I had this post in mind since I blogged about tea recently, and earlier on about unpasterised milk. A member of my wife's family, when I mentioned that their national drink was in essence so foreign (perfumed hot water), mentioned that the only thing the Brits added to it was the dash of milk. And it stayed in my head. I love milk, I drink a lot of it, but I love by itself. I wondered if the Brits had not spoiled tea with that dash of milk, in a way barbarised it. It seems significant that China, a very ancient civilisation, maybe the oldest one, has a high number of lactose intolerant people. Putting milk in tea seems almost philistine.
Because there is something primitive, even barbarous and uncivilised, about milk and dairy products in general (and I say this as a milk drinker). It might not seem like it for Westerners nowadays, what with the French cheese tradition and modern pasteurization, but it is one of the most primal drink. Milk is something you give to babies and toddlers, which they usually grow out of when they grow up and reach adulthood. Ancient traditions have milk as a very positive but primitive icon. Even its whiteness emphasises its simplicity. Milk is earthly, bestial, almost untouched by civilisation, even when turned into cream or cheese.
During my years as an undergraduate, in a course on Greek literature, my teacher had told us that Polyphemus being a shepherd and like other Cyclops a cheese eater might have been a sign of his savage nature, especially since he got vanquished by by getting drunk. Cheese was the stuff Barbarians would eat, the Greeks had wine, olive oil, figs, etc. But there are more modern examples: my favourite writer made Alex a milk drinker. You read this text of Liana Burgess about this particular motif in the novel.
The barbaric nature of milk should not make us forget its appeal. I don't care much about health concerns surrounding it, as I strongly (but maybe subjectively) believe in its virtues. Milk is also and more importantly, as Liana pointed out, a sign of purity and innocence.
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