Norishment or Poison?

Milk has been part of our diet since the Neolithic Revolution (10,000 BCE), when humans domesticated animals. The discussion about organic, raw, and genetically treated food is at its peak. There are arguments on each side of the coin, both convincing and supported by real scientific data.

The way to understand milk is by understanding love, says a raw milk producer—no pasteurization is needed. To him to drink milk is a natural way of living. Is a custom that has been passed from one generation to the next, and is the ultimate expression of love.

In another corner, dietitians, scientists, vegans, etc. have discovered that milk has a close relationship to medical problems in humans. The data is convincing, and it has been suggested that milk can cause cancerous cells to develop.

To drink raw milk is bad because animal protein has to be processed in order to be well digested by the human metabolism. Pasteurized milk is bad because it is processed. Milk from genetically treated cows is worst because of the hormones added.

If everyone is right, then everyone is wrong too. Today, food has become a political tool, and when politics gets involved in a problem as basic as whether milk is good or not, then to find the answer will take a lot of time, and a lot of money.

I found very interesting photographs in the collection that depict the different points of view over this problematic topic.


Roman Vishniac, [Boy learning to milk cows by using a model of a cow’s udders, Niederschönhausen, an occupational training camp for German Jews hoping to emigrate, Pankow, Berlin], 1930 (2012.80.17)

©Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy International Center of Photography

A boy is milking a model of a cow’s udders. Beginning in the 1930s, many German Jews sought to leave the country due to increasing Nazi oppression. Due to immigration restrictions they were more likely to successfully emigrate if they had artisanal, agricultural, or engineering skills. Because of this, vocational schools were formed to give people the opportunity to learn these much-needed skills and then emigrate.


Harold Eugene Edgerton, Coronet, 1936 (77.1987)

Edgerton’s Coronet is a very important photograph. Edgerton invented the strobe flash that let him freeze and follow movement on film.  The choice of milk is interesting. Because of its color and its consistency, it seems to be the perfect material for such an experiment. At this point in history, milk was also easily accessible.


Weegee, Milk Drinker on the Bowery, 1940s (14368.1993)

In the 1940s, the Bowery was a unique place. Most of the personalities found there were alcoholics and drug addicts, or simply homeless. This one man drinking milk straight out of the carton suggests the universality of milk and its importance to human diet. Whether thirst or hunger, milk will quench it.


Gordon Parks, [Child with bottles of milk], ca. 1970s (342.1974)

Gordon Parks’s image  takes us to that place of comfort where milk equals nourishment. We see a child drinking milk. We imagine how he will grow up strong and happy. The kid is being taken care of, or at least he has a good amount of milk to keep him going.


Aleksandras Macijauskas, In The Veterinary Clinic – 100, 1979 (1140.1986.u)

Aleksandras Macijauskas’s image suggests thoughts about animal experimentation, genetic treatments, and overall animal cruelty.

Juana Romero, ICP-Bard 2014

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