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1Milk, whether produced by humans or other mammals, is the only food universally consumed by humans. Human milk is the only food produced by humans for humans. As such, milk is a central constituent of our lives. But we do not feed on proteins, fats and carbohydrates alone. We also feed on symbols and myths. Milk is both a source of nutrition and an ingredient mode of thought. For all these reasons, milk is a deeply appropriate subject for a special issue of the ICAF Food Journal.

2In this issue we look at just some of the variety of ways that milk is made to serve human ends: social, economic, political, nutritional, symbolic, religious. Peter Adkins examines the reasons why so many British children were killed by contaminated market milk between 1880 and 1940. Patricia Aguirre investigates the ways consumption of different milks and milk products structures changing socio-cultural differences within Argentinian society. In a comparative analysis of Corsican and Pyrenean spas, Frédéric Duhart and Federica Tamarozzi delineate the medical discourses of different milks and the ways these discourses enabled certain images of the indigenes. They also underline the social and economic effects on the local ways of life caused by the milk demand created by visitors to the spas. Madina Querre discusses the roles of milk within a pastoral Fulani society: She argues the production of cow’s milk acts as the fundament of local socio-economic organization and its gender divisions. Here human breastmilk is not seen as indivisibly good: while its imbibing is necessary to produce ‘a good Fulani’, it may also transmit evil powers. In my own contribution, I provide a critical survey of the literature on that remarkably under-studied topic, milk-kinship.

3If there is one particularly prominent theme which unites all these essays, it is that the consumption of milk cannot be neatly pigeon-holed according to simple Eurocentric categories. Milk is so central a topic, in so many different ways, in so many societies that anthropologists, with their cross-cultural concerns and holistic pretensions, are peculiarly suited to its study. To that extent, this special issue is not an end, rather a valuable contribution to a continuing, complex investigation. For anthropological research into milk is not an exercise in folklore studies but a key component in the multi-headed investigation of one of our most important foodstuffs and socio-symbolic struts.

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Electronic reference

Jeremy MacClancy, « Préface », Anthropology of food [Online], 2 | September 2003, Online since 01 September 2003, connection on 24 November 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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About the author

Jeremy MacClancy

Professor of anthropology, Oxford Brookes University

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Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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