on October 2, 2011
This book was my reading companion through one whole summer--packing enough punch for the historian in me, but digestible and with enough story to sustain me beyond initial subject interest. Very succinctly, Milk: A Local and Global History traces milk's doubters and champions through a wide range of culinary, nutrition, cultural, religious, childcare, hygiene, and medical practices, mostly in Europe and North America. Though Valenze does not only focus on cow's milk, much of the later story becomes how that substance, not widely drunk in Europe, comes to be a central commodity by the end of the 19th Century there and in many countries around the world. Many of what I think of as contemporary discussions or food issues Valenze bears out to have long roots: breast milk or animal milk (which is better for the child)?; cow's milk versus goat's milk (I was stunned to learn of an earlier prevalence of goat's milk drinking in the US); raw versus pasteurized (a raging debate went on about this in the early 20th Century; I greatly appreciate that Valenze takes no sides in this debate and displays the very real concerns on both sides); Dutch farming practices of building soil three - four hundred years ago (soil building practices now widely advocated in alternative agricultural); the prevalence of milk drinking in India (I assumed this to be a long-standing practice--Valenze shows it as a more recent development); and, the connection between women taking care of milk herds and the introduction of "scientific" management and industrial processes into milk production, leading to the elimination of the milk maid. On a whimsical note, though Valenze does not mention A Clockwork Orange's Moloko Milk Bar, I was surprised to learn of the prevalence of actual milk bars in places like Australia in the 1950s... so, what had once seemed fabricated and fiction through this reading rose to the level of fact. I was also able to extend this to the appearance in the US about the same time of "Dairy Bars" or "Dairy Queens" and the like-- "wholesome" alternatives to alcohol bars.
Far more than just of interest to foodies, this reading will satisfy both the casual and more serious historian of not only food, but of industrialization, globalization, and even epistemology. Digging deeply for the meaning of milk, Valenze ties these shifting meanings to shifts in milk's use and its processes/processing. Through Valenze, we discover milk's move from mysterious substance likened to blood over centuries to its mundane presence: so common as to be unexamined and generally unexplained. Thus, milk's ubiquity certainly begs for such a thorough history to re-sensitize us to the struggle and the complexity of such a substance whose presence many of us take for granted.
on September 21, 2012
I saw this book on the table of a cheesemaker I was visiting in England and ordered it as soon as I got home to the US. It delivered a wonderful, amazingly well written and insightful history that has given me a broader perspective on not only the dairy industry, but on the current state of food regulations and issues.
If you are a food lover, cheesemaker, or in any dairy related industry, I would really encourage you to own and read this book. So many "milk" focused tomes veer into political or philosophical extremes, but Ms. Valenze really did a great job, in my opinion, staying passionately neutral and sharing facts.
Thank you for this great book!!