Re-imagining Milk: Cultural and Biological Perspectives, 2nd Edition (Paperback) book cover

Re-imagining Milk

Cultural and Biological Perspectives, 2nd Edition

By Andrea S. Wiley


156 pages | 36 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2015-12-02
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Milk is a fascinating food: it is produced by mothers of each mammalian species for consumption by nursing infants of that species, yet many humans drink the milk of another species (mostly cows) and they drink it throughout life. Thus we might expect that this dietary practice has some effects on human biology that are different from other foods. In Re-imagining Milk Wiley considers these, but also puts milk-drinking into a broader historical and cross-cultural context. In particular, she asks how dietary policies promoting milk came into being in the U.S., how they intersect with biological variation in milk digestion, how milk consumption is related to child growth, and how milk is currently undergoing globalizing processes that contribute to its status as a normative food for children (using India and China as examples). Wiley challenges the reader to re-evaluate their assumptions about cows' milk as a food for humans. Informed by both biological and social theory and data, Re-imagining Milk provides a biocultural analysis of this complex food and illustrates how a focus on a single commodity can illuminate aspects of human biology and culture.


Who could imagine that an everyday substance like milk could be so fascinating? Or that such a slim volume could have so much depth? Wiley shows us the power of a bio-cultural approach to food on every page, in a format that is both comprehensive and easy for students to digest.

Richard Wilk, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Indiana University Center for the Study of Food

Re-imagining Milk untangles the complicated interconnections between our social and biological lives, challenging our myths and assumptions about a seemingly simple and "good" food. It is a clear, concise, and thoughtful case study suitable for courses in such fields as anthropology, nutrition, health, and human biology.

Alexandra A. Brewis, Arizona State University

Andrea Wiley’s biocultural account is an indispensable guide to milk, both as substance and symbol. Whether explaining the difference between dairy allergies and lactose intolerance or the complexity of commodity pricing, Wiley's easy-to-digest scientific explanations and illuminating cross-cultural analyses do the reader good. By making sense of contemporary dietary controversies in light of milk's evolutionary and cultural history, Wiley clearly separates the myths from the realities of milk’s exceptionalism.

Heather Paxson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An intelligent, fascinating and highly accessible book that carefully and methodically walks the reader through the genetics of milk digestion, milk’s role in nutrition and the politics of food and health. A wonderful book for any course that includes food politics. A fantastic read that disentangles and illuminates how and why milk has become a global commodity.

Crystal Patil, University of Illinois at Chicago

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: On the "specialness" of milk 2. Population variation in milk digestion and dietary policy 3. A Brief History of Milk Consumption: Europe and the U.S. 4. Milk consumption, calcium, and child growth 5. Growing children around the world: the globalization of childhood milk consumption 6. Conclusion

About the Series

Routledge Series for Creative Teaching and Learning in Anthropology

Editors: Richard H. Robbins, SUNY at Plattsburgh and Luis A. Vivanco, University of Vermont 

This series is dedicated to innovative, unconventional ways to connect undergraduate students and their lived concerns about our social world to the power of social science ideas and evidence. We seek to publish titles that use anthropology to help students understand how they benefit from exposing their own lives and activities to the power of anthropological thought and analysis. Our goal is to help spark social science imaginations and, in doing so, open new avenues for meaningful thought and action.

Books proposed for this series should pose questions and problems that speak to the complexities and dynamism of modern life, connecting cutting edge research in exciting and relevant topical areas with creative pedagogy. We seek writing that is clear and accessible, yet not simplistic. The series has three primary projects:

The Anthropology of Stuff

This project invites proposals for 100 to 120 page books devoted to tracing the biographies and social lives of commodities that illuminate for students the network of people, institutions, and activities that create their material world. The series already has successful titles on milk, coffee, lycra, counterfeit goods, bicycles, Wal-Mart, and alcohol, as well as a forthcoming title on seafood. We seek books that:

  • Focus on specific problems or issues (e.g. social inequality, violence, gender discrimination, consumption, environmental degradation, urban mobility, etc.).
  • Use close description and analysis of everyday objects to stimulate students to think about their own culture and their place in it.
  • Make complex concepts (e.g. capitalism, the nature of hegemony, commodification, etc.) accessible to undergraduate readers.
  • Integrate a set of learning and teaching tools that could include the use of field research projects, group projects, media analysis, films, web-based research, and other relevant activities.

Anthropology and Civic Engagement

This project invites proposals for 100 to 120 page books that examine anthropology’s historical, contemporary, or potential involvement in civic affairs, contributions to key public debates, and/or engagement with diverse notions of citizenship and civic participation. Its goal is to illuminate for students how anthropological concepts, methods, and approaches can create powerful insights about critical social issues, while at the same time providing useful models for civic engagement for the construction of a more equitable society. We seek books that:

  • Focus on specific problems or issues (e.g., the health care debate, school violence, environmental activism, historic preservation, gender inequality, intellectual property, equity and social justice movements, food justice, rights of marginalized groups, etc.).
  • Help students understand how concepts such as citizenship, engagement, public participation, collaboration, activism, etc. are constructed and mobilized in specific political and social contexts.
  • Examine how anthropology’s concepts, methodological tools, and ethical principles relate to strategic and effective engagement with public concerns and dilemmas.
  • Integrate a set of learning and teaching tools that could include the use of field research projects, group projects, media analysis, films, web-based research, and other relevant activities.

High-Impact Anthropology

This project invites proposals for 150-350 page introductory texts that integrate high impact teaching and learning practices with treatment of specific topical areas that are the focus on undergraduate courses in anthropology. These specific topical areas could include Anthropology of Religion, Economic Anthropology, Political Anthropology, Anthropology of Food, Environmental Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, Anthropology of Gender and Sexuality, etc. The texts should examine the development of the field and provide coverage of key concepts and theories. At the same time, they should integrate high-impact educational practices into the structure of the text and its features. These practices could include:

  • Problem-centered learning
  • Question-based learning
  • Collaborative learning
  • Community-based learning
  • Writing-intensive approaches
  • Experiential learning
  • Co-curricular learning
  • Field-based learning


If you have a proposal that you believe would fit into the series in one of its three project areas, or if you have any questions about the series, please contact Richard Robbins at [email protected], or Luis Vivanco at [email protected]

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Anthropology / Cultural
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General