Monday, February 28, 2011

Let's stop making fun of breast milk

Last year there was the cheese that a New York City chef made, and now there's an ice cream shop in London whose confectioners are using breast milk as an ingredient.

Why does this bother so many people?

You don't have to eat it. You know that, right? You don't have to go to London and eat the breast milk ice cream.

But you don't have to mock it, either.

Maybe many people are uncomfortable with it because our attachments to breasts as sexual objects, but that's not all breasts are for -- and you know that, right? Or maybe it's because you don't like to think of milk as coming from a breast?

Your coffee creamer, the ice cream in your freezer, the chocolate milk you drink for a treat -- you think of it as coming from milk. Let me say it to you another way:

Your ice cream is made from bovine breast milk.

Did you just squirm a little? It's okay.

Our household drinks about three gallons of (organic, hormone-free) milk per week, so rest assured I'm not taking a vegan stance here (although it's cool if you do), but what cows go through for modern agriculture to provide our milk is pretty disgusting. And the cows don't have a choice, do they? That I rely on their product makes me squirm, when I think about it.

Women who gave their milk to an ice cream shop presumably had a choice. So why are you squirming about that? Are you worried about their health? The ice cream shop says they tested the milk in accordance with British donor regulations, and after the British government decided today to confiscate all the breast milk ice cream for further testing, the shop is cooperating fully.

They sold their breast milk. Is the concern, really, that the women profited from their fluids? Don't people sell blood plasma? Don't men sell sperm? Should they not be profiting from their bodies? I think that's their choice.

I was a purveyor of breast milk for about 30 months. Over the span of three children, that's a decent but not remarkable sum. Each of my three also drank a fair share of formula, so this isn't an anti-formula rant. But in my 30 months, I learned a great respect for breast milk and for women who pursue producing it. It isn't easy. I never had extra, but if I did, why couldn't I sell it?

Why is the restaurant making breast milk ice cream? It's a stunt, for sure, and it's succeeding, because it's bringing them a lot of attention. But it also brings attention to breast milk -- and that's a good thing. It opens the opportunity for this kind of frank discussion, and the chance for me to convince you that you don't need to squirm about it.

Maybe this is an intimacy issue. We think of breasts as so personal and private, objects to know only from a distance. Maybe you're not comfortable with another woman's breast milk in your food because thinking about the breast milk leads, naturally, to thinking about the breast.

I think it's fair to say that as a culture, we're a little screwed up about breasts. And you're a product of your culture, so if you're feeling squirmy, it's okay.

But: when something makes you squirm, should you educate yourself about it, or should you mock it?

Breast milk is, really, just a food. There's no reason it can't be a building block for a milk-based recipe. You don't have to taste it, but neither do you have to mock it.

Just because society is screwed up about breasts doesn't mean you have to be, too. You're better than that.

I was honored to learn that because of this post I am being recognized at BlogHer'12 as a Voice of the Year. Thanks, you all.

VOTY Honoree

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