Threat Or Menace: Breast Milk

Grist has a fascinating Q&A up with Miriam Simun, a grad student who’s making cheese out of human breast milk. Simun says responses to her project vary: “Everything from ‘this is such a great idea’ to ‘this is the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.’ Overall, response has been pretty overwhelmingly positive, which I didn’t really expect. Maybe it’s New York — we’re pretty adventurous eaters.”

So, where does the milk come from?

I used two different sources. One woman lives here in New York, and she very kindly donated it to me — she has been overproducing, filling up her freezer, and was finding it painful to just throw it away. I purchased the milk from the another woman, and she shipped it to me in ice, from Wisconsin. I am working to make a delicious Wisconsin human cheddar. I found both the women on an online marketplace for breast milk — where women regularly arrange to sell and donate their milk. It’s pretty interesting: women set the price of their breast milk depending on if they provide blood work, and also the health of their diet.

Simun’s use of extra milk seems logical, to a certain extent. Breast milk is the only animal milk that’s evolved specifically for human consumption, and a woman producing enough for her child is often actually overproducing. It doesn’t require much in the way of extra labor, or special housing, or grain, or antibiotics.

On the other hand, a lack of regulation and questions about provenance are fair. Diet and lifestyle choices vary greatly from woman to woman, as do health issues. Were breast milk to become an acceptable food for adults, people would surely start demanding very exact information about the women providing it.

Not that it’s likely we’d get that far, since breast milk has such a huge taboo attached to it in American society. In a joking tweet, I hypothesized that people are grossed out by breast milk because it comes from women. I got a variety of ‘no’ answers, and one person pointed out that we live in an antiseptic society that abhors most bodily fluids.

So, sure, breast milk cheese probably isn’t going to be welcomed with open arms. But I’m not going to complain about anyone who’s investigating alternatives to our current, unsustainable food system.

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Filed under Food and Drink, Threat or Menace

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