Out May 8. 2018

Milk!: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas - Mark Kurlansky

Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley


                I have to have milk with breakfast unless I am getting breakfast at work.  But at home, a glass milk, cold milk, and then coffee.  I need that nice cool glass of milk.


                But I didn’t know much about milk until I read this book.


                Kurlansky’s book is a tour of milk in history, but also a tour of yogurt, cheese, and ice cream. 


                And it has recipes!


                Kurlansky starts with ancient history, exploring when milking first developed as well as pointing out that being lactose intolerant is actually the biological norm and those of us who aren’t are freaks.  He also notes the belief that where the milk came from was important – in short, there was a reason why Zeus couldn’t keep it in his tunic.  There are interesting discussions about whether milk was a meat and why butter stinker is an insult.


                I also learned that aurochsen is the correct plural for more than one auroch.


                The book doesn’t just focus on Europe and America.  In fact, Asia (and not just India) gets much attention.  Perhaps the Southern hemisphere doesn’t get as much attention, though Australia gets covered.


                What is most interesting is how Kurlansky shows how certain debates keep recurring, for instance breast-feeding, which he links to the idea of men trying to control women’s bodies.  This makes sense when you think about it, not only in terms of child rearing but also in terms of what a woman can do.  The bit about the sexy milkmaid also makes sense too, come to think of it.


                There are few weak points in the book.  The one that sticks out the most are the cow illustrations.  Now, look, the illustrations are far, far better than what I could do, but in general even though the drawings are of different breeds of cows, the illustrations are pretty interchangeable.  Still, far better than what I could do.


                The other weak part is the almost lack of science.  But this seems to be because different studies contradict each other.  Yet, one did want a little more scientific fact, if possible, about the contradicting claims.  To be fair, Kurlansky is brutally honest about how a dairy farm works.


                These flaws aside, the book is charming.  You can learn all sorts of facts about ice cream, milk, and ice cream.


                Did I say ice cream twice?


                For instance, the inventor of the hand cranked ice cream maker (Nancy Johnson) and the where the soda fountain was invented, and the fact that Philadelphia is “a city that liked to brand its food”.  The focus on ice cream is more on the idea and popularity, with more detail given to smaller businesses than bigger ones such Breyers.


                I haven’t tried any of the recipes, though many of them do look quite good and yummy.