Milk Day, celebrating milk as a source of human nutrition

Today, according to various food blogs and holiday sites, is Milk Day. Rumour has it that this day is celebrated as Milk Day because milk was first delivered in bottles on this day, 11 January, way back in 1878. I did some searching to confirm this, but was unable to do so – it seems there was a patent for a milk container issued in 1878, but the exact issue date for that patent was 29 January.

While I cannot confirm the milk bottle fact, I don’t see any reason why we should not celebrate Milk Day. Internationally, milk is an important source of human nutrition, and in New Zealand in particular, the milk industry forms the backbone of our country’s economy.

A hanging milker device used in a rotary milking parlor.(© All Rights Reserved)
A hanging milker device used in a rotary milking parlor.
(© All Rights Reserved)

The New Zealand milk industry was started nearly two centuries ago in 1814 when the first cows arrived in New Zealand after being imported by early European settlers. New Zealand milk exports started in 1846, and in 1871 the first dairy co-operative was created in the Otago region. From these early initiatives, the New Zealand dairy industry has grown in leaps and bounds. In 2001, the Fonterra company was formed from an amalgamation of existing co-ops, representing the majority of the country’s dairy farmers. Wholly owned by the more than 10 000 farmers who supply milk to it, Fonterra is currently the world’s largest dairy exporter, exporting to more than 100 countries. It is responsible for about 30% of the world’s dairy exports with revenue of close to NZ$ 20 billion (approx US$ 16.8 billion).

While New Zealand leads world milk exports, India is the biggest producer and consumer of milk. India does not, however, import or export milk – it solely produces milk for domestic consumption.

Beyond being a direct source of human nutrition, milk is also processed into a wide range of dairy products – cheese, yoghurt, cream, butter, ice cream, chocolate and more. While the majority of the milk consumed by humans come from cows, the milk from buffalo (esp in India), goats and sheep are also consumed in significant volumes, especially in processed form.

Over the years, human consumption of animal milk has been linked to a variety of health benefits and risks. On the positive side, milk has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and it promotes muscle growth and post-exercise recovery. Other reported benefits include improved immune function and relief of hypertension. On the negative side, there has been reports of the casein in milk causing autism spectrum disorders, and excessive consumption of milk has been linked to an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and potentially prostate cancer.

While there will probably forever be debates about the benefits and risks of milk consumption, as a source of fat, protein, carbohydrates, salts, minerals and vitamins, it continues to hold significant promise in addressing malnutrition and poverty, particularly as livestock management improves in the developing world.

Celebrating the birthday of Captain James Cook, explorer extraordinaire

Today is the birthday of James Cook, British explorer and navigator, born this day in 1728. While of Scottish descent, his shadow looms so large over the history of New Zealand (and Australia) that he may as well have been an honorary citizen of the region.

A man of skill and courage, Cook made three great voyages of discovery to the Pacific Ocean, and it was during the first of these that, among other things, he became the first European to reach the eastern coastline of Australia, and the first person to do a circumnavigation of New Zealand. He was the second European to reach New Zealand, 127 years after Abel Tasman. His mapping of the coastline of New Zealand was amazingly accurate and detailed, and he named many of the landmarks he discovered, including Cook Strait, the section of ocean separating New Zealand’s North and South Islands.

A painting of James Cook, by New Zealand artist Julia B Lynch, on display in the James Cook Hotel in Wellington.

An interesting tale about his first Pacific voyage is that he was initially engaged by the Royal Society to travel to Tahiti from where he was to observe and record the 1769 Transit of Venus. Unfortunately the separate measurements taken by Cook, astronomer Charles Green and Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, differed significantly, making the results from the measurements less conclusive than was hoped.

All was not lost, however, as there was a secret second part to his voyage – he had sealed orders from the Admiralty containing details of the second part of his voyage – he was to search the south Pacific ocean for the fabled rich continent of Terra Australis. These orders were kept secret to give the British the best chance of discovering Australia under the guise of an innocent scientific expedition to perform astronomical measurements.

Cook apparently had doubts about the existence of Australia, but thanks to the help of a Tahitian called Tupaia, who was an expert in the geography of the Pacific region, the second part of his journey proved highly successful. Cook first reached New Zealand in October 1769, mapping it in its entirety over a period of 6 months, before voyaging further west to reach the south-eastern coast of Australia.

Upon reaching New Zealand, Cook made the following entry in his journal on 8 October 1769: “The land on the Sea Coast is high, with Steep Cliffs; and back inland are very high Mountains. The face of the Country is of a hilly surface, and appears to be cloathed with wood and Verdure.”

A hilly, forest-covered country – quite a succinct description for New Zealand, and probably not all that different to my first impression of the country as I gazed out of the airplane window when I first arrived here almost 240 years after Captain Cook.

So here’s to Captain James Cook, from the hills of New Zealand. 🙂