Half pint milk carton


It starts when we are children.

Adults lead by example, paying attention to certain things, and ignoring others.

By the time we grow up, we have an almost completely subconscious, in-built hierarchy of what should be seen as “important”. The rest becomes invisible.

On their first day in the history classes I used to teach, I always began by asking kids if they paid attention to the world around them.

All of them said “Of course we do!”

I would then ask them if they had had milk for breakfast.  In their tea, on their cereal.  Except for a few Vegans, most had.

Then I asked them if they read the things on cereal boxes and milk cartons.  Again, most said “Sure!” (this was before everyone had smartphones to scroll through).

“What does it say on a carton of milk?”

“Um, milk obviously.”

“What else?”

“The brand of milk!”


By this point, usually only half of the class was still engaged.

“Pasteurised!” a few shouted.

“You all know what that means, right?”

And most of them did know.

“Anything else?”

Mostly silence.

“Come on. One more word that’s on almost every milk carton. Anybody?”

Usually one single person would raise their hand eventually, and say “homogenised”.

“Yes! Homogenised. Can anyone here tell us what that means?”


“You’ve all seen that word every day of your life, right?”

Everyone agreed they had.

“And after seeing that word maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of times, you never wondered what it meant?”


I would then go on to explain how in the old days, cream would rise to the top of milk, and people had to shake it really hard to mix the cream fat through the milk.

Homogenisation breaks down fat into tiny particles which can remain in solution.  No shaking, and always creamier milk.  Yay!




This is how I taught kids that there are different levels of human curiosity, different levels of engagement with the world around us, and different levels of obliviousness.

Recognising a carton of milk by its label is enough to navigate a lifetime of breakfasts.

But seeing the word “homogenised”, and caring enough to ask what that word means, opens a door to understanding a lot more about how some things actually work.

And yes, I know, industrial milk processing isn’t the sexiest or most important thing in the world.

But how many other things stare us in the face, every day of our lives, YET WE DO NOT SEE THEM?

I always finished the first day of history class by saying:

“Many of you probably have no great interest in history.  You’re not alone.  Many adults don’t, either.  But history IS important.  History is for helping us to unlearn our obliviousness.”


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *