The much lamented Dutch lunch habit of drinking milk with sandwiches can sometimes be liberating too. Recently a student from Ecuador told me how much she enjoyed not being stared at while drinking milk with lunch. As a nutritionist she knows that milk is a perfect food as it “is the most complete source of nutrition available “(Dupuis 2002:25). However, in her home context milk is associated with baby food or with weak and sick people. Drinking milk with a meal as an adult is frowned upon as inappropriate behaviour.
Once, this was the case in our country too. Unfortunately little to nothing is known about the diet of ordinary people during the middle ages, but what we know of lords, knights and kings – the elite at that time – is that there was a similar taboo on drinking milk here too. Culturally inappropriate, not least because of milk being highly perishable, people mainly drank beer. Urbanisation and industrialization were two important factors which helped milk to its current status of a healthy drink in the USA shows Melanie DuPuis in her great book ‘Nature’s perfect food’. Very much a token of the Dutch lunch culture, drinking a glass of milk is a habit which is only about 150 years old.
And as anthropologist Wiley shows, there is currently a similar relationship between urbanization and fresh milk consumption appearing in China. Growth in milk consumption is largely happening in urban areas and mainly consumed by Chinese upper classes. Milk is now commonly available as an alternative to alcoholic beverages in urban restaurants in China and is associated with a number of beneficial features such as trendy Western food styles, increased body length, healthy teeth and the prevention of ageing (Wiley 2007).