Saturday, September 20, 2008

Breast Milk and The Exotic Palate

Each time I begin to believe that capitalism and patriarchy are not capable of exploiting women any further, some new ingenious manner of capitalizing on womens bodies is invented.

The owner of the Storchen restaurant in the exclusive Winterthur resort will improve his menu with local specialities such as meat stew and various soups and sauces containing at least 75 per cent of mother's milk.

Doesn't that just sound yummy everyone?  Now those with the finest of pallets will have the opportunity to sup on meals created with breast milk. Of course the women are being paid to provide the service, but ask yourself what class of woman is going to sell her breast milk?  Even at 4USD for 14 ounces of milk,  it is still exploitation,  and furthermore it is specifically female exploitation.

image Each woman has the right to do as she chooses with her bodily fluids, but how many will honestly make the choice to express milk for this purpose because of pleasure?  The women that will be participating in this latest capitol venture will do so to provide extra income for their families.  It will certainly not be because they enjoy the idea of being an exotic item on a menu.  This is literally eating the other.

Though he is paying these women, it will never amount to the profit that he will make from their bodies.  He is selling food, but how different is he from a pimp taking advantage of womens vulnerability? The privilege and the arrogance employed to believe that one has the right to consume another for the purposes of self satisfaction is a manifestation of the dehumanizing nature of both patriarchy and capitalism.

It is always womens bodies that are co-opted in this manner. This new bourgeoisie restaurant turns women into the equivalent of  dairy cows.  Can youimage imagine what the "got milk commercials" will look like? We are to believe that we live in a world of equal opportunity, but if this is the path that leads to emerald city, would we not all be better off clicking our ruby slippers and making our own transportation home? When you think about whether or not it is still necessary to invest in businesses run by women, remember this story.  This is what happens in a world wherein patriarchy controls the majority of the worlds wealth and women are devalued. 

H/T  What a crazy random happenstance


22 comments:

T said...

I'm paid to go to work from 9 to 5 in an office. How is this any different? Do you think I have a choice in working? Either I put my mind, mouth and hands to work or I starve, simple as that.

Where do you draw the line with exploitation? Is a waitress in a cafe being exploited for her good manner and ability to serve food? Is a male model being exploited for his washboard stomach? Is a manual labourer being exploited to lift heavy objects?

The fact is, if someone wants to sell their body for sex they WILL. They don't need a restaurant owner to offer a lactating job, they just need to find some random person who is willing to pay cash for sex.

You seem to think that you can "save" people by shielding them from these opportunities. Not only is it impossible to stop people selling their bodies, its simply unjust. Just because you don't want to have sex for money, doesn't mean no-one else should be allowed to.

If you think this man is like a pimp you have no idea what a pimp is. Someone who threatens and forcefully coerces women into prostitution, and then steals their earnings has no place in society.

If you think this man is making "too much profit" then I would direct you to a basic book on capitalism: if women are prepared to sell themselves for $4/14-ounces then that is clearly the going market rate. The profit someone makes on that is not their concern.

mzbitca said...

This is not a woman's time or skill, this is literally a part of her body. He is using it as a novelty and yes, women do have the choice to do this. However, you have to look at the big picture as to whether you are exploiting someone by taking advantage of their economic state.

Wal-mart is the perfect example. They deny full time service, their health insurance is outrageously expensive. Their pay is crap. Yet people work there, why? Because they HAVE to. Because Walmart will hire them when others won't so Wal-mart feels perfectly fine taking advantage of someone who has no other choice. Same deal only this time it's someones body that is being bought

Anonymous said...

I am a construction worker. Someone's taking advantage of my ability to work as one. Fie upon him / her!

cchiovitti said...

Oh this just takes the exploitation cake. There are some seriously messed up people in this world. I wonder what the reaction would be if they replaced "breast milk" with "blood" or "semen". Wouldn't be quite so gastronomically exotic then would it?

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nia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nia said...

Cchiovitti beat me to it. If men were going around selling their semen or urine for culinary purposes, or if women were selling their menstrual blood for the same purpose, would we even be having a discussion?
It's just exoticizing and distorting a normal bodily function. Breast milk is meant for babies and not for superficial adult fancies.

AR said...

The privilege and the arrogance employed to believe that one has the right to consume another for the purposes of self satisfaction is a manifestation of the dehumanizing nature of both patriarchy and capitalism.

Of patriarchy, maybe, but under free markets, nobody has a right to anyone, and in this case, you can't equate the right for willing buyers and sellers to deal with each other with a right to unilaterally consume someone else, since nobody is starving in Switzerland.

Though he is paying these women, it will never amount to the profit that he will make from their bodies.

Why should it?

Article Linked: They are not on the list of approved species such as cows and sheep, but they are also not on the list of the banned species such as apes and primates," Rolf Etter of the Zurich food control laboratory said.

Poor biology education strikes again. If Swiss law prohibits the use of ape milk, then why is this guy even allowed to operate? Humans are apes.

Anonymous said...

"Breast milk is meant for babies and not for superficial adult fancies."

I'm not really thrilled by the declaration of what ANY part or function of a woman's body is "meant" for. It's for whatever she damn well wants to do with it, as it is her body.

Also, it's "palate," not "pallet."

Renee said...

@Anon you are right about the misspelled word and it has been changed.

AR said...

A lot of what constitutes economic "exploitation" seems to hinge on the degree to which the actors can be said to actually have a "choice" in the matter. To wit, any choice for which the alternative is starvation is not really a choice. But above starvation, and below a life of perpetual luxury, there is a line between people who are exploited and people who are not.

So, in your opinion, Renee, what minimum level of economic prosperity would a person have to be guaranteed (in the sense that, say, health care is guaranteed in Canada) so that they cannot be economically "exploited?"

Renee said...

@AR...very simply put I believe in an subsistence economy. This necessarily means that all wage labour in which the means of production is not communally owned is exploitation. Each person exists with the right to clothing, education, food, shelter, clothing and health care.

AR said...

very simply put I believe in an subsistence economy.

I'll have to ask what you mean by "subsistence," because it's obviously something very different from anything that's ever been called subsistence living in the world so far. Subsistence living has historically been, and is presently, the worst sort of poverty, if for no other reason than that it is on the very edge of sub-subsistence living, which leaves no room for error or bad luck. I suspect that this isn't what you mean.

This necessarily means that all wage labour in which the means of production is not communally owned is exploitation.

What about when, having made that the case, some people wish to opt out of ownership in favor of a simple wage? There are many people today who do just that, having the wealth and expertise to operate a business, and who are at no risk of sub-subsistence living, but who prefer a wage because they are adverse to the risk that comes with owning the means of production.

Each person exists with the right to clothing, education, food, shelter, clothing and health care.

That sounds like a reasonable definition of "necessities" to me, but there are other ways to do it than communal ownership of all property. I, for instance, would propose that land-value taxation and, insofar as land tax provides insufficient revenue, value-added tax be used to fund public education, health care, and a citizen's dividend of sufficient value to provide the basics of the other things you mentioned, while the economy otherwise remained market based.

I think this captures all the benefits of your proposal, but with added individual choice, in that anyone can live at the subsistence level if they so wish, supported by the fact that, under this system, the forms of wealth which cannot be produced also cannot be owned, but merely rented from the community, while those who find that unsatisfying can pursue their personal wealth to whatever degree they can manage.

lauredhel said...

There are exploitative practices around the capitalist uses of breastmilk all over - this fairly minor publicity stunt, though egregious, IMO doesn't hold a candle to the much more widespread abuses of women's altruism by companies like Prolacta. They take donor breastmilk through their fake "non-profit" milk-collection front, use it for research purposes (primarily aimed at patenting the components of women's milk for the purposes of more finely tuning their exploitative, damaging formula enterprises), then sell the milk to health insurance companies for around ten times the price the non-profit milk banks supply it (which is three dollars an ounce, barely covering costs after monetary donations are factored in as well).

Women are recruited into working for free for this company by being told that they'll be "helping poor sick babies" by donating to this "non profit" service.

Worse, Prolacta also lurks behind the "International Breastmilk Project", which recruits donor women with the promise that their breastmilk will be donated to African orphans; then the IBMP then "sells" a full 75% of donated milk to Prolacta for $1 an ounce so that they can onsell it at massive profit or use it for their IP/pharmaceutical research.

UnFit said...

Jenny Holzer collected menstrual blood from various friends - without payment as far as I'm aware - to make art out of it, and received lots of praise from the feminist spectrum...

dollyspeaks said...

Ewww... that's REALLY gross. I am not a cow. And I don't want to pump milk for a living. And... um, isn't that what we have cows for anyway? This is just weird. I really don't want some woman's breastmilk in my food.

Renee said...

@AR sorry about the delay...subsistence does not necessarily mean the raging poverty that you are envisioning, subsistence economy means making that our first priority and building communally from there.
If all communally own the means of production there is no adverse risk. We are all communally responsible and therefore it would not be one person taking a risk so to speak. For instance food produced communally instead of agribusiness would mean that all would eat. There would be no growing for profit, instead growing for need would be our primary focus.
I believe that your problem is with the equation of subsistence and poverty. Those two terms do not go hand in hand. I will however point out regardless of the kind of economy that we live in, the way we live is unsustainable environmentally speaking. Suburbia and splendor will be one day looked upon as ridiculous arrogance.

AR said...

So, what you mean is an economy in which the necessities of all are given priority over anything else. That's all good and well, but you're unilaterally redefining an established term when you call that "subsistence." That subsistence is just above sub-subsistence is by definition; if you're imagining a scenario where an unexpected reduction in wealth doesn't cause people to die, then that's a surplus economy.

If all communally own the means of production there is no adverse risk.

Sounds like a perfect recipe for moral hazard. It's not a question of whether people are basically selfish, but of whether they are basically ants, because that's the level of selflessness required for complete dispersal of risk and reward beyond extremely small scales.

If it gets bad enough, you end up with a tragedy of the commons, with no resources left to bailout failures. The would-be wage earner I postulated might suspect that just that is going to happen, and demands wages instead of ownership because they intend to leave town if that happens. Or would they not be allowed to do that? And so we come back to the need for the abolishment of private transportation and prosecution emigrants that has been part of communism since the beginning.

I will however point out regardless of the kind of economy that we live in, the way we live is unsustainable environmentally speaking.

Clearly, but I've never opposed the use of state power to internalize externalitites. But what do you mean by "splendor?"

In regards to suburbia, we have again a problem which appears to be a perverse result of the free market but which in fact happened under state manipulation. The heavy subsidies given to home owners, in mortgage tax credit, price ceilings for water in arid areas, has made sprawl far worse than it would otherwise be, and that's not including such things as public roads and utilities that are often funded in large part by the people with the good environmental sense to live in cities.

lauredhel said...

News flash: PETA has just written to Ben & Jerry's, using this restaurant's publicity stunt as a springboard, demanding that B&J immediately switch from bovine to human milk in order to end the exploitation of dairy cows.

http://www.wptz.com/news/17539127/detail.html

Elaine Vigneault said...

For the record, women buy and sell human breastmilk for other purposes, too. For example, to feed babies whose mothers are ill or dead.
Worth a read:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/04/09/MNGLKI6FTA1.DTL

Renee said...

@Elaine...I am fully aware however if the women that doing the selling of the milk are largely the poor of this society then this is a class issue. There is a difference between donating milk because we want to help others and selling milk because we are desperate to make extra money for our families.

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