by Julian Noel
As mammals we have a deep relationship to milk. I asked several friends for the first things that sprang to mind when I mentioned the word milk: nourishment, breast, and cow were the most common responses. For many, milk is associated with mother’s love, intimacy, and nurture: the milk of human kindness.
I am not Hindu, but I do have a soft spot for cows. Cows are a lot like you and I. They form close bonds with individuals who they choose to spend their ‘special’ time with; they also hold grudges, and can ardently dislike certain individuals. Cows are emotional and produce more milk when treated better. They become excited when they solve problems. Scientists discovered that cows challenged with opening a door to gain access to their food, exhibited faster heartbeats, and some jumped in the air when they solved the problem. Cows sleep best when they are close to their families. Gandhi described the cow as a ‘poem of compassion’, saying, ‘I worship the cow and I shall defend its worship against the whole world’. Cows. Pink-nosed and doe-eyed, a cow can moo its way into your heart.
In November 1982 I heard the funniest thing I had ever heard in my entire life. I nearly peed my pants. When primary school kids were asked where does milk come from they answered, ‘From a carton’. Laugh? I was rolling on the floor. It was a real belly laugh, tinged with shock: my life had just become irrelevant.
I grew up on a dairy farm, green rolling hills, fresh air, dew-tipped grass, and paddocks full of steaming cowpats. I knew where milk came from. 5.45am my brother and I were in the cow shed, dozey and full of sleep, helping Grandad before school, milking cows. He would roll his eyes as we patted, stroked and named the cows Daisy, Bessie, Myrtle, and Mum, the troublesome cow in the paddock.
We loved our cows, cowpats and all. A cow produces 30.2 litres of milk a day. I loved fresh cows’ milk warm, and creamy on my morning porridge. Amongst those rolling hills we lived in the land of milk and honey. Unhomogenised creamy days.
Cow’s milk ruled; straight from the cow into the bottle. Cream rose to the top. Available in every corner shop, it came in a pint bottle with a foil top. Somehow, I’m not entirely sure when, the notion of milk changed. The land of milk and honey is now available in soy, oat, rice, and 15 other types. A visit to the ‘milk’ section of the local supermarket sends me into a tizz: barley, hazelnut, almond – the list goes on. Call me nostalgic, but I am happy Bessie has gone to that big paddock in the sky. She would be ‘udderly’ distraught to see what they have done with her milk. I can say I laughed when the dairy board attempted to stop the soy farmers from using the word ‘milk’. Murky milky business, that.
The modern dictionary defines milk as:
· a liquid secreted by cows, goats, or certain other animals and used by humans as a source for food
· any liquid resembling this, as the liquid within a coconut, the juice or sap of certain plants, or various pharmaceutical preparations.
Have you ever heard a cow moo? There are all sorts of nuances in a moo. Cows are devoted mothers, and will walk for miles to find their calves. The cowshed was where they shared the late breaking moos with one another, mostly gossipy moos: who was seen slipping into Cyril, the bull’s, paddock. Those cows knew how to have a good time, and weren’t afraid to moo about it.
As for modern cow’s milk, a visit to the dairy section of the local supermarket would be enough to send Bessie barren. Mary the milkmaid is long gone, we live in the milky era of Peter and Paul. A sign proudly states, ‘Milk the way it should be’. Lactose-free. Homogenised. Fat-free. Lite. Modified. Protein-enriched. Reduced fat. Low-fat. Skim. UF. Fortified Milk. The latest marketing angle is where milk is proudly ‘permeate-free’, which is where they take out what was already in the milk, and leave it out and then tell us they have taken it out making milk milk-free. Thankfully, we are told, modern milk has nutrients such as calcium, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids added for our benefit. There’s not a lot to moo about.
The truth is I don’t really know what they have done to cow’s milk. All I know is that, apart from organic milk, it just doesn’t agree with me any more.
I grew up in the era of the milk moustache. I am mourning the clankety-clank of metallic milk crates brimful of foil-crested pint-sized bottles of cream-topped milk. Moo. I don’t want to sound like I’m crying over spilt milk. Coz I’m not. Bessie would weep: soy rules in our house. Our milk comes in cartons: oat, almond and coconut. Who the hell milks an almond?
I come from a simpler time when there was rice, and milk. Two separate entities: rice, milk. I was happy with that. I grew up on that premise. Sometimes Mum would mix them together, and we’d all go, ‘Oooooh, yum, rice pudding’.
I find such a comfort in the old ways. However, I must now, in my own way, put the gentle cow out to pasture. So, I have to finally acquiesce: milk no longer comes from cows. It’s not easy, it was the twice-daily ritual of milking cows that gave structure to my Grandad’s day. Fond pastoral memories still move through my memory banks.
I am resolved to drinking soy ‘milk’. To my childhood friends Daisy, Bessie, Maude and Myrtle I offer my deepest condolences. Thank you for my white teeth and healthy bones. Hopefully time will dim the pain.
Finally: cows have an excellent sense of smell. They can detect human scent from 8 kilometres away. I wonder if they smelt this coming?
Julian Noel, founder of Shine, vision holder, leader, connector. Presenter. Consultant. Coach. Facilitator. Maker of unreasonable requests. Sacred activist. Shine is a community that supports people to act on their inspiration, find their true purpose and helps them do what they love to do. We are creating a world where everyone shines.
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