Sunday, October 19, 2008

Milk sans Human Kindness; or why is the Iyer yogurt so gooey?

This blog is to lament the passing away of wholesome cow’s milk due to the kind-less-ness of the human kind. Why milk? Why not something else? We choose milk first mainly because milk is our birthright and in many Indian houses an important part of our death-rites as well. We intuitively depend on milk as the perfect good food especially for those of us at the toothless stages of our lives.

As every one knows, man is the only animal to deprive others of their rights even (or perhaps especially) when his basic comforts are satisfied. This is also true for the calf and its right to its mother’s milk. We are inured of such sympathetic thoughts towards the calf now. There is this mental, physical, and philosophical degradation of the way we look at milk especially when we make profits from them and place it under severe environmental stress.

Now, no matter how matter-of-fact and practical we are there is no gain-saying that we are attached to milk from our breast-feeding days. Also, no matter how liberated a woman can want to be in a unisex sense, I have this suspicion that all women would love to experience for herself the true meaning of the phrase “milk of human kindness” applied to her child. At the same time some ladies, like Lady Macbeth, may fear some one to be too full o’the milk of human kindness to take up evil spirits and do harm to somebody else in order to advance in life. Such fears are prevalent mainly in upper echelons of corporate houses and other ruling classes, especially when the business is to milk profits.

Incredible as it may seem, the degradation of cow’s milk on its way to the human imbiber may have started with Louis Pasteur himself since pasteurization destroys natural enzymes that help in digestion and alters proteins. I am not one prone to endorse scientific statements testifying to industrial practices - good or mal. I point out some nevertheless. For example, cats drinking pasteurized milk have been reported to have low sperm count and deliver still born babies by the third generation. Can we now guess why there are difficulties in having children among upper class educated families in India brought up on pasteurized milk?

Milking profits from milk itself is an industrial exercise which is perhaps certain to be kind-less. It can be done more tenderly perhaps. As children, we noted how our mother preferred milk men who brought a calf along to initiate the milking process. The calves were removed once the milk of kindness flowed easily, and the cows were milked manually. The calf would almost always get back the nearly empty udder. This was perhaps the closest one could get to a kindly profit in milking.

As the population of people who could afford to buy milk increased, the calves were done away with (literally) and the stuffed remains were carried by the milkman who showed it to the mother cow for the lactation to start. We hated to see this as children. The cow began to be milked more and more away from our sight until we saw it as pasteurized milk in cold plastic bags instead of fresh milk in hot cylindrical metal containers.

There could be major environmental impact when using plastic bags or bottles. As Mrs Robinson could assert in the summer of 42, plastics have been dangerous in several ways, especially when they are used as substitutes for natural things. Good-looking plastics such as the transparent polycarbonates leach out BPA (Bisphenol-A) dangerously when boiled or washed with some detergents. BPA influences development of brain, reproductive system and could be linked to harmful effects on sperm counts, or early puberty. “What parent or teacher” one has asked “has not noticed that girls are maturing far earlier than they used to?” These symptoms are surprisingly similar to a late twentieth century biotechnical invention which could be the primary focus of this blog. It could also be the cause for the potential death of healthy Indian yogurt.

One of the pleasures of fresh cow’s milk is the yogurt or curd that one obtains from it and the smell of hot milk and the taste of the sediment at the bottom of the pot in which the milk is boiled. Setting yogurt, churning the cream out to make butter, having buttermilk with curry leaves in hot afternoons, making paneer and good rasagollas were things done normally at home. We could identify with and mimic events mentioned in ancient stories of Krishna and his makhan chori, for instance.

In the days of a monetarily poor but culturally rich and happy family of India of my youth (50s), we were constantly reminded by several “learned” government and other agencies of our large cattle population and the way they competed for human food of the “hungry” millions. It seemed quite logical – especially for us “convent”-educated, Christian-ized children – that we kill the cattle for food and improve the yield of milk from the surviving cows. Jersey cows and their yields was what we admired and introduced into our dairy system or whatever there existed of it. Look at the Jersey cows!

Our first negative impact of modern dairy practices came when we went to Europe as a family the first time in the early 80s. Jersey cows were abundant there and we looked forward to their milk and other dairy products. We noticed straightaway that we just could not set curds and make rosogollas the way they could be made at home with the local milk. The curd would turn to be a little gooey and the rosogollas, while being easier to make at first, would easily disintegrate on keeping. We would often wonder why the yogurt would turn out that way in Europe and not in ours. “They must be adding something” in their food is what we normally say.

It takes some time for us Indians to realize that the relationship between man and modern dairy cattle is not the same as that in countries we would like to emulate. It is all mechanized now in western countries, including the cows being kept in narrow confinements so that they cannot move when the milking machine is attached to their udders.

In what follow technical terms will be used because it could help if it is included in the common vocabulary sooner than later especially if we are not to be forgiven for our trespasses.

One of the more heartless modern procedures is the use of growth hormone (GH) injections to increase milk production by 15 per cent or more. The GH milk is a major contribution from an emerging biotechnology industry. It is often labeled as “rBGH” (rBGH = recombinant bovine growth hormone manufactured by Monsanto Company) and is a genetically engineered “copy” (we don’t really know what a “copy” means or does in bio-systems) of a naturally occurring hormone produced by cows. The name of the label itself is, for present purposes, more important than its meaning.

The rBGH additive is legally allowed in USA but not in most other developed countries. The environmentally damaging aspect is that this technology is easily adaptable. In India we see even the roadside milkman injecting cattle to get more milk, more so in the festive or wedding seasons when milk products are in high demand. This is of course of immense concern to the ordinary Indian like me; and not only because it is spoiling my yogurt.

There are concerns in USA regarding health hazards due to consumption of milk or flesh (about 40% of the beef used to make hamburgers come from "old" dairy cows) derived from rBGH-treated cows. Because of this concern, milk which is labeled “rBGH-free” has shown a growth of over 500 % in the last few years. Starbucks of USA, among others have decided to reduce (now at nearly 70%) the use of rBGH-treated milk for their coffees. There are even reports that Monsanto is planning to sell off this part of its business. Such cncerns are of little help in the Indian context.

A more serious concern in “scientific” studies is the increased levels of another growth hormone called insulin-like-growth-factor-1 (IGF1) in milk. According to a European Union study, IGF-1 of treated milk is thought to be localized at the udder (mastitis, with symptoms similar to inflammatory breast cancer) causes infection at injection sites and increases (by 55%) the risk of lameness. Excess levels of IGF-1 in the milk are associated with breast, colon and pr ostate cancer.
The extent of increase in IGF-1 was reported to be as high as 3.5 or more even in the earliest reports. Among other links are those to a higher risk of diabetes, a shorter lifespan and an increase in the number of twins born to humans. All the above information has been gleaned from the internet and could have been available to a concerned reader.

As we should know empirically if not intuitively (being milk drinkers) yogurt is made by first boiling the milk (which is always mandatory in most traditional Indian homes even if milk is pasteurized and has simply to be drunk) and by adding the required bacteria (usually just adding a spoonful of an earlier batch of yogurt). The bacteria metabolizes the lactose slowly and leading to a slow release of lactic acid forming a gel that gives solid-like consistency to the yogurt. Its ability to retain all the water present in the milk is the result of a peculiar microstructure of the protein network. It consists of short branched chains of casein micelles and resembles a sponge with very small pores. The solid like structure is obtained when the water is retained in these pores. Inability to do so would result in a more watery or gooey structure.

The IGF-1 in treated and untreated milk has different lengths of chains of amino acids wich accounts for altered interactions with immune system. It is known for fatty acids and lipids that shorter hydrocarbon chains dcrease the rigidity of the fatty acid or lipid layers. The question now is whether the shorter chains of amino acids could influence the nature of the protein network of curds in hormone-treated milk. This will tell me why the curd from modern dairies do not set well.

American companies such as Tilamook, Cascade Fresh, Stonyfield and so on, who are proud of their yogurt emphasize the fact that they do not use rBGH in their milk. Danone’s or Yoplait’s credentials in this aspect are not very clean at least till a while back.

Wonder what our own Amul has to say.

Human IGF-1 and bovine IGF-1 are said to be identical except that in humans IGF-1 are bound to protein and are less biologically active than the unbound IGF-1 in rBGH milk. Is there a lesson to be learnt for Indians?

One could forgive and forget all this simply as figments of a “scientific” imagination. But what about the gooey curd (as we call yogurt) I get now? That is reality! The curd set by my wife, the best curd-setter in the Iyer world (is there any other curd world?) is becoming gooey! Is it finally the rBGH-treated cow’s revenge? Holy cow!!!

Holy cow???

In the seven churches of San Stefano in Bologna, Italy, there is a section containing a wooden panel covered with paintings of exotic animal shapes. Next to that is an ancient wooden figure, about five feet tall and carved from a single block of wood. The wooden figure is that of San Bovo, who was born around 940 to a noble feudal family and died on the 22nd may of 986 AD, in Voghera, Pavia. This is a date still celebrated by animal lovers, at least in Voghera. It turns out that San Bovo was a renowned warrior fighting against Saracenese invaders. After his successful exit from the wars San Bovo became an ascetic and took up a life of penance. He became a cult figure for those interested in domestic animals. The wooden figure in San Stefano, Bologna, carries a flag (standard) with the image of a cow (?) and with the inscription “sopra alla bovine” which I translate as “Above all is the cow”.

The cow is truly a Annapurna as long as we leave some of its holy grails associated with it strictly alone and not milk excessive profits from her.

“Once upon a time, milk was teeming with life forces. Today, supermarket milk is a brew of hormones, chemicals, DDT, fungicides, defoliants and radioactive fallout, produced by artificially inseminated creatures forced to stand around in muddy feed lots all day”. (shirley’

Where are the green fields that we used to roam (Beatles).


Surabhi Ganguly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Surabhi Ganguly said...

i dont know why you wanted me to review it - the material is very good and very thought provoking. you should publicize a bit more....

Surabhi Ganguly said...

by the way - i posted the first comment but deleted it because there was a spelling mistake....