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The Surprisingly Colorful History Of Milk

Tom Gjelten in for Tom Ashbook

“Got milk?” What the history of milk tells us about our society.

Elsie the Cow, Borden's celebrity spokescow in Lakeland, Fla. (PRNewsFoto/Borden Dairy Company)

Elsie the Cow, Borden's celebrity spokescow in Lakeland, Fla. (PRNewsFoto/Borden Dairy Company)

For all humans, for all mammals, it is the first food. And milk for many of our ancestors was not just a central part of their diet, but a scared symbol of sustenance.

The history of milk holds within it the story of how human societies and economies have evolved.

In the agrarian days, we drank milk from animals we ourselves raised. Now, milk is produced and processed by industrial corporations, and the family farmers who sell raw milk and make cheese have to compete with agribusiness rivals.

This hour On Point: What the story of milk says about who we are and what we’ve become.

-Tom Gjelten

Guests:

Deborah Valenze, professor of History at Barnard College, and author of “Milk: A Local And Global History.” You can find an excerpt of the book here (PDF).

Heather Paxson, professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She’s currently researching American artisanal cheesemakers. Her work explores how people grapple with changing socioeconomic conditions and new bioscientific knowledge.

Karl Klessig, farmer and owner of Saxon Homestead Farm and Creamery in Cleveland, Wisconsin.

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Here are some photos from the milk hour today.

Deborah Valenze, author of “Milk: A Local And Global History,” in studio and On Point. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Deborah Valenze, author of “Milk: A Local And Global History,” in studio and On Point. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Heather Paxson, professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the studio and On Point. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Heather Paxson, professor of anthropology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the studio and On Point. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Tom Gjelten in for Tom Ashbook this week On Point. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

Tom Gjelten in for Tom Ashbook this week On Point. (Alex Kingsbury/WBUR)

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Aug 28, 2015
WDBJ-TV7 meteorologist Leo Hirsbrunner, right, wipes his eyes during the early morning newscast as anchors Kimberly McBroom, center, and guest anchor Steve Grant deliver the news at the station in Roanoke, Va., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed during a live broadcast Wednesday, while on assignment in Moneta. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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Aug 28, 2015
Lightning first ignited the Meadow fire on July 20, 2014 in Yosemite. By September 8, the fire had charred 2,582 acres. Bernie Krause has recorded soundscapes of national parks destroyed by large areas of forest fires. Listen below.  (National Park Service)

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Aug 28, 2015
WDBJ-TV7 meteorologist Leo Hirsbrunner, right, wipes his eyes during the early morning newscast as anchors Kimberly McBroom, center, and guest anchor Steve Grant deliver the news at the station in Roanoke, Va., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed during a live broadcast Wednesday, while on assignment in Moneta. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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