Thought for the Dairy


With the Revd Angela Tilby

In these times, we are perhaps closer than we like to admit to the desert fathers and mothers who have, intrinsically and hermeneutically, taken from the very cud of the bovine stain a source of what flows, as it were, in the overused but nevertheless still relevant in a contemporary society for which calcium is a required part of everybody who has bones’ diet terminology referring to it thus as, if it may be somehow undressed in a single and necessarily inadequate word, milk. People simply dislike the assumption that they have inherited a controlling institution of dairies and milk-floats which emphasises dairy products and their power over human beings. It is not obviously good news that the only value I have is the value I acquire by pouring a little half-fat milk on my cereal every morning, though it is true that even in a compunction where insights have led to a general suspicion of full-cream products, there are those who have few reservations about the putting on of full-cream milk, even when a cereal such as coco-pops are concerned (they are so chocolatey that they make the milk turn brown).

This liberation of the self, a platonic ascetic in which Augustine discovered the original innocence which embodied his lifelong search for Christian spirituality, can also be a snare, and could easily turn into a narcissistic fixation on the self. Thus we are left with a fundamental dilemma, which is far more aggressive and complex than the misleadingly simple contemporary question “one pint or two?”

People who thirst must make space for milk; the Augustinian guilt hitherto a fundamental part of the dairy product model is no longer the most fruitful way for most individuals to ensure their bones are strong. There is a bovine image within all of us, but it is often only discovered through a detailed and dispassionate examination of how much we have actually colluded with what we put in our tea, what we put on our Weetabix, where cheese, yoghurt, fromage-frais and ice-creams are really all derived from. Accepting the discipline of the dairy product enables us to move towards a way of life where we are not simply driven to and fro by our instincts, drives and even blood sugar levels. It is the beginning of dietary stability. It is, paradoxically, the putting on of milk which actually leads to the emergence of that spontaneous self which is so vividly portrayed in the iconography of the milkman, who is surely a symbol of the very self itself.

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