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The Biotic Woman: Breast Milk is the Best Milk?

New York City chef Daniel Angerer has caused a bit of a stir this week—anger, if you will, ha!—after posting a recipe for "mommy's milk" cheese on his blog last month. In the post, Angerer explains without irony that he likes working with local and natural ingredients. CNN has jokingly called it "chest cheese" and a number of sources have questioned whether such a creation would be FDA approved—as did Angerer's wife, speaking with the AP in this video.

You might think as a vegan, who is by definition opposed to taking the milk from infant non-human animals for my own consumption, I'd dig this bizarre stunt. But if anything, I think the chef's choice just fetishizes milk—of the human or nonhuman variety. In an interview with the New York Post, Angerer said," Breast milk doesn't curdle well due to its low protein content, so a little moo juice has to be added to round out the texture."

See? No vegan loophole. (And for the record, I'm not looking for a loophole or way out. I'm a happy vegan.) You still gotta add cow's milk, and besides, the whole thing kind of reeks of publicity stunt.

Since I have never and can never be pregnant, I don't feel particularly comfortable weighing in on whether or not anyone should be breast-feeding in the first place. I come from a long line of proud breast-feeders, however, so that does influence my perception. As someone who was breast fed for the entire first year of my life—and was initially allergic to cow's milk and had to be weaned onto it (vegans and skeptics who think we shouldn't be drinking other animal's milk anyway, chime in!)—I've heard the requisite stories of milk overflow and required pumping. But I've also heard a number of non-breast feeding mothers discuss how painful breast-feeding can be, and I know some women simply can't manage it for a variety of reasons.

This isn't the first time someone has tried making breast milk cheese, but it doesn't mean any of my questions about this have been answered. Among them: At what point did this become a sanitary option for inquisitive adults? Is it a better choice to make some cheese instead of donating the milk to babies in need? And at what point does this awkwardly conflate your sexual body and your milk-producing breasts as tools for public consumption? Call me old fashioned on this one—in part because I'd call myself the same—but I don't get the allure of breast milk cheese, nor do I think it's awesomely transgressive in any respect.

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Comments

8 comments have been made. Post a comment.

I don't have an issue here

I actually liked Angerer's blog post and felt that it was very measured; I think he approached this more as a new cooking challenge than as an ideological stance. And he points out that a big part of the cheese project came about because they had a surplus of pumped milk in their freezer and the milk banks in Haiti that his wife wanted to donate it to required a wait for screening and such. (As someone who also had an abundance of milk and gave plenty away to friends who needed it, I definitely understand the desire not to waste good milk.)

If Angerer were like, "Hey, everybody! Buy my wife's boob cheese!" I might be weirded out or irritated by this. But good chefs are always looking to innovate, and I saw his post as just something he was compelled by and wanted to share with others who might also be inclined to experiment. It's the media covering it and making it seem seedy that taints the project.

interesting

much more nuanced commentary than the EWWWW said by my co-workers today. thank you!

btw could you please fix a blog tagging issue? when i want to catch up on biotic woman posts - either searching the Bitch site or clicking on the tag for that in a past post - only one entry comes up. i just want a link i can bookmark where all the same blog posts would be.

Working on the tag issue

Hi Marcy!

We're working on sorting out the tag issue, but for now if you're interested in finding all of the Biotic Woman posts you can click here: http://bitchmagazine.org/search/node/the+biotic+woman or just enter "The Biotic Woman" into the search bar at the top of the page. Thanks for commenting!

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Kelsey Wallace, contributor

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is it supposed to be "awesomely transgressive"?

I have to say, from reading his blog, I don't think Angerer set out to shock anyone or be transgressive. As Roxie said above, it seems like he set himself a challenge using an ingredient that he happened to have a lot of. It's understandable if you don't get the allure, but it really doesn't seem like his point was to either piss people off or offer a vegan alternative cheese product.

As for the sanitary issue -- there's a whole subculture of cheesehead foodies, many of them in New York City, who are obsessed with unpasteurized raw-milk cheeses and often buy them "underground." It's just one more aspect of a whole culture of adventure eating, not unlike head-to-tail eating, eating offal, etc. The rawness is part of the appeal.

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Andi Zeisler, cofounder and editorial/creative director

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Maybe it's not "awesomely

Maybe it's not "awesomely transgressive", but if it makes people go, "Oh, right, breastmilk is real food," instead of "Ew!", then that's progress.

I pump at work three times a day, and I'm always worried that someone's going to complain that I have breastmilk in the freezer. Why? It's not gross or dangerous -- I mean, we give it to babies! So I support anything that makes breastmilk seem less weird.

Indeed

@veganmarcy: click on my name up at the top to find all of my posts :)

@ other folks: I don't know that Angerer was trying to be transgressive, but it seems like a lot of news outlets wanted to write about it that way (in addition to all of the "ewww gross!" comments). What struck me yesterday—but I wasn't feeling very eloquent about it—is that he's Austrian. Annoying cliche coming, but as someone who has a European partner, I immediately thought, "Maybe it's a cultural thing that doesn't make him think twice about it." My partner was admittedly turned off by the idea of breastmilk cheese, but he didn't think it was nearly as weird as some of the stateside media portrayed it. Obviously, I can't universalize one person's response or an entire continent, but I keep wondering if cultural context doesn't have something to do with Angerer's comfort with the whole thing.

Culinary World Inanities

@Brittany - Hi Brittany, I also wonder whether it's not just cultural context but something more along the lines of "personal" context. Once you have a baby in the house, your bar for grossness drops considerably (otherwise you'd go insane). So a freezerful of breast milk quickly goes from a slightly awkward novelty to normal and then to just another thing taking up space in the freezer. From that perspective, it makes sense that someone who's naturally curious and open-minded might want to play around and see what happens.

Breast feeding is completely natural, but for a lot of us, it's also completely out of the realm of our daily experience. All of a sudden, your breasts are sprouting milk! How completely normal and bizarre at the same time. So again, I can see why someone would be curious about it and how it compares (in both taste and cooking properties) to that other very "normal" food, cow's milk.

@Andi - I always find the sanitation argument a little odd when it comes to breast milk. Aside from the raw milk proponents that you mentioned (I'm in Canada and our bureaucrats are a little more comfortable with raw milk), there's also a very long history of wet nursing all around the world. Class issues aside, babies have been surviving off breast milk that's not their mother's for centuries, so why would it be any less sanitary for adults?

I think the sanitation question just distracts from a lot of other issues this raises, such as the fetishizing of breast milk.

Personally, I think this is also just a reflection of some of the inanities, or extremes, that go on in the culinary world, whether it's restaurants devoted to just hot dogs or just mac-n-cheese, or people paying a fortune to eat foam that looks like real food (insert requisite, "while the rest of the world starves" comment here). The more out there you can be...

Breastfeeding 40 years ago

I didn't have any trouble breastfeeding. I was enough of an exhibitionist to breastfeed my son standing in a supermarket line. And my neighbor Wilda and I, giggling, tasted my milk. I wouldn't have used the word then, but I think we felt it was "transgressive." I experienced one sore nipple during the months I breastfed--no big deal . Anyway, I think the big obstacle to breastfeeding is "modesty." My daughter-in-law who nursed only for weeks after both pregancies insisted on clearing out the women's room in restaurants, looking the door, and nursing in absolute private, while a line of women with full bladders waited outside the door.

Funny I thought this post would be about all the chemicals in breast milk and I was going to rail about how we shouldn't give support to those who would characterize women's bodies as a bad environment--"an interuterine ghetto" as one physician expert had it at a conference in the 1970s.

It's only about making cheese from it. What the hell!