By Carolina S. Ruiz Austria

The word "Heresy"

was used by Irenaeus in Contra Haereses to discredit his opponents in the early Christian Church. It has no purely objective meaning without an authoritative system of dogma.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Milk Relativism and Tarot Against the Patriarchy

This image is from the website of Karen Vogel and Vicki Noble

I attended a conference which was sponsored by the Women's Studies Association of the Philippines. Having been invited as a plenary speaker,but having no other background information about WSAP and its members, I assumed that the WSAP were more likely the "nerds" of the feminist movement. That is to say, my plenary paper/presentation ended up tackling the serious questions around feminist theory and practice in full "scholarly" mode albeit not without its own "punchlines."

I didn't really know what to expect but I'm glad to say that I learned a number of things and encountered quite a number of wonderful feminist educators.

Let's just say that while my own mother was a public school teacher and much later, an administrator at the Department of Education, still I never really figured I would end up anywhere near the teaching profession. So I never really thought I would eventually feel "teachers," were my "peeps." :-)

Now I realize I have been teaching a lawschool elective (Feminist Legal Theory and Practice, a.k.a. "Gender and Law") for four (going on five) years at UP and sometimes I teach a similar course as an MA elective at the Women and Development Program of CSWCD. Its not exactly a stellar teaching career afterall, I am but a lowly lecturer (that is the lowest sort of animal in the academic food chain) but then again 4-5 years of teaching has to count for something. Doesn't it? (I'll tell you when I figure out the answer to that one.)

The highlight of the event for me (that is apart from my own plenary presentation ;-) was the sharing session by a lively feminist food chemistry professor who captured our imagination with her take on food politics, the gendered realm of biochemistry, and the chemical composition of "sex drives." Amy, who is from Bukidnon, wasn't only informative in that science teacher sort of way, but she was chock full of wit.

(Later, I also had a fun-filled evening with some WSAP members and their newly elected President, Professor Arche Ligo of St. Scholastica's College, reading Motherpeace tarot!)

From Amy, we learned that "MILK" is one of the more diverse substances that there is, since each milk expressing creature (humans included) is unique. In fact, the claim of "homogeneity" and "purity" in manufactured milk (and milk products) only refer to the uniformity of the size of milk globules, not the chemical composition. But since the variation in "milk" also has a lot to do with the body's changing condition so that when mothers are in poor health, it also follows the quality of milk is poor. Unfortunately, the campaign slogan which says "Breastmilk is still best for babies up to two years..." manages to come off more as a guilt trip to mothers when it isn't qualified and infomation about women's health isn't included in the context. That is, Amy pointed out we ought to be also pointing out what mothers need (the enabling conditions) in order to even fulfill the committment of breastfeeding!

Of course after the conference, I began seeking out more information about milk and food politics. Jean Michel Basquiat, a young artist discovered by Andy Warhol once did an artwork that just said: "MILK(c)" in his childish scrawl on a clean white sheet of paper. Simple and deeply profound, it brings our attention to a simple, undispitable fact of our times: Milk is big business.

As of 2003, New Zealand, Australia, and the EU are leading dairy exporting countries/regions(see world map of milk exporters here) and even in the local supermarket or grocery, its easy to see most if not all of our milk products already come from these foreign sources. With liberalization in trade, its cheaper of course but just like everyone else I always thought "MILK," is milk and that processing actually makes milk better if not, cleaner?

It turns out this is not so simple. Processing, which earlier was pasteurization, now the UHT treatment, actually results in the loss of many nutrients in milk including Vitamin C, Vitamin B12, and Folic acid! In this website, Dr.Schmid, a practicioner of alternative medicine gives a historical background of the American Milk Industry and with it, the development of policies around milk treatment and a resulting a ban on raw milk.

Before the age of globalization of course, most of our milk sources were local and the processing common was pasteurization (which results in less deterioration of milk nutrients than UHT treatment, that is comparatively speaking). But pasteurized milk has a shorter shelf life than UHT treated milk and this difference (the monetary and profit standard) is what makes all the difference.

As soon as milk leaves the body (cow's udder or mother's breast), exposure to oxygen also results in the loss of milk's nutrients. So much for breast pumps and working mom's efforts?

This is why it has always been far more important to challenge workplace standards and conditions than it has been to force women to always make the "adjustment" whether by pumping in their break and spare time and stocking up the refrigerator with expressed breast milk.

When briefly I shared my newfound knowledge with an e-group of college friends, I was surprised to see the overwhelming response of many sympathetic moms who shared their frustrations about false infant formula claims touted as science, the lack of support systems, policies and mom/baby friendly workplaces, and the misinformation that ends up victimizing poor and uneducated moms most of all.

Once in a while though, the stars align and as the tarot reading WSAP women will attest, opportunities to do something tangible in advancing a cause one feels strongly about can simply present itself.

A few days ago, a long time friend and colleague who is an environmental activist and feminist, emailed me with an urgent invitation. The newly issued Milk Code rules are being barred from implementattion by the Milk manufacturing companies, claiming that its provsions obliging them to inform mothers about the superior benefits of breastfeeding will bring upon them, untold financial losses! Of course, I signed up with my daughter as one of the petitioners in intervention.


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