Monday, September 29, 2008

Boob Milk Renaissance

Okay, with a title like this one I know I'm asking for links from a million weird Google searches, but I just thought I had to comment on what seems to me to be an unusual trend going on in the world.

Readers, I believe the news cycle is experiencing somewhat of a boob milk renaissance.

Now some of this is might not be all that new to some of you. But, from my perspective, there have been an unusually high number of stories that have gained currency in the past few weeks involving mother's milk.

Now this is a subject that I have gained way, way more experience in that I had ever thought possible just a year ago. It's become part of the fabric of my life, as well as part of the fabric of my bed, clothes and couch, if our couch were made of fabric and not pleather.

In short it's become somewhat of an obsession around BBD Manor, and not just for The Golden Child. First, when she started nursing we, of course, were crazy for her to suckle off the breast. Now we are equally crazy to get her to suckle off the breast, and, as already noted, take a sippy cup. This is working, somewhat, sometimes, okay. But it gets everywhere, and sticks to everything. In a way it's made my bond with my wife that much more intimate, but in a way never foreshadowed on The Love Boat.

But, anyway, back to the main topic at hand. The boob milk renaissance.

The first story that caught my, and many other, eyes was the story of a restaurateur in Switzerland, who was eager to create a menu featuring human breast milk. According to website "The Storchen restaurant, in Iberg on the outskirts of Winterthur, had advertised for mothers to sell their breast milk for the special menu. But breastfeeding counsellors had labelled the project unethical." Hmm, is there a group I am unaware of out there. People for the Ethical Treatment of ... People?

The restaurant is owned by a man named Hans Locher, and he planned to serve up mommy milks in soups, antelope steaks and in the Swiss delicacy "Z├╝rcher Geschnetzeltes – bite sized pieces of meat in a creamy sauce," according to the website.

Not to just rip someone else's copy, but I have to add this detail: "Locher found inspiration 35 years ago by concocting some dishes using his wife's surplus milk following the birth of his daughter. He finally decided to go public with his culinary novelty after noticing a lot of recent mothers in the neighbourhood."

Wow! He noticed a lot of mothers in the neighborhood. Who needs more than that? This raises all sorts of interesting questions. Such as: how was he planning to approach said women? Wouldn't their own children then go hungry? He sees a bunch of new moms around and immediately thinks of food? What sort of efficient, and reliable milking system is this guy thinking of putting in place? Is this kosher?

Authorities shut Locher down, not surprisingly, saying, in typically straightforward, Swiss fashion that "humans are not on the authorized list of milk suppliers."

You might think that that would be, as they say, that. But it was not to be. Picking up the thread People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in the U.S. then took Locher's idea and tried to push it here. Their mission? To get Ben & Jerry's to replace cow's milk in their ice cream with that from lactating women.

Of course this screams of a publicity stunt, and it is, but at least it's an effective one. The press release was written by Tracy Reiman, executive vice president at PETA. And this is some of what it said: "If Ben and Jerry's replaced the cow's milk in its ice cream with breast milk, your customers-and cows-would reap the benefits ... Using cow's milk for your ice cream is a hazard to your customer's health. Dairy products have been linked to juvenile diabetes, allergies, constipation, obesity, and prostate and ovarian cancer." It goes on, in a similar vein.

Of course all this makes me think of another short story that I read when I was in high school. In the last entry I name-checked When It Changed, by Joanna Russ. But the Ben & Jerry's issue raises to mind a story written by Piers Anthony called In The Barn. In this story a man wanders into some alternate reality where women have become enslaved and are milked like cows. Of course a bunch of crazy, somewhat pornographic stuff happens in the story that I won't get into in a family blog. Anyway, that's what all this reminds me of. (Both stories, by the way, are in the excellent short story collection Again Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison. I recommend.)

Obviously the idea of replacing all the milk B&J use with human milk is quite absurd. After all, if this took place dairy farming would quite suddenly transform into a much more glamorous, but almost certainly illicit, profession driving up supply and legal costs. Then there's the other issue of whether women who smoke, drink and eat Doritos would still be considered "organic."

Finally, the last story that's arisen recently is a bit less fun. As you may have read, China has seen an epidemic of tainted formula, that has so far sickened 54,000 children and killed four. This epidemic has taken place because working women in China have fewer and fewer opprtunities for breast feeding their children, food regulation is non-existent and formula is seen as a status symbol; as it was here when I was a child.

In a twist, those women that are breast feeding are now selling their extra milk, making far more, in some cases, than they could actually working. Who would've thought that in the modern, gleaming, industrialized China that wet nurse would become one of the hottest career options? I guess there are still some things technology can't improve upon.

In response UNICEF and the World Health Organizations have recommended, yup, the good old breast for babies up to six months. It really is best, after all. Just not in my soup.


rosewood said...

These stories, while not new to me, still shock me. From the absurd in Switzerland, to the even more absurd here in the good ole' US of A, and the horrific in China.
I know I'm not going to be a milk cow for anyone besides my baby. :)

On another note, happy Rosh Hashana (hopefully I'm not butchering the spelling of it!)!

David Serchuk said...

Hi Rosewood,
Thank you and Happy New Year back atcha. I am sure you spelled it right by the way. Yeah, it's weird to see how such stories all of a sudden gain so much currency. Does it really have much to do with being a dad? Maybe not so much. But it was a slow parenting news day!


alexlady said...

i don't know about the chemistry, but something makes me doubt that you could really make quality ice cream out of human lactate. sauces, soups, sure, i buy it. but i don't think it would work for ice cream. and you raise excellent points, WHERE ARE THEY GONNA GET IT?

not to mention the fact that if all dairy farms were closed down, there would be tons and tons of then-useless machinery winding up in our landfills. hooray!

anyway, i don't know if you've had the ben and jerry's cinnamon bun flavor but it's the best.

Rachel said...

What also made me sad about the China story is that some of the women who are selling their milk no longer have their children. They interviewed a woman who had a second child, a daughter, and put her up for adoption. Now, she is selling her milk. Makes me wonder what her daughter is drinking.

David Serchuk said...

Hi Alexlady,
I'm more of a Phishfood guy myself, although we've largely been off dairy over here at BBD Mansions due to Stella's eternally upset stomach. Mom out of necessity, me out of solidarity. But, yeah, I don't think PETA thought all the consequences of their actions through! :-) Or ;-), if I'm being Sarah Palin.

Yes, the story in China is horrible from every angle. It's astonishing to think that women felt forced to sell children.

Also, to me, it's so sad that they received very little in the way of education about the benefit of breast feeding versus formula. Not that I'm a breast feeding zealot, but if these mothers knew better than at least there woudldn't be as much social pressure to go to formula.