Discovering Dairy: 6 Fascinating Facts from the History of Human Milk Consumption
Many people add milk to their tea or coffee without a second thought. However, these same people would probably be horrified if you suggested they switch to a dog or donkey milk. But why is that? Why are we so comfortable with one animal’s breast milk but not all the others? From our first experiments with dairy to the development of the best milk brand in Australia, here are six fascinating facts from the history of human milk consumption. Hopefully, by the end of the article, we’ll have a greater understanding of why we’re so comfortable drinking bodily fluids from cows.
1. Milk consumption predates writing
The first evidence of writing has been dated to around 3,400 BCE. Meanwhile, evidence of human milk consumption stretches back at least 6,000 years to around 4,000 BCE. This explains why we’re so comfortable with cow’s milk but would turn our noses up at milk from most other animals – we’ve had a lot of time to grow accustomed to dairy!
2. We evolved to digest milk because we started drinking it
As any vegan will happily tell you, drinking milk as an adult is not natural. Humans generally stop producing lactase – the enzyme that breaks down lactose – long before we reach adulthood. However, over the millennia, with the continued consumption of dairy, our genes mutated, developing the capacity to produce lactase and digest milk. Of course, not everyone carries the requisite gene mutation, and those who don’t are lactose intolerant.
3. Lactose tolerance is evidence of the theory of evolution
Many religious zealots will claim that “evolution is only a theory,” but what they’re doing with this claim is conflating the common use of the term “theory” with its scientific definition. The American Museum of Natural History defines a scientific theory as “a well-substantiated explanation of an aspect of the natural world that can incorporate laws, hypotheses, and facts.” Humanity’s gradually acquired ability to digest milk is one of many aspects of the natural world that substantiates Darwin’s theory of evolution.
4. The Maasai milkshake
The Maasai tribe of Kenya has one of the most unusual diets on Earth, consisting primarily of blood, milk, and meat. They sometimes mix the blood and milk of a cow together to create the most metal milkshake imaginably. Though more than 60% of their calories come from fat, the Masaai tend to be robust and healthy, with incredibly low levels of heart disease.
5. Fat and fabulous
Traveling from Kenya to Ethiopia, we find another unique and ancient cultural tradition that relies on milk. Here, the men of the Bodi tribe engage in an annual ritual that involves drinking milk and blood until they’ve gotten themselves as fat and fabulous as they can. Once the allotted time is up, the tribe picks a winner, and the glory of this title is something all young Bodi men hope to claim for themselves one day.
6. Easy-to-digest milk
The a2 brand is commonly recognized as the best milk option in Australia as it is far easier to digest than traditional dairy. The reason is that a2 milk is drawn from cows that only produce the a2 protein. Since the a1 protein can cause non-lactose-related digestive issues, a2 milk has been a game-changer, allowing people to have their milk and their comfortable tummy too. Next time you reach for a bottle of milk, remember that you’re taking part in an honestly rather strange ritual that has a wild and twisted history.