There’s an intriguing article over at Slate, which speculates that Western civilazation may owe a lot to milk. Although not entirely convincing – the evidence provided by the author is not exactly overwhelming – the idea is interesting to think about and I would be interested to find out more. The argument is summarised as follows: The transition from a foraging to a farming society, which lead to a dramatic decrease in the different types of food eaten by our ancestors, had a detrimental impact on their health. Human remains from this time show alarming signs of disease linked to nutrient deficiencies.
And then something changed. Although all our ancestors used to be lactose intolerant, a genetic mutation arose around 10,000 years ago which enabled adults to drink unprocessed milk. This extra source of nutrition gave them such an edge that the mutation quickly spread through the population, boosting health and increasing life expectancy.
This is a fascinating idea, but I wonder if it would stand up to scrutiny. As the author himself points out, our lactose intolerant ancestors were perfectly capable of digesting yoghurt and cheese, and in fact appear to have done so. Personally, I like it, mostly because I still love nothing more than a nice tall glass of chocolate milk.