The latest update in the Baby Gaga breast milk ice cream saga is that the members of the Westminster Council – who pulled the product over health concerns – have sided with Icecreamists owner Matt O’Connor, agreeing that the product is safe for human consumption.
Victoria Hiley – the donor whose milk was used in the initial batch of Baby Gaga – calls the ice cream “beautiful and repellent,” owing to the fact that breast milk is “only for babies and yet so is the milk of cows.” That’s precisely the problem Lady Gaga seems to have with the sweet treat. Hiley says, “We’ve become estranged from our own mammalhood and recoil from breast milk while we drink cows’ milk without a thought.”
Meanwhile, owner O’Connor echoes Hiley’s sentiments. Salon’s Anna Sussman quotes him as wondering, “Why are human breasts sexualized, rather than being seen as biological feeding instruments?” A bit further down in her piece, “The squirmy ethics of breast milk ice cream,” Sussman quotes lactivist Penny Van Esterik as arguing that eating an ice cream cone “demands the linkages between the sexual and the maternal.”
So are breasts sexual or maternal or both? I feel like we’ve been here before. And what does a cone filled with ice cream made from cow’s milk have to do with boobs? (Maybe we should analyze the sticky ethics of women eating bananas, those potassium-filled rocket pops linked to penis envy.)
Amy Bentley, associate professor of food studies at New York University, says there’s a “kinkiness” to breast milk ice cream, “almost a kind of cannibalism.” That I would agree with; I think that’s its true novelty. “It’s like consuming part of someone’s body.” Which is why it’s kind of gross – because it’s coming from a body unknown. I’d be more apt to eat breast milk ice cream from a woman I knew than from a stranger, if I were to eat it at all. I might try a spoonful just to say I had, or I might even eat an entire serving (because after all I did eat a plate of haggis when I was in Scotland, but it’s not something I plan to do again.)
I think the crux of the debate about what is precisely so weird about breast milk ice cream is reached when Sussman admits “the gastronomic demand” for breast milk-based foods “is supplemented by fetishists.” I didn’t breastfeed long enough for this to become an issue, but on one hand, I can’t imagine feeling comfortable with a lover drinking my breast milk (guh), and on the other hand, I bet there are plenty of women out there who have allowed it. (Double guh.)
Of course, for vegans, this argument is about much more than breast milk ice cream; vegans don’t believe any animal’s milk should be turned into ice cream. (It’s true, no one asks a cow for her approval before she’s milked.) I respect vegetarians and vegans, but I just don’t have it in me right now to commit to that kind of lifestyle, and simply put, I love ice cream. (Sorry, Bessie. And thank you.)
Ultimately, Sussman points out that breast milk ice cream and the ethics and debate surrounding it really have nothing to do with breastfeeding at all. Breast milk is simply an ingredient in a bizarre concoction, meant to stir enough controversy to sell a product. But she does ask why a woman would want to sell her breast milk at all, something I think is worth examining. Donating breast milk for babies is one thing, selling it like blood platelets is quite another.
As for Baby Gaga itself, if the product requires a name change in response to Lady Gaga’s protestation, what should O’Connor rename it? I vote for either Baby Tata, Boobie Goo-Goo or Lactastic! You?