cover image Milk: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas

Milk: A 10,000-Year Food Fracas

Mark Kurlansky. Bloomsbury, $29 (384p) ISBN 978-1-63286-382-9

Kurlansky’s entertaining, fast-paced history of milk exhibits his usual knack for plumbing the depths of a single subject (Cod, Salt). He shares a series of anecdotes on the evolution of milk’s production and consumption, as well as on its roles in various cultures, such as in ancient Greece—according to Greek mythology, the goddess Hera formed the Milky Way galaxy when she spilled milk while breastfeeding Heracles, and each drop became a star. Many Sumerian stories involve the search for a reliable milking animal, and Hindu creation myths tell of the god Vishnu creating the universe by churning a sea of milk. Kurlansky points out that every milk-drinking culture searched for the animals that provided the best source of milk—mares, pigs, reindeer, donkeys, camels—but that the most important issue for each culture was finding which milk-producing animals could be domesticated easiest. By the 16th century, the Netherlands had become the dairying center of Europe; the Dutch and others brought cows with them to America, and by 1629 cows outnumbered people in the Virginia colony. He ranges over the history of making milk safe, the ongoing debate between the benefits of raw milk versus pasteurized milk, and the growth of large, industrialized dairy farms. Kurlansky’s charming history of milk brims with excellent stories and great details. (May)