Human cheese

Today I took in the wonderful NYU ITP show, which provides an opportunity once every semester for students to show off all sorts of innovative projects on the interface between art and technology. Some pieces are feasts for your inner geek, while others are variously odd, kinetic, musical, dramatic or simply beautiful.

And then there are the thoughtful ones. Every semester a few students create something that makes you really think. One of those projects this time around was Human Cheese by Miriam Simun. Yes dear reader, the eponymous food product in question is made from the breast milk of human volunteers.

This is not the first time the topic of human cheese has been thought of, but it’s the first time I had encountered it. And it really made me think.

One reason I don’t eat cheese is that to raise cows for their milk generally involves getting rid of the (economically unnecessary) male cows. Male calves, in standard practice, are kept alive just long enough to be slaughtered and turned into meat. Which means that every time you eat cheese, somewhere veal is also being served.

But human cheese completely changes the equation. All of the milk is volunteered, on a basis of informed consent.

Yes, I know, on a purely cultural level, serving “human” food probably violates taboos left and right. Yet, ironically, this might very well be the only “animal product” that creates no ethical conflicts at all for vegans.

In any case, it’s certainly food for thought. πŸ™‚

11 thoughts on “Human cheese”

  1. Yes, and it probably doesn’t have the same significance for you anyway, since you eat cow cheese!

  2. I think the fundamental question here is “what does it taste like?”

    If there’s a vegan option for cheese, I’m all for it, but not if it tastes so bad that I’d rather not eat it at all.

  3. πŸ™‚ I remember you had a big Vegan discussion here before, and wondering…

    Since the reason for you being a Vegan is ethical, when you see other people at a party or dinner eating cheese, does the sight of the indirect (?) veal-slaughtering = cheese consumption, revolting for you to be with?

    I would like to know as a dinner/party hostess! πŸ™‚

  4. Mari, that’s a reasonable question, and the answer is no, it is not revolting to me in the least. I’ll explain.

    I make a huge distinction between (1) my raising a topic of philosophical and intellectual interest on my own blog page and (2) being an invited guest in somebody’s house. In the former case, I feel free to raise all kinds of issues for discussion.

    In the latter case, I am a guest in somebody’s house! The whole idea of being a guest involves respecting that you have been invited into someone’s home.

    If I were kosher, I don’t think I would expect to have the right to insist that other guests not be served ham. Turning that around, if you were a dinner guest in a country where the hosts serve boiled dog, you would expect to be permitted to politely decline to eat that dish, but not to dictate (or criticize) what is served to other guests.

    As long as one is a guest in somebody else’s home, one needs to follow some basic rules of politeness. After all, if any of us feel so strongly about some issue — whether it be keeping slaves, or eating cheese/ham/dog — that we feel the need to criticize a person who has invited us into their home, then we always have the option to simply decline the invitation.

    But to imply that one should be critical of a dinner host putting some dish out in their own house would be the height of bad manners.

  5. Thanks–Coming from Japan and being quite secular, sometimes I’m too oblivious to people’s religious/food needs, although I do ask when inviting people of their needs. But now I feel better. One year, actually 2001 after 9/11, I had a Xmas party inviting two of my students at Juilliard, an Israeli and a Syrian. I ignorantly cooked pork roast (!) without thinking too hard because it was easy for me. Husband noticed and said: “You invited an Israeli and an Arab, AND serving pork? Are you making some kind of a statement?!” I was quite mortified but they both ate it πŸ™‚

  6. Also religion: we have Christian family friend who say Grace before eating, holding hands around the table with their kids. They come to our home and do it too. I do feel a little pushed by having to hold hands around the table, but I don’t have the guts to say “You can’t do that here”. If praying before meal is the guests’ needs wherever they eat, who am I to refuse it? I do ambiguously join holding hands with them which makes me feel a bit of a fraud… Then again as you said I have the right NOT to invite them if I can’t stand it. I guess I enjoy them as friends more than not liking to pray, so we’re still friends πŸ™‚

  7. Hmm. If I understand the metaphysics properly, whether or not I go through the motions of holding hands during Grace, as a non-believer I am still doomed to spend all of eternity after I die in damnation, searing hellfire and unrelenting torment, no matter how nice and kind and good a person I may be in this life.

    So we might as well join hands and enjoy the company of our dinner guests before we go to hell. πŸ™‚

  8. Hi Ken!

    Thanks for the post, I was happy to stumble across it! I’m so curious, you never actually mentioned, would you eat it as a vegan? We can even kill the hypothetical…I will be serving the cheese course on the 28th of January at Natalie’s Cross Species dinner. Will have a pure human version cooked up by then. It’s an interesting thing, the unexpected that happens when decisions turn visceral…

    And it is delicious. consensually delicious…

  9. Miriam, it’s nice to know you found my blog. πŸ™‚

    Yes, I would certainly try it — I can’t think of any reason why I wouldn’t.

    Although (unless I’m misreading the on-line description) the “crocodile meat” portion of Natalie’s Cross Species event seems somewhat non-consensually carnivorous.

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