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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Dagmar said...

I'm with you. As a breastfeeding advocate I try to remember people every day that breasts are made for babies, to feed them. I think it's the most beautiful thing to be able to nourish your child with breast milk.

Would I try this ice cream? Yes, once, to see if it tastes any different that cow's milk ice cream :)

Dagmar's momsense

SmartBear said...

3 cheers for Robin! Right on, girl! I wish we would get our heads together about how we view breasts in this country...and breast milk.
Best, (or rather BREAST? lOL!)

Stacey said...

I'm on a teeeeeeeeny bit concerned about disease. OK I'm a lot concerned about disease.

I struggle with how cow's are treated too.

I, too, BFed my daughter and have an immense respect for it and I, too, bought only organic antibiotic free milk for my daughter (she will no longer drink it - she never liked cow's milk which I find kinda interesting). BUT: as resident scientist in these comments I am a teeny bit concerned about women giving breast milk to restaurants which are not equipped to even test it for diseases. :(

So I confidently say YAY! to your post but ERRRRMMMM UMMMMMM I dunno to the idea of women giving breast milk to other sources.

Yep, that's where I'm coming down on this one.

Love the blog, BTW. It's so you. Although your life is unrecognizable from the girl I knew way back when, you are still YOU. I love that. :)

Robin (noteverstill) said...

Dagmar, I would try it, too.

T, we'll have to plot. I do believe you and I could pull off a graceful world domination, all without spilling a drop of those martinis!

Stacey, thanks for your perspective. The science is a valid point, possibly, although I'd say most dissenters are not arguing the science, they're just screaming "ewww, boobies!" which is, if we're being generous, just unenlightened. I think it's worse, though - I think it's another culturally-ingrained misogynistic viewpoint. But as to the science, assuming they test the milk comparably to milk banks here, is the risk any worse than that of oh, I don't know...soft cheeses or steak tartar or eggs delivered via chicken crotch or honey pooped by a bee? (Seriously, tell me...)

Ninotchka said...


Laura said...

In a non mocking way I got a giggle from this. Being a mama who had trouble with breast being functional and not just fun or accessories I had to laugh because it's true how messed up we our about breast. Watch the movie babies and you'll see how weird we really are compared to the rest of the world. It seems to be an american thing and I swear it's not my mother's fault. Being the hippy she was she was an amazing breast feeding mom. All 5 kids and for much longer than most women can handle without a complaint. I read about the icecream and it didn't bother me. I figure more power to you. Would I be worried about who's breast milk it was...yeah just like I worry about wiping a public potty, even the cleanest looking things have germs. I completely respect women who donate there milk to others! When you get down to it, it really is just milk and if we saw what really happened to mcd's burger meat, we'd all happily eat breast milk icecream. Heck if Ben and Jerry's starts making my coffee health crunch with it I might be eating it too lol. I find the people who don't try to stop and see the positive in something different just like to complain and that's probably what the breast milk haters were doing. I didn't even realize people were freaking about this...

This Heavenly Life said...

Wonderful post, Robin -- I fall in the category of not wanting to try it, but completely happy that they've made it. I think your explanations are SO rational and we have big issues that get in the way of breastfeeding. So if this stunt helps enlighten some squeamish would-be-mama's or their scoffing public, I'm glad.

(And I love your last sentence in the response to Stacey's thoughts. Bee poop and eggs from chicken crotches. Ha! It's so true, but we never think of the world like this!!)

Jaimie said...

I guess my only concern with this story was that the milk could have gone to a much better recipient--babies whose mothers have difficulty with milk production. I don't know what the situation is with milk banks there, but it does seem really wasteful to me to use breast milk for high-end ice cream.

With that said, obviously it's a bit of a stunt, and I doubt it will last long enough to use up a huge supply of breast milk. And I have to say, the comments made on the articles about this, be they from the Huffington Post, NPR, or wherever, have generally looked like this: "eeeeeeewwwwwwwww." or "disgusting!"

And yes, it's really, really sad that the vast majority of people in our culture (women included) automatically respond that way.