Milk insights from Henry Hobhouse

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

My admiration for the mind (and pen) of the economic historian Henry Hobhouse knows no bounds.  You can keep your Jaded Diamonds, it's HH for me.  I have just finished his 3rd book: Forces of Change, having read his first two, Seeds of Change and Seeds of Wealth, a while back.  Regular readers will remember references to HH before.  I particularly liked his insight that the sixteenth century dissolution of the monasteries led to the injection of much intellectual talent into secular society, thus hastening social changes which we all still benefit from today.  I feel the same about the QAA, though whether it will have the same effect is a moot point.

There's text on p. 215 of Forces of Change illustrates why I find HH's writing so illuminating as it shows his ability to find new angles and ideas.  He's writing about agriculture, in particular, the milk industry.  He says:

"Great play was made of milk in "health" terms.  ... In the United States milk became healthy in direct proportion to the number of dairy farmers and their influence on state legislatures.  Thus, milk was healthier in New York State or Wisconsin than in South Dakota or Louisiana.  In Europe, milk was much healthier in Switzerland than in any of the Latin countries.  In France milk was healthier in Normandy than in the Midi.  ...

"Liquid milk became identified with the care of children, nursing mothers, and the frail of all ages.  Milk ultimately became a symbol product of the Welfare State, a prop to agriculture in times of depression, wholesome, non-carnal.  ...  In some countries milk was already suspect.  It was accused of making children fat, liable to adult cholesterol problems, and even prone to acne.  As a fashionable commodity, milk peaked sometime in the 1970s."

Here, HH was, of course, writing before the fashion for semi-skimmed (i.e., only half the fat) milk emerged which enables the health-conscious middle classes to square the circle.  I am one such.  Supermarkets still seem full of the real stuff, however.  Updates on such concerns can be found here, and here.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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