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Remembering When Only Barbarians Drank Milk (2018) (atlasobscura.com)
137 points by miduil 6 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 105 comments





I feel like this is glancing over various points. Specifically that cows aren’t the only source of milk: sheep, goats, buffalo and horses have all been milked throughout history, and would have been the main source for milk in Rome. And it wasn’t historically looked down upon: major Abrahamic faiths venerated milk consumption. For some reason yogurt is also glanced over even though Oxygala (or something like it) would have definitely been consumed almost daily.

It seems like this is a fairly Eurocentric view. Not even that, really, but a specific-period-of-time-in-Rome view.

The Romans didn’t like butter… that’s about it. And they didn’t like it because it spoils too easily in their environment. Expanding that to dairy in general is quite a reach.

Looking at what someone eats and picking on them for it still takes place in 2021 — try sending your kid with a whole cucumber to school.


The article is definitely Eurocentric and skips South-East Asia and India. Milk, Butter, Ghee and Yogurt have been part of Indian culture from the start. E.g. references in the Vedas central to various rituals, Lord Krishna loving butter as a child, etc..

What I found really interesting is the premise that the article makes about spoilage. If dairy spoils in the warmer Mediterranean causing the inhabitants to find it unappealing, then why is it that the people living in hotter climate of India found dairy to be integral to their diet? Is it because because of Ghee which has a longer shelf life?

And Yogurt too - even today - integral to any number of Indian households.


Am from Indian subcontinent. Butter isn't exactly that popular where I'm from (Bangladesh). Milk is usually collected at dawn and consumed in liquid form before the day is over, no need to store anything.

Probably butter isn't as common where you're from, but ghee is. Ghee really made butter more viable by increasing it's shelf life, and was a bit of a technological achievement of food science.

I'm looking briefly at the history of Indian cheesemaking. Seems like rennet wasn't used, but instead things like lemon juice. Paneer seems to be the first word that comes up, consistently along with a few other varities. Looks pretty tasty :P

Paneer is excellent, but in all my experience tends to get treated more like chicken: as a raw material which you will cook (by frying or simmering, etc.) and add seasoning to. I've never seen it simply sliced and served on a cracker, as you might with Western cheeses.

Definitely seek out and try paneer, though. Saag paneer is one of my favorites: chunks of paneer in stewed mustard greens.


I think yogurt is an exception here because it ferments quickly and doesn’t necessarily need refrigeration. A number of the Indian families I know will make yogurt every day. I suppose you could make a similar argument that butter could be made daily in small batches, but the labor involved in butter making is orders of magnitude greater.

Ghee doesn’t spoil without refrigeration like butter does, which is why it has been popular in India.

Perhaps it's just my cooler climate (UK), but (unclarified) butter lasts ages unrefrigerated. Far far longer than it takes me, alone, to consume it.

It's not the first time I'm hearing this at all, so I'm not saying you're wrong, I just don't understand.


It's our climate.

During the really hot spells we had this year our butter melted at least partially when not kept in the fridge. The rest of the year we can keep butter out of the fridge. If it was consistently 5-10 degrees hotter that just wouldn't be an option really, at a minimum we'd need a cold pantry. I can see solid butter being way more effort to keep than it is worth.


Oh sure, but melting isn't spoiling. It'll melt here sometimes too, but harden back up overnight (or in the fridge) and it's fine.

I thought we were talking about it actually spoiling, going off, growing mould or whatever. If anything ghee is worse in terms of melting isn't it? Here in the UK it's typically liquid (sold in cans) at room temperature, and will only solidify in the fridge. (As a separate point that's sort of interesting taken together with its higher smoke point than butter that hasn't been clarified. To a non-chemist such as me anyway.)


Your butter is probably modern factory made kind, which is pasteurized. It can last much longer than "natural" butters of old.

Same applies to milk. My parents used to boil milk up until 20 years ago, mostly because they grew up in households with cows and they boiled milk to kill bacteria. It took me years of showing them the label "Does not need to be boiled" to get them to drop the habit.


Ah yes, good point. I assume modern (commercial) ghee is too, but that certainly makes preservation origins make more sense. Thanks.

Because ghee manufacturing process involves boiling water out of the butter, it is rather irrelevant whether the milk has been initially pasteurized.

What is a normal indoor temperature there? In summer most have their AC keep the house below 27 here. We are a fan of 22 in my house but that is considered a bit wasteful. In winter we try to keep it above 18 unless it gets really cold. This last winter it got down to 8 inside.

I'd say most people probably have their heating set to 21 to 22, which for most of the year is more than the external temperature (hence why so few houses here have AC).

Thats sounds like heaven. Outside we swung from -18 to 45 this year.

Actually it would be exactly that — when it mentions butter it’s highly unlikely that it is referring to clarified butter.

> major Abrahamic faiths venerated milk consumption

In Islam, Milk is considered the drink of paradise. There are quite a few ayats (verses) in Quran about the greatness of Milk.

https://damdaran.ir/en/articles/a-glance-at-milk-from-quran-...


A whole cucumber? As in an approx foot long fruit. I'm an adult, mostly, but if a colleague pulled out a whole cucumber and started munching on it you know I'm commenting about it!

Growing up we only had the short (10-15cm) variety, and indeed I was munching on them lol

When I first saw the long ones I was like "wtf did they do to them?". They also taste worse imo, but that could be because of greenhouse growth.


Ive always heard the small ones called “Lebanese cucumbers” , much nicer indeed than the “Dutch cucumbers” you usually see

There are also the provencal cucumbers, which are larger but shorter than Dutch cucumbers, have a thicker rougher skin, and a much stronger taste


I had no idea there were other types of cucumbers.

I think Rohl Dahl put me off cucumbers.


That is because there is culture of not eating vegetables. Cucumber tastes good, is quite watery and does not have to be huge.

> Cucumber tastes good

Let's not get ahead of ourselves


Both my 1 year old and my 4 year old love cucumber, tomatoes, peas, broccoli, etc, and usually eat it before anything else on the plate.

It feels really weird to have to tell a 4 year old to eat some meat or rice before getting more cucumber, as they also need some calories, but here we are.


It tastes good. I like it. It is favorite vegetable of my kids, who both lived it as little and still eat any amount available of it with dinner or lunch.

They also like salad from it, which they approach almost as a treat.


Both my kids eat cucumber. I still wouldn't agree it tastes nice though, too watery for me. I like it diced in a tuna sarnie though.

Would made a nice anti-bulling food. The Veggies for bullies movement.

Why are you commenting on your colleagues’ food? Moreover, something as normal as a vegetable.

Why not? It's not an insult. I know it's not any of my business but neither is anything else I might make small talk about.

I regularly ask what my colleagues have for lunch/dinner, I like to see if they have something better than I do.


> Specifically that cows aren’t the only source of milk: sheep, goats, buffalo and horses have all been milked throughout history

Sheep and goats are major sources of milk today, just not milk for direct consumption.


This is more about "barbarian" as a concept than dairy, IMO.

No use trying to define it specifically, the word cannot be separated from its snobbery. In any case, almost every non modern piece of human culture comes from barbarians, inventions, customs, livelihoods. The iconic Roman gladius. Every Egyptian military paradigm: swords, chariots, & such came from barbarian pastoralist.

Pastoralist cultures are very poorly recorded, as a rule. These societies can get pretty big, and seem to federate easily. Wealth accumulation happens naturally, with the size of the herd. Trade tends to happen a lot. Some pastoralist cultures may have specialized in trade very early. A nomadic traveller culture who own pack animals are well placed for this. Seasonal migrations sometimes necessitate bimodal society structures, say independant family groups in one season and a large tribal hierarchy in another. They can merge into large super groups. Cultural exchange between groups, bilingualism and such happen a lot.

IMO all these make it likely that many economic and political institutions (eg voting, accounting, etc) originate with pastoralists, showing up in historical records only after being adopted by settled cultures with civilized urban centres. Milk is likely one of those things. If your culture revolves around goats, horses, cows or such... dairy is probably a major part of your culture. Another, snobby culture that eats less dairy comes in and says "yuck, so much milk."

Romans had milk, but they didn't have milk 100 different ways. Shepards and such were low on the Roman hierarchies. What Romans had was trees. Trees, and orchard ready land were wealth. Trees stayed put, could be tended by slaves. You could have a nice villa overlooking your trees. That's civilized.


Yes, the separation and mixing of pastoralist cultures sounds like it would evolve innovations more quickly than homogenous, standardized, organized city states.

Could also apply to the evolution of the mutation for lactose-tolerance in adulthood.

  “You want the taste of dried leaves boiled in water?”
  “Er, yes. With milk.”
  “Squirted out of a cow?”
  “Well in a manner of speaking, I suppose…”
  “I’m going to need some help with this one.”

These days the word "butter" evokes an inoffensive pale white stick in your fridge, but in the days before refrigeration, butter was made at home. And while it keeps much better than milk, it can and does get seriously funky over time.

You can get a faint taste of this (literally) with French cultured butter like Pepe Saya, which blurs the line between butter and soft cheese, but if you ever visit Tibet or even a Tibetan temple, the entire place is permeated with the smell of what the Western nose and palate would consider straight-up rancid butter. No wonder the Romans weren't keen on the stuff. (Of course, I imagine the "barbarians" felt the same away about the ubiquitous Roman condiment garum, aka fish sauce.)


> the smell of what the Western nose and palate would consider straight-up rancid butter.

We produced very high quality (as determined by the local dairy who paid us for it) milk at the farm where I grew up.

Yet I remember that whenever we tried to make butter at home it would invariably turn rancid within a very short time.

I know there are a few people here with farming background and whatnot, anyone has an idea why that would happen? What did we do wrong?


Salt. Salt preserves butter and without it will go bad faster then you would expect

I don't know if this is too basic, but we tried to make butter from scratch one time and everything we saw said that if there was even the tiniest bit of liquid left when you're done churning, it would cause the butter to go rancid basically overnight, and sure enough, that's what happened the first time! The next time we made sure there wasn't any liquid left and it lasted much longer. I don't even know what the liquid part is called, but it would get stuck in tiny little air pockets while you were churning and it was very difficult to ensure that it was all gone by the end.

> I don't even know what the liquid part is called

Buttermilk.


From the ideas so far (thanks everyone!) this sounds most probable since salting and pasteurisation seems like something we either did by default or after the first spoiled batch.

Also, even if it is well over half my life so far ago I think I can vividly remember small drops of water in the butter.


Was it made from unpasteurised milk? Maybe that's the difference.

Probably still had a nontrivial amount of water in it. Last time I helped make butter, we repeatedly squeezed it through the cheese cloth to get as much water out as we could.

One thing I learned recently is that salted butter used to be much, much saltier for preservation. People basically washed it with water to reduce the salt content before eating it.

The salted butter we use today is actually “Demi-sel”, “half-salted”

> the word "butter" evokes an inoffensive pale white stick in your fridge

...perhaps where you live!

A pale white stick in my fridge would be goat's cheese. Butter is a yellow block in a dish on the side, not refrigerated (except the spares, and the unsalted for cooking).


Butter color depends on animal feed (grass-fed = more yellow), but commercially produced butter is often dyed.

I'd be surprised if that's allowed here, certainly quickly checking a few - including supermarket own brand, i.e. the cheapest - none lists ingredients other than milk (or derivatives, incl. simply 'butter') and optionally salt.

Sounds more like margarine to me, to have additives like colouring. 'Pale white' and I doubt I'd even recognise it as butter - probably assume it was lard. From 'sticks' I think this is the US, though there's at least one French brand that does sell it like that as well as the normal (to me) block or tub (more common in France in my experience, but some here too).


Drinking milk and consuming various dairy products (kefir, yogurt, cheese, etc.) are strongly associated with "steppe people" which were seen as barbaric (sometimes rightly so), so this perhaps explains some of the points in this post.

I was curious about milk and cheese consumption in Ancient Greece and found the following in the Everyday Life of Greeks and Romans (https://www.google.com/books/edition/Everyday_Life_of_the_Gr...) about Greek desserts:

  "Piquant dishes, stimulating the guests to dining, were chosen in preference; amongst cheeses, those from Sicily and from the town of Tromileia in Achaia [in Southern Thessaly http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0064:id=achaia-geo] were particularly liked; cakes sprinkled with salt (epipasta) were another important feature of the Greek dessert" p. 266

Here's my question: why didn't the Romans ever (so far as I can tell) use clarified butter? Like olive oil, it is shelf-stable and has a high smoke point; it was well known in ancient India, so I find it surprising that the idea was never imported.

Probably not any reason to. They already had access to other good oils that could be made for far less energy cost than having to raise a cow, milk it, turn the milk to butter, then clarify it.

It was, and remains, a culture of the olive tree and its oil.

Maybe they didn't know how.

Barbarians having better (or at least more) sources of proteins seems to be a recurring theme. The Huns and Mongols probably ate more meat than the average farmer from the lands they conquered on their path.

I wonder if this isn't similar to the recent push to substitute meat with these fake meats, which are nothing but highly processed vegetable oils, some shady vegetable proteins and lots of flavouring, all mixed together, and the same to all those "milks", from soy to almonds.


> Curiously, the Greco-Roman disdain for dairy stopped short at cheese.

I was almost upset to hear that they hated dairy -- given how much wine they had around, how could they not have cheese? Thankfully this line redeemed them.


I wouldn’t be surprised if there were class differences. Wine and cheese for the patricians, bread and milk for the plebs.

> Curiously, the Greco-Roman disdain for dairy stopped short at cheese. In Rome, cheese was eaten by both the rich and the poor.

A kind of similar funny example is in Xenophon's Anabasis, where he mentions "millet-eating Thracians", which always cracks me up. Lots of people ate millet, including Greeks, but this group got referred to as millet-eaters. Seems hilarious to me.

"When all of them had been prevailed upon, they continued the march with Seuthes, and, keeping the Pontus upon the right through the country of the millet-eating Thracians, as they are called, arrived at Salmydessus."

https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1...


This is actually a great reference. The Roman festival of Parilia was celebrated by offering millet and milk to Pales, followed by drinking wine mixed with milk. This event eventually became Rome’s birthday celebration :)

I am not sure that was ever true. In the Old Testament, there are lots of references to drinking milk.

There is even a saying: Do not boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk. From which rabbis derived various prohibitions on milk consumption together with various meats.

Perhaps you’re going to say the milk was always curdled or formed into cheese? And I would ask, how do we know that they didn’t just drink it?


> I am not sure that was ever true. In the Old Testament, there are lots of references to drinking milk.

Wouldn't the people who wrote the old testament have been considered barbarians by the Romans?


Judaism was an ancient and long established religion in the Levant by the time the Roman Republic came into contact with them. They had been under the suzerainty of the Seleucid Greeks for about a hundred years, and had a culture that deeply valued learning, literacy and the law, so they weren't barbarians by any definition. The Romans respected their culture as ancient, and being on par with other cultures in the region (at least until the Judeans started rebelling too frequently).

Would be interested in some sources for this. My understanding is that anything non-Roman was barbarian by definition.

I'm not an expert, but I don't think that's completely true. The Romans conquered Greece and then Greek culture conquered Rome. I'm not aware that they viewed the Persians, Egyptians or Carthaginians as barbarian either. Unless barbarian strictly means foreign, rather than uncivilized.

I wasn't able to find a super authoritative source, but here's a PBS [1] article that lays out the basics - the Romans allowed the Jews to worship their own deity and follow their own practices, and Pompey, Caesar and Augustus all maintained that protection into the early imperial era. They were treated like clients, rather than being subjugated, until the rebellions.

[1] https://www.pbs.org/empires/romans/empire/jews.html


Similarly, butter is referenced multiple times as well.

The climate is warmer than Rome's, so the argument seems weak.


> Remembering When Only Barbarians Drank Milk

It's how I still feel about it. The way cows are treated (caged, fed unnatural food, preventive antibiotics, babies taken away right after birth, the misery of slaughter) shows me that the act of paying for the products derived from cows is, frankly, quite barbarian to me (as in: not very sophisticated).

Especially given that milk product are known for decades to be unhealthy for humans after the weaning stage.


> Especially given that milk product are known for decades to be unhealthy for humans after the weaning stage.

That's not true. Here:

>Background

> There is scepticism about health effects of dairy products in the public, which is reflected in an increasing intake of plant-based drinks, for example, from soy, rice, almond, or oat. Objective

> This review aimed to assess the scientific evidence mainly from meta-analyses of observational studies and randomised controlled trials, on dairy intake and risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and all-cause mortality. Results

> The most recent evidence suggested that intake of milk and dairy products was associated with reduced risk of childhood obesity. In adults, intake of dairy products was shown to improve body composition and facilitate weight loss during energy restriction. In addition, intake of milk and dairy products was associated with a neutral or reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, particularly stroke. Furthermore, the evidence suggested a beneficial effect of milk and dairy intake on bone mineral density but no association with risk of bone fracture. Among cancers, milk and dairy intake was inversely associated with colorectal cancer, bladder cancer, gastric cancer, and breast cancer, and not associated with risk of pancreatic cancer, ovarian cancer, or lung cancer, while the evidence for prostate cancer risk was inconsistent. Finally, consumption of milk and dairy products was not associated with all-cause mortality. Calcium-fortified plant-based drinks have been included as an alternative to dairy products in the nutrition recommendations in several countries. However, nutritionally, cow's milk and plant-based drinks are completely different foods, and an evidence-based conclusion on the health value of the plant-based drinks requires more studies in humans.

> Conclusion

> The totality of available scientific evidence supports that intake of milk and dairy products contribute to meet nutrient recommendations, and may protect against the most prevalent chronic diseases, whereas very few adverse effects have been reported.

From:

Milk and dairy products: good or bad for human health? An assessment of the totality of scientific evidence

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5122229/

The article is a review and it's from 2016.


I agree with you that many modern commercial dairy and meat farming practices are barbaric, but milk is a nutrient dense superfood, whole cultures subsisted for centuries eating basically just dairy products. Milk products are not bad for you.

> nutrient dense superfood

Is marketing speak my friend dont fall for it.

Oil is nutirent dense. Sugar is. It means nothing. Maybe you mean "micronutrient / calorie" dense. But even that, due to the high calorie content is not so true (lettuce is much more dense in this sense).

> cultures subsisted for centuries eating basically just dairy products

Subsisted in harsh climates on dairy (mainly in winter) as a supplement to their grain based food: yes, that happened in many areas. But that does not mean it's healthy.

> whole cultures subsisted for centuries eating basically just dairy product

which?


The Mongol, Uyghur and other central Asian cultures subsisted almost entirely on horse and goat milk for centuries. Many northern European cultures subsisted almost entirely on dairy for periods in history. Nomadic pastoral cultures did not have land to grow grain, as they were nomadic, they lived basically off of foraged plants, dairy and meat of animals that they no longer could use for other purposes. Later, when these cultures moved away from a nomadic lifestyle and began growing grain yes, dairy was supplemental, but for many of them for centuries they subsisted largely on dairy products.

Milk is a nutrient dense superfood, whether grifters like to toss the terms around or not. That's the whole point of mammals creating the substance to begin with. It exists to provide complete nutrition all by itself.


> It exists to provide complete nutrition all by itself.

To those in weaning stage. It's baby food, not super food. (for what ever super means here).

I know many cultures have "survived" on high animal product diets for many years: but did they thrive?

The Blue Zones book goes into diets that communities thrive on. Inuit are not mentioned. We do --after the weaning stage-- better on plants.


> To those in weaning stage.

Find me differences in nutrient requirements between babies and adults.

I'd say given that Genghis Khan was the most successful conqueror in human history that the Mongols thrived better than any other culture. The fact that dairy is a more widespread cultural artifact than vegetarianism is evidence that historically dairy consuming cultures thrived better than vegetarian ones.

Plants are good for you, the right ones anyway. So is milk.


> Find me differences in nutrient requirements between babies and adults.

Most of us humans tolerate lactose well when baby, and badly when grown up. Lactose intolerance is 85%. Whites and South-Asians are the only that same to fare well on it. Thus: found at least one difference.

> Genghis Khan

Srsly? I'm even going to unpack your war lord worship here. Have a great day!

> The fact that dairy is a more widespread cultural artifact than vegetarianism is evidence that historically dairy consuming cultures thrived better than vegetarian ones.

You have no clue what you talk about. Were a tropical animal, humans. We are made for tropical fruit like apes. We do bad on grain, we become nutirent dificient. In that state dairy may help sure. But that does not make it good.

> So is milk.

Saying so does not make it true. Are you glad you found a way to justify your behavior?


> milk product are known for decades to be unhealthy for humans after the weaning stage

That's an extraordinary claim. Source?



On this subject, be sure to read acoup.blog piece on how the Mongol (and other steppe nomads) could raid hundreds of kilometres from their bases by using mares that would provide them both drink and food while travelling light and fast (no chariots, no soldiers on foot). Milk as a strategic military advantage!

I think this is ignoring Roman and Chinese urban density which pushed them into this difference over generations. Much of the food necessary to feed a city was imported on a scale and timeline similar to global trade today. I don't know anyone who buys foreign fresh milk and butter but cheese is different.

The “Anchor” brand of butter in the UK used to be made in and exported from New Zealand between 1924 and 2012.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger AKA Conan the Barbarian once said - "Milk is for babies. When you grow up you have to drink beer" - "Pumping Iron"

Anyways didn't colonial prisoners consider it cruel to be fed lobster?

Things change over time.


Lobster fed to prisoners was grounded whole, with the shell, which contains a tremendous amount of ammonia. Pretty close to eating a bowl of crab soaked in urine with small pieces of shell tearing into your gums.

Edit: This post is wrong, that's a myth actually!


> Lobster fed to prisoners was grounded whole, with the shell,

No they weren't! It's a myth.

>In all my research on this subject, I cannot find a single source of lobster shells being crushed in the entire history of lobster canning, between a dozen books on the subject, encyclopedia entries, and two dozen articles about lobster canning. Lobster shells are made out of chitin and are entirely inedible. Furthermore, there is no economical reason for trying to mash up rock-hard lobster shells to ‘stretch’ an abundant product, especially in an era before industrial grinders were available.

>In the colonial times, lobsters were harvested from tidal pools by hand, and were in extreme abundance. They were fed to children, prisoners, and indentured servants. They were also often used as fertilizer and animal feed. According to food historian Kathleen Curtin, prisoners and indentured servants enacting laws to limit how often they were fed lobster is also a myth, and there isn’t a shred of documentation of it actually happening.

https://www.reddit.com/r/history/comments/emcx69/the_history...


Damn, the more you learn!! Thanks!

Chicken used to be a rare delicacy in the west until mass production in the 1960s.

romans even had cheesecakes! for some reason called "placenta" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=giPXpKy2lQ0

Placenta is a flat cake, from Ancient Greek πλακοῦντος. Presumably, human placentae are named for their shape.

Fun fact! The German word for placenta is still "Mutterkuchen" (mother['s] cake)!

fun fact, we still have it in Romania: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pl%C4%83cint%C4%83

It's called the same and it's delicious :D


And in Austrian German crepes/pancakes are called Palatschinken, which comes via Slavic languages from plăcintă, so ultimately from Latin placenta

Surprised they didn't mention anything about nomadic tribes vs farmers.

Why is this crap on hackernews? Get over it, we're gonna keep eating sweet delicious cows.

Human being is perhaps the only living being that drinks other animal's milk and even after the age of 4 or 5.

Why?


As humans we have always tried to obtain foods that are safe and nutritious. Even though milk has potential allergens it contains no poisons, toxins or anti-nutrients unlike many plant foods. It is incredibly nutritious and contains sufficient amounts of most minerals and vitamins needed to sustain life (babies use it exclusively without developing any deficiencies after all).

Apart from this it has other qualities that make it useful in a post-agriculture world. Diets rich in grains and animal meat are too rich in iron and phosphorous and deficient in calcium. Milk is low in iron, and even binds to iron reducing its absorption. It also has higher calcium compared to phosphorous. It has been shown that the ratio of calcium to phosphorous matters more than absolute consumption of each nutrient, and should be slightly higher than one if we want to avoid leeching calcium from bones. Diets rich in leafy greens and fruits have a favorable ratio, while meats, legumes and cereals do not and this probably contributed to the skeletal deformities we see post agriculture. Dairy helps shift the ratio closer to optimal in the presence of phosphorous rich foods in the diet.

With allergies and intolerances being the only reasons not to drink it, and those being more common in poor health. The question should be, why not drink milk?


The question whether milk is beneficial for humans is far more complicated than you suggest. The only thing we know for sure is that consuming milk is not the net positive that it has been portrayed to be.

It's most likely a net zero [1] with a number of positive benefits that you describe, in particular for infants. There are however a number of risks as well, in particular when you define milk as the product that you can buy in an American/European supermarket or if you look at dairy products more generally. And that's not taking into consideration that the majority of the world's population is lactose intolerant. Here is a link to get you started (don't take this source literally for reasons of bias but treat it as a starting point) [2].

[1] https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/dairy-health-food-or-hea...

[2] https://www.pcrm.org/good-nutrition/nutrition-information/he...


I did not even try to approach the question of whether milk is beneficial to health. First we would need to define the question better. Beneficial compared to what? To a dairy free pre agricultural diet? Then it's probably neutral at best. However compared to a calcium deficient diet it's definitely an improvement even if it didn't turn out to be absolutely optimal.

Getting enough calcium in the diet has been linked to healthier BMI and decreased risk of stroke and heart disease. You can get calcium elsewhere but most people don't, or they didn't at the time.

And if you replace milk in the diet you now need to find many other sources of nutrition to make up for lost vitamins and micronutrients which might have been challenging in cooler climates. Maybe milk isn't absolutely optimal for health, the jury is still out on that, but likely it was much better than anything they could get at the time.

Even in the context of a modern diet, replacing milk with soy milk and vegetable milks will yield too much phosphorous and leave you deficient in calcium unless it's fortified (calcium citrate, malate and other kinds of supplemental calcium are linked to worse health, in contrast to dietary calcium which seems to be protective). It can be done by eating a mostly vegetarian diet rich in fruits and leafy greens, or grinding eggshells yourself and adding it to meals but most of the population won't be doing that when eliminating dairy.


We most definitely do not know for sure that milk is not a net positive.

Let's put it this way: Consuming dairy products was historically seen so beneficial that we evolved the ability to digest lactose not just once, but multiple times in history.

It may not be as critical today, but at some point in time, being able to digest lactose was an evolutionary advantage.


Human beings are the only living beings to consume a whole list of food products that aren't possible without modern processing (cooking, fermenting, pickling, etc) and we eat many "normal" foods in ways that other animals wouldn't. Why isn't really an easy question to answer other than to say because we decide to. This is a very common vegan talking point but I don't think it's a particuarly poignant point to make from that perspective (I don't know if that was your intention). It's sort of like asking why we eat bread, because no other being consumes anything remotely similar.

Cats and dogs both can drink cow milk. It’s just that animals don’t have a way to extract milk from other animals, the way humans can.

Similarly, I could argue that animals don’t farm vegetables and eat most vegetables, so why should humans?


Humans are pretty unique in all aspects of their nutrition.

More obvious than the consumption of milk is the fact that we cook most of our food while no other living being does it. No other animal mixes different food sources into a single dish either. No other animal grinds seeds into flour, etc.

Drinking milk is one of the least weird things we do regarding food.


We invented farming, so we had the opportunity. Other animals never figured out how to get milk unless humans or their mothers give it to them.

Additionally, most animals won't say no to milk if you offer it to them. So yeah, I guess we're the only ones who figured out how to get the milk without getting the horns :)

Some ant species farm fungi in their nests and milk aphids.

Because it's tasty and because it's a great source of proteins.

Humans are also the only living beings to go to space. Humans do a lot of things other animals don't do.

Why drink milk? Because it was beneficial at one time to do so. Milk is a very nutrient dense food, if you were a member of a nomadic culture you'd want food sources you can bring with you, and nutrient dense ones. Many people in the modern world are descended from nomadic groups who consumed milk, so it is a cultural trend that sticks around.

I believe it is still beneficial to use dairy products but I don't do it very much because I don't like to keep foods that require refrigeration if I can help it.


>The Romans often commented on the inferiority of other cultures, and they took excessive milk drinking as evidence of barbarism. Similarly, butter was a useful ointment for burns; it was not a suitable food. As Pliny the Elder bluntly put it, butter is “the choicest food among barbarian tribes.”

Well, they weren't that wrong (the Romans I mean).

Milk after childhood is not that beneficial. And a taste for butter soon leads to empty calories and deep fried Mars bars...


[citation needed]

Milk after childhood is still beneficial. It supplies protein, and many vitamins and minerals.

Butter is not a "gateway" drug.




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