Human Breast Milk Ice Cream: Udderly Ridiculous, Right?

Oh boy.

The Breast Is Best! PETA Asks Ben & Jerry’s to Dump Dairy and Go With Human Milk Instead

This morning, PETA dispatched a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, cofounders of ice cream icon Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., urging them to replace the cow’s milk in their products with human breast milk. PETA’s request comes in the wake of news reports that a Swiss restaurant owner will begin purchasing breast milk from nursing mothers and substituting breast milk for 75 percent of the cow’s milk in the food he serves. PETA points out to Cohen and Greenfield that such a move on their part would lessen the suffering of dairy cows and their babies on factory farms and benefit human health at the same time.

Just another PETA publicity stunt, right? I mean, no one would seriously use human milk in food, surely. Surely. Well, the chances that the famous gourmet ice-cream makers will heed PETA’s plea are somewhere between none and zero. But, as it turns out, according to this story there’s already a Swiss restaurant doing it. So it’s not impossible, let alone unthinkable.

Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, famous for being environmentally & ethically aware, had a suitably diplomatic response:

We applaud [the group’s] novel approach to bringing attention to an issue, but we believe a mother’s milk is best used for her child,” said a Ben & Jerry’s spokesperson.

Aside from the (irrational) yuck factor, and setting aside worries about pandering to the trivial erotic lactation market, is there any good argument against marketing human milk or products made from it, for consumption by adults? Sure, there are pragmatic concerns about consistency of supply, and perhaps about the way a woman’s diet alters the taste of her milk. But beyond schoolboy jokes, would there be any serious objection? I can think of only one, having to do with the commodification of motherhood. Yes, mother’s milk is a renewable resource, but it also has symbolic value; add to that the fact that it’s very likely that only pretty seriously economically disadvantaged women are likely to end up selling their milk. I’m not a huge fan of commodification arguments, but surely there’s at least a prima facie case to be made that, even if supply-chain issues could be sorted out, the selling of breast milk to make gourmet ice-cream would be subject to most of the same objections as prostitution — but then, I suppose, it would be subject to most of the same defenses.

2 comments so far

  1. Caroline on

    Actually, there are “breast milk banks” (see http://tinyurl.com/525oy4). But they even though they sell breast milk, it’s done using a “baby care” vocabulary which respects the symbolic value of this resource (they’ll argue that it’s to compensate a baby in the best way possible if ever her mom can’t breastfeed). Notice also that the milk is used as it’s commonly done (to feed a human baby), lessening the “commodification” angle (contrary to using it for other things, as an ingredient of Chocolate Chips & Cookie Dough ice cream…).

  2. […] with us drinking cow’s milk? Doesn’t calves have a stronger moral claim to that milk? PETA actually asked ice cream makers Ben & Jerry in 2008 to make ice cream out of human milk in…, out of concern for animal welfare. In fact, milk willingly given (with full informed consent) […]


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