The Milkman | India | Living in Mexico

The Milkman

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In Mexico milkmen still sell unpasteurized fresh milk dipped from milk cans directly into customer-supplied pots. Most sell from pickup trucks. One man in San Miguel de Allende plies his route on the back of a burro, cans slung over its back. Occasionally I see Mexican milk sellers using motorbikes. In India, motorcycles seem to be the preferred distribution vehicle.

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During my first extended stay in San Miguel at Umaran #17, our landlady provided a cook, a young woman named Juanita who always bought raw milk from the back of a truck, just the way her grandmother had taught her. The practice made me a little nervous: hadn't we eradicated milk-borne disease in the USA with refrigeration and careful processing in spotless stainless steel facilities?

Juanita used all of her milk in cooking. We didn't drink it straight—a bad idea for a heart patient. She pasteurized it herself on the stovetop; then used it to make cream soups and flan. So I guess it was safe, even if milking and transportation went unsupervised by the USDA.

Indian milk consumers may face greater challenges than Mexicans. As I shot the image of the milkman, my gaze drifted 45º to the left, revealing an unsavory scene of a sacred cow eating trash.

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I saw cows munching refuse everywhere, and it isn't surprising. After all, it's not like Indian cities have room for pasture. So cows eat handouts of vegetables from kindly neighbors, or whatever people discard in the street. They seem to favor newspaper and corrugated cardboard.

That's the whole point of your ruminants, you know, with those extra stomachs. Their digestive systems break down cellulose, so they can get nutrition from paper products.

This raises a disturbing question: where exactly does the milkman get his milk? More importantly: who buys it? Maybe that restaurant where you just downed a large portion of riata (seasoned yoghurt)?

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I frequently saw bearded trees. Hundreds of them. Were they infested by some parasitic plant? I was a little slow to pick up on the answer to the mystery.

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Finally I tried a novel approach: I asked someone. Turns out farmers use trees to store fodder. They cut wild grasses that grow during the monsoon and fork it into the branches. There it dries, kept away from the ground (where it would compost) or get eaten by some otherwise garbage-eating sacred cow.

Haystacks roosting in trees demonstrably aren't artifacts of agribusiness. You can't automate the process. Animals feeding on these grasses are not given hormones or antibiotics. Aerial haystacks suggest the work of a steward who cares more for the health of his patch of earth than maximizing how much he can extract from it every season.

I think I would drink unpasteurized milk from those farmers, without hesitation.

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