are normally not expected to pack your own groceries, a U.S.-style convenience that one quickly gets spoiled with and take as natural and not weird at all (which it isn't - just a great convenience).

    Just don't get me started on other subjects :-), such as American newspapers not being stapled in the back, so the newspaper kind of falls apart in front of your eyes while you read it... Why? I mean, how many cents could it possibly cost to put two staples in the back of a newspaper? Your magazines aren't like that (thanks God!), so why are nespapers like that? Makes no sense to me.

    And what's up with your units? Gallons, Farenheits, pounds, miles, feet... How can you possibly convert in your head between various units? In the rest of the world it is easy. For example, one liter of water weighs one kilogram and has the dimensions 1x1x1 decimeter. Deci, centi, milli, micro, nano, pico, etc., and deka, hekto, kilo, mega, gia, tera, and so on to get the number of zeroes. Simple, logical, international.

    Water freezes at zero Celsius and boils at 100. Even your paper size differs from the rest of the world... You favor "letter size" while just about every other country on the planet uses A4. Why? An A0 paper has the area one square meter. Fold it once and you get an A1, fold it again, and you get an A2, and so on. Simple, logical, and international standard.

    Oh, how could I forget? The beeps in audible media. In the U.S., certain words and expressions are considered so shameful and somehow harmful to children (!) that they are censored away. Does it stop there? Noooo, naked breasts on French wine bottles had to be covered before being allowed on the U.S. market, and a Swedish novelist has recently been demanded to rewrite certain sections of her books, or the book will not be marketed in the U.S. because the sexuality was considered to explicit. After having live for many years in the U.S., I have yet to get an explanation for why naked breasts are somehow considered harmful to children... Hmm, and I always thought that the whole point with breast was to feed children...

    I obviously got on a roll here, but Americans just have no idea how weird or at least peculiar certain aspects of their great culture can be perceived as by non-Americans. And even the president refers to an invisible deity called "God"... In Sweden, a candidate to the nations highest office would probably lose credibility and by many be regarded as being one card short of a deck if he or she started to talk about "God". You got the love the cultural differences!

  33. Its true, there are a lot of differences. And they are glorious. Except for the newspaper one. Because you are absolutely right. Why the US can't figure out that the staple is well worth its weight in gold when it comes to newspapers is beyond me.

  34. This might be a bit late, but I still wanted to comment.

    First of all, GREAT BLOG! I really enjoy reading it, even though I've only read it for about a week or so.

    I read somewhere that swedes drink about 100 liters of milk/person every year.

  35. thats good work. 2 liters per week. which makes it even more strange that it is so ahrd to find larger containers.

  36. I love reading this blog so much! My dream is to be able to move to Sweden one day, so all of this information is so invaluable, even the simple things like milk!

    I'm from Ontario Canada, and we buy our milk in packages of 3 bags that hold cumulatively 4L of milk. I never realized milk was only bagged in my region until I lived in the US and missed cutting the tips of the bag to let the milk out.

  37. see, I could deal with packages like that, its these little guys that just go so quick...

    hopefully you can move over here someday... and now youll be prepared for the culture shock that is milk packaging.

  38. M8smurf was right on the money. Your problem isnt the size of the container, but how long the milk lasts. And the longer the expirationdate, the worse the quality. As a big milkdrinker myself, i´d much rather go to the store once in a while and get really natural and healthy milk, then something that lasts for a month. If bacteria wont touch it, im not sure i will either. Just my opinion though.. / David

  39. I can't drink milk anymore... it's kind of a bummer.