Tag Archives: yuck factor

Framing milk

The recent ‘Baby Gaga’ ice cream furor raises an interesting mirror to our views about food, species, and taboo. We’ve framed the adjectival “cow’s” into the the Western consciousness’ idea of the word milk, and this human variant throws another spanner in the works.

This comment by a HuffPo writer is telling:

I am an adventurous eater (just last night I had pig cheek, blood sausage, and bone marrow), but I think I draw the line when it comes to human meat or milk. While I’m sure it can be argued that it’s healthier than bovine milk, or better tasting, or more humane, there’s something that curdles my stomach when I think about it.

The overwhelmingly negative response is due to what bioethicists have eloquently termed the “yuck factor”, which underpins many of our social taboos. Indeed, the ice cream on question is sold as taboo by a woman in Lady Gaga-ish attire – the atraction, for some, is clearly a form of willful social deviance. (And I’m trying to ignore Gaga’s “nausea-inducing” quote…when it comes to food ethics, it’s hard to take someone who wears meat dresses seriously.)

It’s interesting to separate the various arguments for and against consuming food made from human milk. Beyond the yuck factor and the potential ‘slippery slope’ danger of blurring species boundaries (this is only a negative if you’re a speciesist, of course), public health comes to mind, given the bioaccumulation of POPs and other toxins or pathogens in trophically high-up species like ours. Positively, I can imagine some animal abolitionists making a case for such products, on the grounds that the contributors did so voluntarily.

Other than that, though, the cost seems out of proportion to its nutritional or organoleptic value, reinforcing the idea that the taboo-breaking motivation is foremost. I’m a consequentalist in most things, so I don’t have any core deontological problem with ice cream from human milk, but in this particular case, the purpose seems more to shock–to violate social norms for the sole purpose of having violated social norms. Too bad, really, because there’s an interesting conversation to be had if you look beyond mere deviance.

Update (5/2/11) on human breast milk offering in NYC – based on the picture, it’s all about shock value.