A wide-ranging history of a surprisingly controversial form of nourishment.
Milk, from humans and a variety of animals, is the subject of the latest enthusiastic investigation by the prolific Kurlansky (Paper: Paging Through History, 2016, etc.), winner of the James Beard Award and Bon Appetit’s Food Writer of the Year Award, among other accolades. For 10,000 years, milk has been “the most argued-over food in human history,” the author asserts, with experts opining about whether milk was fit for human consumption, whether babies should be breast-fed (and by whom—their own mothers or wet nurses), which mammal produced the best milk, whether milk should be pasteurized and homogenized, how cows should be raised and milked, and what effects such interventions as hormones, antibiotics, and genetically modified crops have on the milk we consume. Although many cultures feature milk-based creation myths, breast-feeding has long been a source of contention. Excavations of ancient Roman gravesites have turned up baby milk bottles, indicating that some babies were artificially fed. In the Middle Ages, artificial feeding was common, with numerous recipes for baby formulas; in 1816, one writer advised that babies should be suckled on goats, setting off a trend throughout Europe. Also popular was the employment of wet nurses, who often became live-in domestics. The choice of wet nurse was not simple: Many believed that the baby would inherit the nurse’s disposition and traits; one doctor recommended that “a brunette with her first child, which should be a boy” made the ideal wet nurse. Especially in cities, spoilage, unclean udders, and unsanitary dairies caused illness and a great number of infant deaths. Pasteurization was a solution, but consumers complained about the taste. Debate about the safety of raw milk, much prized by cheese makers and organic farmers, still rages. Kurlansky looks at the production of milk and its uses in liquid and solid form (yogurt, butter, cheese, ice cream, pudding) around the world throughout history and into the present.
Chock-full of fascinating details and more than 100 recipes.