The Developing and Controversial Industry of Cow’s Milk
Often described as “Nature’s Perfect Food”, milk is the foundation of life for all newborn mammals (Velten 10). Milk has played a central role in the American cultural and industrial landscape over the last century, binding farms with urban consumers, placing regulators at odds with producers, and inspiring a constant dance between producers, consolidators, nutritionists and end-users about how it is marketed and sold (Smith-Howard 368). As I have become older I have gained a new yet expected intolerance to lactose. I never used to have a problem when I was little but as food economies are changing, so are our products. By the 1950s, consumers demanded standards for dairy products while also developing a growing concern about health issues caused by dairy fats (Smith-Howard 368). This puts all of us at risk for certain diseases including osteoporosis and heart disease. The females of all mammal species can produce milk but cow milk dominates commercial production. Cow’s milk was initially intended only for baby cows. It is the primary source of nutrition for young mammals before they are able to digest other types of food. Humans are the only species that drink milk after infancy.
Milk is the first food of mammals, providing all the necessary nutrients for survival and initial growth until weaning (Velten 10). It is only a small percentage of the world’s population that actually drinks milk. Most people prefer processed dairy products, such as butter, cheese and yogurt. Cow’s milk is probably the most controversial of foods. Its qualities and associated
dangers have been debated since civilization began, which has resulted in milk either being demonized as a ‘white poison’ or exalted as a ‘white elixir’. This situation has arisen because milk became a victim of its own success. As its popularity grew and fewer people had access to their own animals, milk had to be transported and this left it wide open to man-made abuses (Velten 7).
Humans first learned to regularly consume milk following the domestication of animals during the Neolithic Revolution. This development occurred around the world from as early as 9000–7000 BC in Southwest Asia to 3500–3000 BC in the Americas. The most important dairy animals were first domesticated in Southwest Asia, although domestic cattle have previously been independently derived from wild aurochs populations. Initially, animals were kept for meat, and archaeologist Andrew Sherratt has suggested that dairying, along with the exploitation of domestic animals for hair and labor, began in a separate revolution in the 4th millennium BC.
Humans are the only species to consume milk past weaning. Part of the reason is that milk was available to our ancient ancestors. The domestication of animals such as the sheep, goat, cow, camel, and horse allowed our ancestors access to a limited supply of milk. This meagre supply...