Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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The Divine Food


“Milk” writes Julie Sahni in the introduction to her chapter on South Asian sweets, frequently dairy-based, “is the divine food of the Aryans.”

For Sahni, of course, “Aryan” means nothing like what it would have meant to Hitler. Sahni uses the term in its original sense: as the endonym (i.e. the name by which a given community knows itself) of the Sanskrit-speaking population that first entered the Indian Subcontinent between 5000 and 4000 years ago.

(A related population, also calling themselves the Ârya, the “Noble Ones,” went west into the Iranian plateau, and in fact the word “Iran” itself comes from the same root: “the Land of the Noble Ones.” According to Indo-Europeanist J. M. Mallory, the term “Aryan” properly describes only this ancient Indo-Iranian population or their descendants. No doubt Hitler would have been furious to discover that he wasn't really an Aryan.)

Milk is a miracle. If you slaughter a cow, you get food to feed the family for maybe a month. If, however, you milk the cow instead, you get enough food to feed the family for years. Divine food, indeed. Small wonder that the cow was the basic unit of value across the entire Indo-European diaspora.

In the Elder Days, human beings lost the ability to digest milk as they grew out of infancy, but with the advent of pastoralism back in the Neolithic, certain human populations acquired what is called “lactase persistence”: the useful genetic mutations that permit continued milk-drinking into adulthood. Julie Sahni's Indo-Aryan ancestors were one such population, and it's possible that this ability was one of the things that distinguished the Ârya from the peoples that they conquered in their travels.

Other populations with lactase persistence arose separately in Central Asia and West Central Africa. (Interestingly, the genetic mutations allowing for adult milk consumption among the world's three main populations of milk-drinkers are different mutations. Clearly, the ability to keep digesting dairy has high survival value.) Milk isn't just the divine food of the Aryans; it's also the divine food of the Mongols, and of the Maasai, and the Fulani.

My Western European ancestors—distant kin to Julie Sahni's—brought their ability to digest milk into adulthood along with them in their travels, and I'm grateful that they did. A life-long vegetarian, I myself consume milk at virtually every meal, in one form or another. Generally, I go through about three gallons of milk a fortnight.

For years I bought 2% milk (for drinking) and skim (for culturing into buttermilk and yogurt), but a while back, no doubt for market-driven reasons, my store began selling whole milk (= 5% butterfat) for less than the price of the reduced-fat versions. Since it behooves me to make every food dollar go as far as it can, I started buying whole milk instead.

My gods, what a revelation. I hadn't had whole milk in years; I'd forgotten how good it is. These days, I find myself relishing every silken, delicious, butterfat-laden sip, for mere flavor alone.

Milk, humanity's First Food, gift of the Mother, gift of the gods, well-merits its high cultural prestige in India.

Divine food, indeed.


Julie Sahni (1985) Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. Morrow.




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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


  • Jamie
    Jamie Saturday, 12 December 2020

    Mr. Posch,

    I don't give a Gods damn what anyone says.

    I like milk.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Sunday, 13 December 2020

    Myself, I like nut milks, grain milks, and bean milks just fine.
    But good old mammal milk is the Original.

  • Jamie
    Jamie Sunday, 13 December 2020

    Mr. Posch,

    Yeah, I wasn't attempting to harsh on non-dairy milk. I'm sure that some of it's quite delicious.

    A significant fraction of the human race is genetically incapable of enjoying cow's milk without consequences, as your article stated.

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