Isn’t it intriguing how topics seem to congregate at the same time – almost co-incidentally? I know a few people don’t believe in co-incidences which raises the question of what is happening when unrelated related things happen simultaneously? That’s one for the philosophers and scientists. Here I’m more concerned about the history.

Milk, cow’s milk, is regarded as pretty much a staple once children have been weaned from mother’s milk. Other cultures such as in Mongolia make good use of yak, horse and goat milk for cheese, vodka-type drinks and on its own. I recall being at a student science event where plastic was made from milk although the young scientists said this wouldn’t be promoted to ensure that milk-reliant communities such as people in India would not feel tempted to sell their milk to corporations (for more money) than to use it locally. The impact on the poor would be too great. And then there is coconut milk – a refreshing drink in hot tropical climates although today it can be found alongside milks of other kinds for people with lactose intolerance and other dietary preferences.

During the First World War in East Africa, milk was an important part of the ration, especially for those in hospital. This was brought to light whilst I was transcribing the Kirkpatrick or 9 South African Infantry enquiry (TNA: CO 551/101) into the poor treatment and supply of the men during their march from Himo to Kondoa Irangi and onto Kilosa (a trip of 400 miles). Where fresh milk could not be obtained, there was a form of powdered milk and also condensed milk. Whilst at Kondoa we read of milk being in short supply, although there was in the locality. This seldom got to the hospital as it was bought by soldiers meeting the locals on their way in – there was little control or co-ordination of local supplies given the early chaos of breaking through (think back to March/April 2020 when shops were limited in their stocks and hours/numbers allowed in were restricted). There’s also an account of one orderly who was found drinking patients’ milk rather than distributing it. (More on the report will be made available in due course as it opens some interesting windows on the campaign as I shared with the SA Military History Society on 8 April 2021.)

So, it was with some interest that I read this article on Milk-Bars in Rwanda. For anyone who has seen my avatar, I’m standing with a Rwandan Royal cow. The article explains the significance and importance of cows (and milk) in Rwanda. The Maasai too are well known for their milk drinking, theirs mixed with blood. And I heard not too long ago about a researcher looking into the history of the dairy stool used for milking cows. More recently, I was reading of Marthe Kiley-Worthington’s breeding of double-sucklers. If you’re interested in the history of how milk became such a staple, here’s an article for starters and something a little more controversial.

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