Nature's Perfect Food: How Milk Became America's Drink / Edition 1

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For over a century, America's nutrition authorities have heralded milk as "nature's perfect food," as "indispensable" and "the most complete food." These milk "boosters" have ranged from consumer activists, to government nutritionists, to the American Dairy Council and its ubiquitous milk moustache ads. The image of milk as wholesome and body-building has a long history, but is it accurate?

Recently, within the newest social movements around food, milk has lost favor. Vegan anti-milk rhetoric portrays the dairy industry as cruel to animals and milk as bad for humans. Recently, books with titles like, "Milk: The Deadly Poison," and "Don't Drink Your Milk" have portrayed milk as toxic and unhealthy. Controversies over genetically-engineered cows and questions about antibiotic residue have also prompted consumers to question whether the milk they drink each day is truly good for them.

In Nature's Perfect Food Melanie Dupuis illuminates these questions by telling the story of how Americans came to drink milk. We learn how cow's milk, which was associated with bacteria and disease became a staple of the American diet. Along the way we encounter 19th century evangelists who were convinced that cow's milk was the perfect food with divine properties, brewers whose tainted cow feed poisoned the milk supply, and informal wetnursing networks that were destroyed with the onset of urbanization and industrialization. Informative and entertaining, Nature's Perfect Food will be the standard work on the history of milk.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Du Puis' book is a rich and frothy drink, well worth consuming, just like its subject."

-New York History

"This is an entertaining, informative, and tightly argued book, one well worth adding to any food library."


"A breakthrough piece of work in food studies as well as a very enjoyable read."

-Frederick H. Buttel,University of Wisconsin, Madison

"Intriguing, nuanced, and complex. The stories DuPuis tells about milk are at once captivating and analytically astute. Lots of historical surprises and ironies add spice to her extensive findings about more than a century of milk madness in America."

-Nancy Lee Peluso,University of California, Berkeley

"Very readable and extremely well documented...DuPuis provides great insights throughout by reflecting on the thoughts of influential thinkers."


"DuPuis is able to dive beneath the controversy that milk engenders today. Instead, she presents an informative, balanced history of milk production and consumption—how we get our milk and why we drink so much of it."

-E,Westport, CT

"A concise look into the history of the growth of milk in will answer all of your questions."-Evan Perrault,Agric Hum Values

"DuPuis's achievement is considerable—it is a rare scholarly volume that will also fascinate general readers. Fans of Mark Kurlansky's Cod will enjoy the diverse strands of history and science that define one of the commonplace staples in our daily lives—milk. Moreover, no one thinking about the present controversey over industrialized agriculture will want to go very far without DuPuis's analysis in hand."

-Sally Fairfax,University of California, Berkeley

"An excellent social history of the development of milk drinking and production in the United States."

-American Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814719381
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

E. Melanie DuPuis is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of Nature's Perfect Food: How Milk Became America's Drink.

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Table of Contents

Pt. I Consumption
1 Why Milk? 3
2 The Perfect Food Story 17
3 Why Not Mother? The Rise of Cow's Milk as Infant Food in Nineteenth-Century America 46
4 The Milk Question: Perfecting Food as Urban Reform 67
5 Perfect Food, Perfect Bodies 90
Pt. II Production
6 Perfect Farming: The Industrial Vision of Dairying 125
7 The Less Perfect Story: Diversity and Farming Strategies 144
8 Crisis: The "Border-Line" Problem 165
9 Alternative Visions of Dairying: Productivism and Producerism in New York, Wisconsin, and California 183
10 The End of Perfection 210
Afterword 241
Notes 244
Bibliography 271
Index 297
About the Author 311
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