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A 10,000-Year Food Fracas

Bloomsbury Publishing

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opens in a new window Milk! Download image

ISBN10: 1632863839
ISBN13: 9781632863836


400 Pages



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According to the Greek creation myth, we are so much spilt milk; a splatter of the goddess Hera's breast milk became our galaxy, the Milky Way. But while mother's milk may be the essence of nourishment, it is the milk of other mammals that humans have cultivated ever since the domestication of animals more than 10,000 years ago, originally as a source of cheese, yogurt, kefir, and all manner of edible innovations that rendered lactose digestible, and then, when genetic mutation made some of us lactose-tolerant, milk itself.

Before the industrial revolution, it was common for families to keep dairy cows and produce their own milk. But during the nineteenth century, mass production and urbanization made milk safety a leading issue of the day, with milk-borne illnesses a common cause of death. Pasteurization slowly became a legislative matter. And today, milk is a test case in the most pressing issues in food politics, from industrial farming and animal rights to GMOs, the locavore movement, and advocates for raw milk, who controversially reject pasteurization.

Profoundly intertwined with human civilization, milk has a compelling and a surprisingly global story to tell, and historian Mark Kurlansky is the perfect person to tell it. Tracing the liquid's diverse history from antiquity to the present, he details its curious and crucial role in cultural evolution, religion, nutrition, politics, and economics.


Praise for Milk!

“The sort of book that Proust might have written had Proust become distracted by the madeleine . . . you step away from this book with a new vantage on history, a working knowledge of exotic milk and cheese, acceptance of your mom, a sense of what makes Mark Kurlansky tick and a weird craving for buffalo mozzarella.”New York Times Book Review

Milk! A 10,000-Year Food Fracas is a feat of investigation, compilation and organization . . . Altogether a complex and rich survey, Milk! is a book well worth nursing.”Wall Street Journal

“Best-selling author Mark Kurlansky follows up Cod and Salt with another zestful exploration of one foodstuff—milk—through history and a range of lenses . . . Kurlansky keeps up a cracking pace on a tour that covers classical geographer Strabo griping about the Celts' milk consumption; the disease-generating dairies of nineteenth-century New York City; lactose intolerance in China; and 126 recipes for everything from ghee to syllabub.”Nature

“A prolific and spirited explicator of the world, Kurlansky has written on subjects as varied as 1968, Cuba, and European Jewry, but his sweet spot is literature on single forms of nutrition and sustenance, with books such as Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World and Salt: A World History. He now turns his attention to the mother of all subjects—milk—which he sees as the most argued-over food of the past 10,000 years. In this entertaining and constantly surprising book, he chronicles debates and disputes over milk (breast or bottle, pasteurized or homogenized, genetically modified or raw) and even finds that fierce disagreements over wet nurses involved not whether to use one, but whether brunettes or blondes were better.”The National Book Review

“Food historian Mark Kurlansky is famous for his deep dives on singular subjects, which range from salt to cod to oysters, and his latest work is everything one expects from this obsessive researcher. Milk! delves into the world's most complex cultural, economic and culinary stories centered around milk, from Greek creation myths to modern pasteurization.”Smithsonian Magazine

“From the first page of this book, you'll be fascinated by how much milk, and its relatives like cheese, whey, and ice cream, have infiltrated our lives over thousands of years. If you've ever found yourself in a debate about what milk is the best milk—goat, cow, human?!—this book will equip you with all the random tidbits to strengthen your rebuttal.”Bon Appétit

“It may be a stretch to say that by understanding the history of milk that one can understand the history of the world, but maybe not that much of a stretch . . . As Kurlansky shows throughout Milk!, the story of dairy is really the story of civilization . . . What Milk! does particularly well is elucidate the history of conflict around all things milk.”Inside Higher

“The author of Salt and Cod tackles another staple food in this chatty history of milk and some of the many products made from it . . . Kurlansky's wide-ranging curiosity makes a familiar topic seem exotic.”Booklist

“Cod, salt, paper, oysters, 1968, and Havana-Kurlansky always picks a singular subject, then runs with it as he provides historical and cultural context. Here he examines our relationship to milk since the domestication of animals more than 10,000 years ago. That relationship shifted with the Industrial Revolution, which meant out with the family cow and in with pasteurization and, eventually, food fights over industrial farming, animal rights, and GMOs. Pour a glass and get out the cookies before reading.”Library Journal