Journal of Food Law & Policy

Vol. 16, No. 1


Dairy Tales: Global Portraits of Milk and Law

Jessica Eisen, Xiaoqian Hu, Erum Sattar

Cow’s milk has enjoyed a widespread cultural signification in many parts of the world as “nature’s perfect food.”1 A growing body of scholarship, however, has challenged the image of cow’s milk in human diets and polities as a product of “nature,” and has instead sought to illuminate the political, scientific, colonial and postcolonial, economic, and social forces that have in fact defined the production, consumption, and cultural signification of cow’s milk in human societies. This emerging attention to the social, legal, and political significance of milk sits at the intersection of several fields of academic inquiry: anthropology, history, animal studies, development studies, gender studies, food studies, postcolonial and decolonial studies, and more. In each of these contexts, milk is not only the product of an animal, but also a product of human social, cultural, and legal choice.


Something to Celebrate?: Demoting Dairy in Canada's National Food Guide

Maneesha Deckha

In early 2019, the Canadian Government released the much-anticipated new Canada Food Guide. It is a food guide that de-emphasizes dairy products and promotes plant-based eating. Notably, in the new version, milk and milk products are de-listed as one of the previously four essential food groups. On the surface, it seems that the federal government is promoting veganism and helping to bring about a friendlier future for animals and humans harmed by being producers and consumers of dairy, as the new Guide may seriously contract the currently robust Canadian dairy industry and its powerful lobby. On closer inspection, the messaging from Health Canada is easily overtaken by an administrative landscape that protects the dairy industry and markets dairy products to Canadians and abroad as well as a legal landscape that completely commodifies cows. Adopting a critical animal studies perspective, this paper situates Health Canada’s de-listing of dairy as a nutritionally foundational food source within a larger socio-legal Canadian regulatory landscape to assess the potential of the new Canada Food Guide to contest the entrenched legal and cultural norm of the dairy cow and her milk as products for human consumption.


Milk and Law in the Anthropocene: Colonialism's Dietary Interventions

Kelly Struthers Montford

It is widely accepted that we are living in the Anthropocene: the age in which human activity has fundamentally altered earth systems and processes. Decolonial scholars have argued that colonialism’s shaping of the earth’s ecologies and severing of Indigenous relations to animals have provided the conditions of possibility for the Anthropocene. With this, colonialism has irreversibly altered diets on a global scale. I argue that dairy in the settler contexts of Canada and the United States remains possible because of colonialism’s severing of Indigenous relations of interrelatedness with the more-than-human world. I discuss how colonialism—which has included the institution of dairy—requires and authorizes relations that at their core seek to domesticate those imagined as wild, including humans, animals, and land. With this in mind, I then analyze recent and current dairy lawsuits as well as proposed legislation seeking to maintain legislated definitions of milk as exclusively animal-based. I argue that instances of mobilizing law to secure dairy as exclusively animal-based are attempts to re-secure settler colonial ontologies of life along a “real food” versus “fake food” dichotomy in which plant-based foods are positioned as substitutes for animal products. However, these pro-dairy lawsuits are often unsuccessful. Thus, dairy law is one arena in which settler colonialism’s orderings of life and relations are being challenged and re-made. In the context of the Anthropocene, the role of legal ontologies in shaping our consumption habits and relationships with animals remain all the more urgent.


"A Glass of Milk Strengthens a Nation." Law Development, and China's Dairy Tale

Xiaoqian Hu

Historically, China was a soybean nation and not a dairy nation. Today, China has become the world’s largest dairy importer and third largest dairy producer, and dairy has surpassed soybeans in both consumption volume and sales revenue. This article investigates the legal, political, and socioeconomic factors that drove this transformation, and building upon fieldwork in two Chinese counties, examines the transformation’s socioeconomic impact on China’s several hundred million farmers and ex-farmers and political impact on the Chinese regime. The article makes two arguments. First, despite changes of times and political regimes, China’s dairy tale is a tale about chasing the dreams of progress, modernization, and national rejuvenation. Second, and more tentatively, China’s recent moves toward hard authoritarianism have global roots and can be interpreted in part as political reactions to the systemic job losses and social dislocation in rural-agricultural China after its embrace of globalization.


Milk and the Motherland? Colonial Legacies of Taste and the Law in the Anglophone Caribbean

Merisa S. Thompson

This paper tells a story of the relationship between colonialism and capitalism through the lens of “milk” and “the law” in the Caribbean. Despite high levels of lactose intolerance amongst its population, milk is a regular part of many Caribbean diets and features prominently in its foodscapes. This represents a distinctive colonial inheritance that is the result of centuries of ongoing colonial violence and displacement. Taking a feminist and intersectional approach, the paper draws on analysis of key pieces of colonial legislation at significant historical junctures and secondary literature to do three things. Firstly, it examines how law aided the colonisation of peoples, lands and nature in the Caribbean, and how the introduction of draught animals and livestock played a key role in this story. Secondly, it shows how the colonial desire for tastes from the “motherland” resulted in the importation and consumption of bovine milk where there had previously been none, but also how this story of straight colonial imposition is complicated by the arrival of indentured Indian labourers after emancipation who brought with them their own dairy cultures of production and consumption. Thirdly, it examines how the colonial administration, at different points in time, used the law to manage and control the conditions of both human and bovine milk production, and demonstrates the ways in which this is linked to the commercialisation of bovine milk for human consumption. Ultimately, the paper shows how animals, peoples and nature were manipulated for colonial and capitalist ends and how laws relating to animals and milk produced change at specific historical junctures in tandem with shifts in colonial and post-colonial relations and new constellations of gender, race, class and animality.