Re-imagining Milk

Cultural and Biological Perspectives

By Andrea S. Wiley

© 2011 – Routledge

134 pages

Purchasing Options:
Paperback: 9780415806572
pub: 2010-11-08
Hardback: 9780415806565
pub: 2010-11-08

e–Inspection Copy Companion Website

About the Book

Written explicitly for undergraduates, Re-imagining Milk demonstrates how a particular commodity can be used to illustrate ethnocentric beliefs about the universal goodness of milk; biological variation in human populations; political and economic processes that inform dietary policies, nutrition education, and current trends in globalization; the utility of a biocultural approach to the study of food; the cultural construction of a commodity that is consumed by many students on a daily basis, or if not, certainly is one that students "know" they "should" consume daily.


"It is the best general-interest introduction I've seen to the seldom-understood events that have urged milk-drinking as a nutritional duty on literally billions of people around the globe since the late 1890s."—Anne Mendelson, Gastronomica

"Andrea Wiley's highly readable analysis of milk is a biocultural approach to anthropology that illustrates insights gained from integrating cultural, political, economic, and biological perspectives. Readers will come away with an understanding of milk and its consumption that moves from the genetic to the societal level."—Craig Hadley, Anthropology, Emory University

"Andrea Wiley’s critical insights into a commodity that is central to U.S. identity, shapes food ideologies and consumption practices across the globe, and is built on the flawed bio-ethnocentric notion of milk as 'natures’ perfect food.' This interesting and accessible text is perfect for use in my courses on contemporary human variation and food politics!"—Deborah L. Crooks, Anthropology, University of Kentucky

"Professors of introductory cultural anthropology are always searching for ways to make anthropology stimulating and relevant for students….Routledge has embarked on a parallel series of short monographs ('Series for Creative Teaching and Learning in Anthropology') that takes a fresh approach, provocatively described as "The Anthropology of Stuff." These first two books provide promising beginnings to the series, affirming anthropology as the study of people and the everyday "stuff" that surrounds us. Wiley (Indiana Univ.) accomplishes the task admirably. Her biocultural approach surveys the physiology of cow's milk consumption by humans, the history of milk drinking in Europe and the US, and the globalization of milk promotion, in particular for childhood growth. Reminiscent of Sidney Mintz's pathbreaking contribution to food studies, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History (CH, Oct'85), both monographs share an overall framework of anthropology that embeds historical and ethnographic details within critical perspectives. The results are illuminating and memorable."—C. R. Yano, University of Hawaii, Recommended title, CHOICE

"Re-imagining Milk joins a growing number of books that explore food consumption from social scientific perspectives, providing a sound introduction to a single (yet complex) commodity case study ideal for advanced undergraduates and beginning graduate students. As interdisciplinary scholarly interests in ‘‘food studies’’ expand, Wiley’s book is a welcome contribution that explores how social, political, and economic forces interact with the biology of a commonly consumed food product."- Contemporary Sociology 2012 41: 394

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 Author

Andrea S. Wiley is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Human Biology at Indiana University, Bloomington. She has conducted long-term field research in India. Her previous works include An Ecology of High Altitude Infancy and Medical Anthropology: A Biocultural Perspective (with John Allen).

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, or Luis Vivanco at

Learn more…

Subject Categories

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