Nature's Perfect Food

How Milk Became America's Drink

310 pages

February, 2002

ISBN: 9780814719374



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E. Melanie DuPuis is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of Nature's Perfect Food: How Milk Became America's Drink

All books by E. Melanie Dupuis

For over a century, America's nutrition authorities have heralded milk as "nature's perfect food," as "indispensable" and "the most complete food." These milk "boosters" have ranged from consumer activists, to government nutritionists, to the American Dairy Council and its ubiquitous milk moustache ads. The image of milk as wholesome and body-building has a long history, but is it accurate?

Recently, within the newest social movements around food, milk has lost favor. Vegan anti-milk rhetoric portrays the dairy industry as cruel to animals and milk as bad for humans. Recently, books with titles like, "Milk: The Deadly Poison," and "Don't Drink Your Milk" have portrayed milk as toxic and unhealthy. Controversies over genetically-engineered cows and questions about antibiotic residue have also prompted consumers to question whether the milk they drink each day is truly good for them.

In Nature's Perfect Food Melanie Dupuis illuminates these questions by telling the story of how Americans came to drink milk. We learn how cow's milk, which was associated with bacteria and disease became a staple of the American diet. Along the way we encounter 19th century evangelists who were convinced that cow's milk was the perfect food with divine properties, brewers whose tainted cow feed poisoned the milk supply, and informal wetnursing networks that were destroyed with the onset of urbanization and industrialization. Informative and entertaining, Nature's Perfect Food will be the standard work on the history of milk.


  • "A concise look into the history of the growth of milk in will answer all of your questions."

    —Evan Perrault, Agric Hum Values

  • "A breakthrough piece of work in food studies as well as a very enjoyable read."

    —Frederick H. Buttel, University of Wisconsin, Madison

  • "DuPuis's achievement is considerable—it is a rare scholarly volume that will also fascinate general readers. Fans of Mark Kurlansky's Cod will enjoy the diverse strands of history and science that define one of the commonplace staples in our daily lives—milk. Moreover, no one thinking about the present controversey over industrialized agriculture will want to go very far without DuPuis's analysis in hand."

    —Sally Fairfax, University of California, Berkeley

  • "Intriguing, nuanced, and complex. The stories DuPuis tells about milk are at once captivating and analytically astute. Lots of historical surprises and ironies add spice to her extensive findings about more than a century of milk madness in America."

    —Nancy Lee Peluso, University of California, Berkeley

  • "Du Puis' book is a rich and frothy drink, well worth consuming, just like its subject."

    New York History

  • "This is an entertaining, informative, and tightly argued book, one well worth adding to any food library."