Archive for September 2008

Milk and Ice Cream Like Mama Used to Make?

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

In the “strange but true” department this week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) approached Ben & Jerry’s with a novel idea: make ice cream out of breast milk.

Said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman:

The fact that human adults consume huge quantities of dairy products made from milk that was meant for a baby cow just doesn’t make sense…Everyone knows that ‘the breast is best,’ so Ben & Jerry’s could do consumers and cows a big favor by making the switch to breast milk.

Makes me wonder what Reiman puts on her cereal in the morning.

The health benefits of breast milk are well documented, but no one knows what those benefits would be to adults and children who have been weaned from the teat. Besides, it just sounds…weird.

Says Donna at champuru.net, who is expecting her first child any day now:

I intend to breastfeed Baby Champuru for at least 6-12 months, knowing the health benefits for her. But would I consider spiking Hubby’s breakfast cereal with my breast milk or using it to cook up some corn chowder for the next family potluck? Um, no.

Ben & Jerry’s declined, of course, but I wonder what would have happen had they taken PETA up on that offer. Advertising Age outlines a few practical difficulties:

By some estimates, it takes 12 gallons of cow’s milk to produce one gallon of ice cream, and with a lower fat content, mother’s milk might be less efficient. The Ben & Jerry’s spokesman declined to release volume numbers for competitive reasons, but Information Resources Inc. data, not counting Wal-Mart or foodservice outlets, indicates the brand sold more than 73 million pints of ice cream in the 52 weeks ended Sept. 7. Even assuming a woman could supply enough milk for a pint a day, that would still require more than 200,000 to contribute to the effort full time, not counting the needs of Wal-Mart or other outlets.

So let me get this straight. We’re going to ask 200,000 nursing women, at any one time, to express their extra breast milk (obviously, their children come first) each day and make it available to Ben & Jerry’s so it can manufacture its new-fangled breast-milk-based ice cream.

One, unless you put those women under strictly controlled conditions (that is, you feed them the same thing, etc.), and screen it as carefully as you screen the blood supply, you have no way of knowing what’s in that milk. It’s a known fact that nicotine and drugs (even legal prescription or non-prescription drugs) will show up in breast milk. Lord knows what would happen if I took a taste of that ice cream and the mother from whose milk it came had a infection for which she took penicillin, to which I’m allergic. That may, quite literally, be the last time I ever had that ice cream, or ANY ice cream.

Two, given our society, backing breast milk over cow’s milk would put a lot of dairy cows out of work, and possibly onto people’s dinner plates. As Charles Memminger put it, Ben & Jerry’s keeps a lot of Vermony cows from going “to that Big Barbecue in the Sky.” I would rather a live cow giving milk, with all the shortcomings of modern agriculture, than dead cow on my dinner plate. (Don’t get me wrong: I would still eat it, being an omnivore, but if I had to choose…)

And three, I would probably think that a breast-milk based ice cream would be rather unfamiliar to the palates of ice cream connoisseurs. While sorbets and such have been around for hundreds of years, ice cream as such was first seen in 18th century England and its colonies. I would imagine that by then cow milk had become the standard there. Desserts like ice cream can be made from milk of other animals (Turkey has its own version made from goat’s milk), but human milk may render a product that tastes…different.

But what about other attempts to use breast milk? PETA cited the restaurant Storchen, located near Zurich, Switzerland, whose chef, Hans Locher, got the idea (h/t swissinfo.ch) to include breast milk in his restaurant dishes after noticing an influx of new mothers into the neighborhood. (He had previously experimented privately with excess breast milk left over from the birth of his daughter and the results apparently were good…so he says.) He apparently made an offer to those mothers to sell their excess milk so he could realize his dream. But the Swiss government got wise to it and shut down that idea.

I guess the Swiss dairy industry must have gotten spooked as well (after all, the reputation of their signature cheese might be at stake too).

Reading the swissinfo.ch article, it turns out that this wasn’t the first time that breast milk has been attempted in culinary contexts. The sidebar cited an example where a Chinese chef tried the same thing that Locher tried only to be thwarted by the authorities as well.

And it turns out that human breast milk products for sale to Joe Consumer, if not actually tried, has been written about, here and here.

As for me, I think I’ll stick to the kind that comes from Bessie or Lani Moo. I probably will experience a second childhood later in life, but I don’t think I want to go THAT far back.