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Season 4.1: Milk

Updated: Jun 15, 2023


an array of white bottles and bags against a black background
An artwork depicting the many vessels of milk on display at the Milk Wellcome Collection exhibit.

This season has come about via many conversations and coincidences. Most excitedly we began discussions late last year with Wellcome Collection about collaborating with them for a series of pieces for the Wellcome Collection Stories around their upcoming exhibition MILK.


We have commissioned five pieces to run in July around the topic of MILK, that delve into the relationships we have with milk and the dairy industry. The pieces will follow milk from the soil that nourishes the grass that nourishes cows, to the communities that alt-mylks can foster. As this project is in partnership with Wellcome Collection Stories, each piece will have a specific health focus (physical, environmental, community) while also interrogating the systems that have developed around milk and the dairy industry.


Some key things that have come up in conversation between us (Chloe & Anna) is the idea of changing landscapes. Agriculture - and especially big agro, like the dairy industry - has changed ‘natural’ landscapes dramatically. When eating or drinking we may think about farming, and understand the connection with soil and seasons but it can be hard to think of landscapes and how that affects communities and ecosystems. These are conversations that are constant with the two of us so it was great to have the opportunity to focus these questions on the subject of Milk.


The story of milk is linked to so much of what we’re interested in, there is of course cheese and Anna’s Cheese magazine, but also how milk was marketed in the late 19th- 20th centuries as a staple of healthy diets in the Western world which is key to Chloe’s research.


The dairy industry is interlinked with colonialism, shaping white settler lands and eradicating indigenous peoples, flora and fauna; it is also a key structure in European food systems and huge industrialisation, homogenised landscapes and the creation of global conglomerates.


What happens to land that needs to sustain and give room to large herds of cattle? What needs to happen to land to build large dairy processing plants?


We are interested in what 'sustainable milk' really looks like and the future of dairy, while investigating the context of the milk industry today.


Milk has a been utilised and promoted by governments as a way to promote healthy diets in-line with a white (Christian) middle class ideal of what ‘healthy’ bodies look like. From birth the milk used to feed infants becomes a status marker. While formula milk was an aspirational product in the early 20th century, it would become stigmatised by the end of the century. Beyond infanthood, cow's milk was championed as the backbone of a healthy diet, at least in much of the Global North.


Historically milk's status as the health food has been used as a way to delegitimise diets and cuisines that don’t prioritise milk as a source of protein and calcium but may include other foods with similar nutritional benefits. While public health may have been the apparent reason for the push for milk consumption in the 20th century, the real benefactors were large operators within the dairy industry.


With all this critical thinking into what milk is or isn’t, and what the industry that creates milk does, it is also important to note that milk, and things made from milk, are ancient food traditions. Most people are still lactose intolerant, and the development of cheese was to find a way to make milk consumable by humans and probably began being made around the same time vessels were developed to hold milk from domesticated animals. Domesticated mammals have been part of farms, families, villages, communities for a long time and therefore many milk traditions exist across the world.


For this season we will be commissioning art-led pieces, in partnership to the more classic ‘Sourced’ style pieces featured on Wellcome Collection Stories. We will be commissioning three pieces of work for the season, see our April newsletter for details


READING LIST


Brand new to Sourced is our Bookshop.org reading lists!

If you’d like to get any of the books listed we’d love if you bought them through our Bookshop list, not only does it give money to independents, we also get a small percentage which goes straight back into paying our contributors! We will slowly work backwards and build lists on Bookshop for previous seasons, and may add in further reading lists for your interest.


All other links are to articles online, or Amazon affiliate links if the book isn’t on Bookshop (I know, Amazon is not ideal, and we will change as soon as we can find alternatives - open to suggestions!).


*if you would like PDFs of any of these chapters, please do get in touch


A Drag King artist subverting all things dairy


Cheese Magazine, any or all three issues but why not start with these four articles online

It’s Cringe That We Care So Much About “Real” Milk, Boss Barista - a fantastic substack and podcast on coffee, investigatin labour, service and sustainablity of the industry, looks at the role of milk, and our obsession with it; and looks at alternative milks.


Follow Sam Wilkin, an expert in cheese and making podcasts about dairy! Not out yet, but his new podcast on Raw Milk looks brilliant (the team are currently fundraising).


Cheese books!


Settler Colonialism: an introduction, by Sai Englert

  • Introduction - this gives a really great definition of what is settler colonialism and what is ‘franchise’ colonialism, and when thinking about food and drink systems this is an important thing to understand as power and relationships with land and resources different in these spaces.

  • Chapter two: Dispossessing the Native - this looks at what happens to indigenous communities in these spaces and how power, violence and resources work and examples of these in spaces around the world.


Sandor Katz’s Fermentation Journeys: recipes, techniques & traditions from around the world, by Sandor Katz

  • Chapter six: Milk - as the title suggests, this takes us around the world looking at the ingredient of milk and how it is fermented and used in various cultures


  • Throughout this book there are dotted references to milk, and Fernández-Armesto’s dislike of it! Which is very amusing. (Not available on Bookshop.org, but another of his book’s in the list, as is a great way to look at the shift of colonialism on lands)

Our Fermented Lives, by Dr Julia Skinner

  • Sourced contributor and fermentation educator Dr Julia Skinner’s book looks into how communities develop around fermentation, including dairy ferments. The book as a whole is an interesting read to understand how the process of fermentation has developed alongside human civilisation.

  • Chaper 6:The New Nutritionists Assault the Middle Classes - this chapter looks at how late 19th-century social reformers made a concerted effort to change the diets of the working and immigrant classes in the US in favour of a standardised diet they claimed would not only bring about better physical health, but also improved moral health for the nation. Similar efforts took place in European countries at the same time, as these countries looked to formalise what national cuisines and diets looked like as part of their efforts to solidify national identities.

  • Chaper 10: ‘Best for Babies’ or ‘Preventable Infanticide’? The Controversy Over Artificial Feeding of Infants, 1880-1930 , This chapter looks at infant diets, the history of milk formula and how it all relates to dairy pasteurisation for mass production.



Thank you Andrew Janjigian for these two suggestions:


Yogurt & Whey by Homa Dashtaki

“I love this book and I especially love Homa, who I interviewed for my newsletter. She, her yogurt, and her book are wonderful.” Andrew says - follow Andrew’s newsletter here. Through this book Homa explores her indigenous Iranian-Zoroastrian heritage, which she writes about on her website.


Spoiled: The Myth of Milk as Superfood, by Anne Mendelson

This book traces the story of milk from the Stone Age and asks why and how it has become such a part of Western society and explores the damage the industry does.


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