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Milk: A Staple, A ‘Perfect Food’, and An Allergen

Milk. In Western societies, milk is considered a staple (along with bread) and goes well with many things: cereal, coffee, sauces. But as the article from BBC found out, this has only been a recent phenomenon.

“…Cheese and butter have longer histories as universally consumed goods. For centuries, they’ve been a good way of preserving milk for later, since both last much longer than fresh milk does…
But fresh milk on its own was a baby food, one that grew more and more dangerous to consume as it moved farther from the farm where it was produced, a breeding ground for bacteria and sometimes adulterated with chalk and water by unscrupulous re-sellers. Its unlikely rise as a perfect food – something to sit alongside bread – is something that historian Deborah Valenze traces to several seemingly disparate factors that happened to coincide near the end of the 19th Century and into the 20th.”

The acceptance of milk as a staple was born out of the age of health food and health movement. During the age of health food, there was growing interest in treating the sick through simple food. This idea was coined by John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of corn flakes (surprise, surprise!) and head doctor of the famed sanitarium in Michigan. The health movement came about due to the rise in infant mortality in larger cities. It was attributed to the fact that old milk was breeding ground for bacteria and farmers could not transport milk from the farm to the cities quick enough for consumption. The call for safer standards and practices brought about practices that lasts even till today i.e. pasteurization of milk.

In the 20th century, advances in the knowledge of human nutrition revealed milk to not only have fat, carbohydrate and protein, but also other vitamins and minerals. This propagated the idea that drinking milk was able to correct deficiencies in the diet. Of course, things spiralled from then on: such as “having a glass of milk every morning to strengthen your bones”.

Fast forward to today, the BBC article had this to say:

“…The abundance of fat in whole milk, especially, has raised eyebrows. Large studies have failed to find associations between milk consumption and fewer bone fractures, one of the supposed benefits. It’s possible to have a healthy diet without milk at all. But we still think of it as a fundamental food.”

On top of that, we know that human’s ability to digest lactose in milk decreases with age. Milk then becomes an allergen to the body (especially processed milk), clogging up sinuses and irritating the gut. The question remains: where will milk go from here?

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