Custom «Totem Food» Essay Paper Sample

Totem Food


According to Jones (2005), totem foods are the types of food that are perceived very important from many perspectives because they can have a variety of uses. For example, in America milk is a totem food since it is used in various occasions like household rituals, community feasts, and the residents' nutritional well-being. Milk has remained a very useful commodity in America for centuries. Milk can be defined as a white liquid that lactating mammals produce from their mammary glands (Planck, 2007). Young mammals depend on milk as a primary source of nutrition before they attain the capability of digesting other types of food. Milk has got a variety of useful components such as protein, saturated fat, vitamin C, and calcium. This important commodity is consumed by all infant mammals as a source of nutrition, and by humans just as a food product (Jones, 2005). Importance of milk in America can be viewed from various perspectives such as historical, financial, sociological, religious, environmental, psychological, and biological perspectives.

Historical perspectives

The human society started to use domesticated animals for milk long time ago, about 8,000 to 10,000 years (Brown et al., 2008). This was when the genetic change enabled human beings to digest milk during their adulthood. After this important adaptation, milk from their domesticated animals became one of the most important human foods. Because of settlement and domestication, the number wild animals declined; as groups of individuals roamed less, fewer animals were hunted, and therefore they started to eat more vegetables and grains. In some cultures, animal bones were replaced by milk as the main source of calcium and other important minerals (Gumpert, 2009).   

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In the traditional cultures milk was often used as clabbered or cultured milk so as to enable easier digestion within the adult gastrointestinal tract.  This clabbered milk can be compared to homemade raw yogurt which is predigested partially as much of the milk sugar has been disintegrated by the action of bacteria. The digestion of fresh milk in the stomach takes several hours to be accomplished as compared to yogurt which can be digested more easily (Brown et al., 2008).

In due course of evolution human beings develop significant adaptations which help them in one way or the other to survive in a more healthy way. For instance, man developed the ability to digest raw milk and therefore possessed an advantage of survival. Because of this adaptation, human beings found milk very important and therefore started to invest in domesticated animals especially dairy cattle. Milk was found very nutritional as it provided people with calcium, fat-soluble nutrients, and other useful minerals that are not supplied adequately within the modern meals (Gumpert, 2009).  

Raw milk constituted a balanced diet within the indigenous society as people of all age groups enjoyed. Raw milk was found to be the main source of enzymes which helped people to recover from diseases, thus promoting establishment and maintenance of health. Most people used raw milk as a significant part during the naturopathic treatment.

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Biological importance of milk

Since the start of humanity, babies are breastfed by their mothers.  Since there were no substitute for breast milk, mothers and lactating females were responsible to breastfeed their children. Milk is perceived the best type of food for growth and development. In the human society, breast milk is the perfect and most nutritious food for the newborn. Breastfeeding enables an infant to have a healthiest beginning in life. Both mother and her baby benefit from breastfeeding in a number of ways. For the baby to get maximum benefit from breast milk, the breastfeeding period should be lengthened. Human milk is meant for human infants to cater for their nutrient needs (Riordan, 2005).  

In today's world, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAFP), advocates that all infants be entirely breastfed for the first six months after  which the introduction some solid food will be done (Pediatrics, 2010). The baby formulas lack most of the nutrients that are found in breast milk. Breast milk is comprised of a perfect combination of fats, proteins, minerals, carbohydrates and vitamins. Proteins as one of the components in the breast milk ensure proper and healthy growth and development of the baby. Breast milk contains two types of proteins: 40 percent of casein and 60 percent of whey. The balance of proteins ensures that milk is digested easily and quickly (Riordan, 2005). The type of proteins in breast milk contains a good balance of essential amino acids that are responsible for human growth and development. Fat is the next component in breast milk that is significant for improved health of the baby. It is responsible for retina, nervous system, and brain development as well as absorption of vitamins that are fat-soluble. Fats are the primary source of calorie.  Carbohydrates are also very essential components of human milk. They play a major role in the production of energy. Infants can use proteins and fats for energy production but the presence of carbohydrates spares the two so as they can play a role a building blocks for tissues and other major structures within the body. The primary carbohydrate in breast milk is called lactose which is also referred to as milk sugar. It plays a role in fighting diseases as well as promoting the growth of healthy bacteria within the stomach (Brown et al., 2008).

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Apart from breastfeeding, consumption of dairy has been associated with numerous health benefits for human beings of all age groups. Milk and dairy products contain a variety of nutrients and provide an easy and quick way of providing these nutrients to the diet within comparatively few calories. According to Jones (2005), milk, cheese and yogurt provide the following important nutrients in varying quantities: phosphorus for the release of energy; calcium for health bones and  teeth; magnesium for the function of muscles; Vitamin B12 for healthy cells production; proteins for the body's growth and tissue repair; Vitamin A for immune function as well as good eyesight; Vitamin C for the formation of connective tissues that are healthy; Zinc for immunity of the body; Iodine for the regulation of metabolic rate in the cells; and Riboflavin for a good skin. One glass of milk alone can make a contribution to the daily recommended intake of many important nutrients for all age groups (Gumpert, 2009).

Dairy products are the main source of calcium, which is very essential for growth and development of healthy bones. It is very important teenagers and children to consume enough milk because during the teenage and childhood years, bones grow at the highest rate. According to Brown et al. (2008), optimization of bone mass during these age groups ensures that the risk of osteoporosis is reduced in later life. The calcium and other nutrients in dairy products ensure proper growth of teeth as well keeping them healthy.  Dentists suggest that milk is the only drink that is safe to consume between any given two meals. It has also been found that dairy milk and its products are beneficial in the control and prevention of heavy weight conditions such as obesity. It is contrary to usual belief that those people who regularly consume milk as well as other dairy foods will possibly become slimmer as compared to those who do not consume. Milk contains low fat content, for instance 4 percent fat content in whole milk, 1.7 percent fat content in semi-skimmed milk, and skimmed milk contains 0.3 percent fat content. Studies have also shown that milk and dairy products consumption helps people to lose excess weight especially the weight at the abdomen, where deposits of fat are likely to bring about health risks (Brown et al., 2008).  

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It has been discovered that milk and dairy products containing diet may significantly diminish tendency of certain cancers from occurring. If the female children drink enough milk and continue to do so towards their adulthood, significantly lower the chances of developing breast cancer. Milk and dairy product consumption has been associated with reduced tendency of suffering from a cardiovascular disease which brings about heart attack. Consumption of dairy products that have got low fat content has been linked to a reduced likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that this risk of developing type 2 diabetes is increasingly lowered as much as an individual consumes low fat dairy product in a daily basis (Jones, 2005). A regular fluid intake in due course of a day is of high significance since the body will become well hydrated. It is recommended that adequate fluids, for instance 6 to 8 glasses of fluid, should be taken in a daily basis. Since milk contains enough water, it consumption brings about rehydration of the body. It has also been found that consumption of dairy products increases the tendency of nutrients intake. Introduction of milk and dairy products at an early age is beneficial because this establishes good eating habits during adulthood (Jones 2005).  

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Milk myths

For a couple of years milk has used as part of diet. Milk and its products have been known to be most nutritious because they contain many types of nutrients in balanced quantities. However, many myths have surrounded the consumption of milk as far as diseases and ailments are concerned.  Most of these myths lack basis in science they have been part of traditional knowledge for many years. The following section will cover the facts regarding milk and dairy products consumption as well as the science used to break down the most common myths concerning milk and dairy.

Among some groups of people, there is a belief that consumption of milk and dairy products is associated with increased production of mucus within the respiratory system and therefore they recommend that these foods should not be included in any diet. Mucus is a natural substance found in the body as a film covering the surfaces of gastrointestinal and respiratory systems, therefore providing protection against infection, irritation and damage. It is secreted by specialized cells and is comprised of water and different proteins. The original myth started in the 12th century as a Jewish physician associated the effect of mucus thickening in humans to consumption of milk and dairy products, with butter not included.  It has also been suggested by the Traditional Chinese Medicine that consumption of milk and other dairy products along with honey and chocolate, enhances mucus formation. Therefore, it is not surprising that individuals with disorders in the upper respiratory tract linked with mucus production are advised by physicians to do away with milk and dairy products from the diet (Gumpert, 2009).

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Over a long time, it has been suggested that milk and dairy products have been associated with worsening the symptoms of asthma, even if there is no particular mechanism that has been proposed to give an explanation on how this happens. There is no evidence as far as scientific studies are concerned to clarify this myth. Asthma is defined as a prolonged condition of the respiratory system that is characterized by inflammation of airways as well as excess   production of mucus. It is unfortunate that most people suffering from asthma are advised not to include milk and dairy products in their diet, even if this will bring about poor intake of essential nutrients such as phosphorus and phosphorus of which milk and dairy products provide in the diet. 

A variety of foods including milk and dairy products have been implicated to trigger eczema. Eczema is characterized by a recurrent red rash that is usually found on the skin knees, feet, elbows, and hands. This condition exists in various forms atopic eczema being the most common one. Some people consider the consumption of milk and dairy as contributing into development and severity of the spots. However, there is no definitive evidence available to support the myth (Gumpert, 2009).

Impacts of milk production on environment

It has been found that the dairy sector contributes highly into agricultural emissions. Since 1990, the dairy industry has entirely increased greenhouse gas emissions hence resulting into a dairy-climate change quandary. In addition to emission of greenhouse gases most of the green land has been converted to dairy since farmers are experiencing ever-increasing returns from selling milk and dairy products at higher prices. In most cases, the green lands are made ready by clearing the forest. This has been found to affect the climate absolutely since the carbon that is contained in trees escapes into the atmosphere as they are cut down, and the increased dairying practice releases substantial amounts of greenhouse gases as nitrous oxide and methane (Planck 2007). Greenpeace is no suggesting that dairy farming should be stopped, it proposes that current dairy expansion should be stopped and implementation of better practices encouraged on existing dairy farms. Farmers are required to employ sustainable farming practices that can reduce these greenhouse emissions. Since agriculture is the backbone of human economy, there is need to ensure sustainable farming methods by avoiding sacrificing resources for short-lived gains.

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Economic importance of dairy production

The state of America called Indiana is one of the major places where dairy farming is done in large scale. In Indiana, the economic importance of the dairy industry does not just mean farm cash receipts. In the state, milk production generates employment opportunities as well as additional income in the economy by backward linkages. The backward linkages are comprised of all services and inputs that the dairy producers utilize and pay for.  The dairy industry service and input suppliers, such as veterinary services and grain farmers, in turn generate income through their employment and spending. The economic activity can be linked to households exchanging cash obtained from dairy farming for household consumption, for example purchasing rice by the money earned from selling milk or dairy products. In Indiana, the produced milk is sold as fluid milk products as well as in form of dairy products such as milk sherbet and ice cream (Brown et al., 2008).  

According to Planck (2007), dairy products vary from reasonably standardized goods, such as fresh milk, butter, and dry milk powder without fat, to multi-variety, multi-flavored dairy products, such as fermented drinks, specialty cheeses, and milk protein fractions that are used in beverage items as well as food. The milk and dairy product markets can either be local, national, or even international. Products such as yogurt, cheese, and fresh milk are meant for direct consumption. In some cases dairy products can also be consumed indirectly just like ingredients in other foods such as snack bars, pizza, and other bakery products. The nonfood uses vary from medicinal applications to industrial uses.

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The entire economic activities linked to the dairy industry can be classified into three categories including direct, indirect and induced (Jones, 2005). Direct economic activities are associated with the employment, income and sales that are generated by the dairy industry. Employment represents the services such as veterinary services which are paid for, income represents the money received by the employed people, and sales represent the aggregate value of the dairy products as well as the by-products sold by the industry (Jones, 2005).

Indirect economic activities in the dairy industry are due to the purchases of services, materials, and equipment from the related industries such as financial institutions, real estate agencies, veterinary services, vendors of processing equipment, and trucking firms for transporting finished products.  The purchases made by dairy industries represent the sales for the vendors who offer their equipment, materials, and services. The sales to the vendors are then apportioned as income payments to their workers as well as the purchases from other related vendors.  All these transactions between different parties which are related to dairy industry result in economic activities (Jones, 2005).

Induced economic activities come about when business owners and employees spend part of their incomes in purchasing consumer goods and services such as food, air conditioners, television sets, and vehicles. In this case transaction between the vendors of these goods and services and the dairy industry's employees becomes an induced economic activity (Jones, 2005).  











Psychological and sociological perspectives

Sociologically and psychologically the breast milk strengthens the bond between mother and her child. This is because breastfeeding is accompanied by some kind of hormones which are responsible in strengthening the maternal bond.  When the mother is supported by the husband while breastfeeding the familial bonds will be strengthened and this can also build a paternal bond between child and father. In the cases where children are breastfed until their toddler years, they use the milk as a bonding and a bonding moment with their mothers (Riordan, 2005).  

Psychologically, Some people have developed negative attitudes towards milk consumption because of the attached negative effects such as harmful casein elements, lactose which is indigestible in children, contaminated with melamine hence causing cancer, provision of a medium over which infections like tuberculosis are transmitted from one person to another (Planck, 2007). Most people throughout the world develop lactose intolerance at the age of four. Lactose intolerance is defined as lack of ability to digest milk sugar. According to the recent study about milk drinking patterns, drinking cow's milk on the infancy stage may bring about juvenile diabetes (Riordan, 2005). This is because consumption of milk activates the destruction of cells which are responsible for insulin production in the pancreas. The relationship between cow's milk and diabetes had been suspected since human populations consuming milk at high rates develop diabetes at high rates as well.  

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According to Planck (2007), there is an increasing evidence of a relationship between cataracts and milk consumption. A cataract can be defined as an opacity or cloudiness in the usually transparent and crystalline lens of the human eye. The human populations consuming large amounts of milk and dairy products have an increased tendency to develop cataracts than those who avoid milk and its products. A substance in the milk called galactose is believed to be the cause of this problem. Galactose is also believed to be a cause of ovarian cancer. Studies have shown that women with this disease have a history of consuming large amounts of dairy products such as yogurt.  


Totem foods are perceived very important from many perspectives because they can have a variety of uses. In America, milk is one of the totem foods since the uses of milk and dairy products can range from household consumption, to commercial purposes and medicinal purposes. Milk is widely used all over the United State because of the many benefits attached to it. However, many myths have surrounded the consumption of milk as far as diseases and ailments are concerned.  Most of these myths lack basis in science they have been part of traditional knowledge for many years.

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