A History of Milk in Asia

Panel in the 7th Annual International ADI Conference on Food, Feeding and Eating In and Out of Asia

Convenor: Natasha Pairaudeau, Cambridge University

The market for milk and milk products in Southeast Asia– in the view of both international business and the FAO - is on the rise and is expected to outstrip consumption in many areas of the world in the coming decade. ‘In today’s Southeast Asia’ proclaims one industry journal, ‘milk is big business.’[1] Yet milk and dairy products did not feature in earlier Southeast Asian culinary cultures. How did it come to take a hold on the region? Is it proof merely of the powerful lure of Western ideas and practices?

This panel seeks more complex answers to the puzzle. We begin from a few basic premises; that milk’s arrival in the region was driven by European colonial imperatives but that Indians played an important role, as migrant livestock herders and milkmen, in carrying it there; that the new global reach of the European dairy industry by the turn of the 20th century (economic rationalisation, and new technologies in milk production and preservation - especially the advent of tinned condensed milk) had consequences in Southeast Asia; that the rise of local Southeast Asian cultures of milk consumption intersect with interwar indigenous debates around modernity, progress and the role of women and the family, within emerging contexts of marketing and consumption; and finally that the post-colonial progress of milk in the region can be connected to Cold War technical transfers and developmental exchanges.

We invite proposals that explore (or challenge) these premises. We are equally receptive to papers that address related issues beyond these parameters or that take the story of milk into other regions in Asia.

Natasha Pairaudeau is a Research Associate at the Centre for History and Economics, Cambridge University.


[1] Sophie Lisby, ‘Got Milk?’, Southeast Asia Globe, 5 August 2014.