Debating Milk: Milk as Nutritious and Safe

  • Author / Creator
    Speake, Stephen W.
  • Since the early decades of the 20th century, the alignment of germ theory, pasteurisation technologies, nutrition, administrative and regulatory systems, and illness has normalised unpasteurised milk as dangerous while positioning pasteurised milk as safer and equally nutritious. This alignment constitutes a metanarrative that is used to organise public interactions with milk and has become part of a common heritage in Canada and the United States. My dissertation is about problematizing this metanarrative in an effort to understand the role science plays and has played in constituting pasteurised milk as a safe and nutritious food. The metanarrative that has formed around milk is interesting because it attempts to exclude and delegitimise the experience of drinking unpasteurised milk safely. This gap between the metanarrative and the experience of drinking raw milk safely has opened up a discursive space where raw milk activists can confront the metanarrative and reimagine milk as a more wholesome, nutrient-dense food that does not need to be pasteurised. This is fascinating because scientific discourses about milk present it as a dangerous food that requires pasteurisation; yet, different laws and government policies regarding milk have developed differently across diverse political landscapes. Unpasteurised milk is sold legally in Britain (except Scotland) and in many of the states within the United States. In Canada, it is illegal to distribute unpasteurised milk throughout the country. The implication of such diverse policies is that pasteurizing milk may not be necessary under all circumstances. My goal is to problematize how science only values milk in accordance with a particular set of scientific rationalities—especially those built around germ theory—that configure pasteurised milk as nutritious and safe while ignoring alternative views about the benefits of drinking raw milk safely. My focus is on how the metanarrative was and is being constituted by the scientific discourses of nutrition and safety. Therefore, I examine how these discourses emerged discursively within social contexts. I also examine how those ideas and claims act as the current institutional lens used to discipline challengers to the metanarrative. In that effort, I use genealogy and discourse analysis as my analytical methods to disturb the assumptions and claims of the metanarrative. Since this is a paper-based dissertation, each paper is a self-contained discussion of some different aspect of the past and/or present controversies around the value of pasteurising milk. Each paper points to an issue that represents the importance scientific ideas have in coordinating the various experiences of drinking milk. For that reason, I chose three specific and very different sets of problems that have arisen in attempts to comprehend milk. Then, in each paper I problematize some aspect of how past and present beliefs about milk were or continue to be constituted in ways that reveal the unstable and contestable nature of scientific theorising and the efficaciousness of the technological interventions. I find that institutionalised medicine continually moves toward creating static and simplified explanations around milk that authorise a particular view of milk that is easily administered and aligned with cultural-economic conditions. This dissertation argues that it is unreasonable to continue framing unpasteurised milk through a simple binary of dangerous versus safe or to continue valuing milk in terms of a reductionist nutritional paradigm. In Canada and the United States, the metanarrative is being challenged by raw milk activists as an arcane and static narrative that is institutionally “locked-in” and rigid. They claim that this metanarrative now mostly serves corporate distributors of pasteurised milk and protects pasteurised milk as a particular kind of commodity that has a longer shelf life and can be traded over long distances. Scientific ideas and claims contribute to these circumstances and I examine how they operate as a disciplinary technology. Challengers to the metanarrative do not appear to be calling for the withdrawal of scientific intervention, but rather for a reimagining of (1) how science conceptualises milk as healthy or dangerous and (2) whether those reimagined representations of the relationship between germs, pasteurisation, bodies, and illness could be used to leverage changes in the economic structures of accumulation and the political policies that support them.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Sociology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Dorow, Sara (Sociology)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Lupton, Deborah (Sociology)
    • Brigandt, Ingo (Philosophy)
    • Jones, Kevin (Sociology)
    • Vallianatos, Helen (Anthropology)