lactose prejudice

I used to have dairy products all the time as a kid: milk with cereal, milk with cream of wheat, ice cream, milk with cookies, and less often, milk on its own. Then I noticed that drinking milk by itself was making me sick, but it was still ok with cereal. Then even milk with cereal made me sick. Then I started avoiding dairy. I’ve since found lactose-free milk and lactase pills and various other things that let me have dairy products without too much trouble.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m less lactose-intolerant than I think. When I’ve had gelato in Europe, it hasn’t been a problem even without lactase supllements, but I always take a supplement in the US with ice cream. But this might be the result of different processing methods; I can handle some yogurts – active culture – but not others. Same with cheeses. But when I’ve decided not to take any precautions with dairy I’ve usualy ended up paying a price for it. (It’s not really that bad; certainly not worse than stomach flus I’ve had.)

So I’m a bit surprised to see Ezra Klein quote the following about Nestle in China:

In Asia, ice cream is proving surprisingly popular among a people that aren’t supposed to tolerate dairy products; in fact, Nestle’s researchers now contend that Asians aren’t any more lactose intolerant than any other ethnic group. The problem, Brimlow [director of Nestle’s Chinese research center] told me, is that cow’s milk, has historically been so scarce and expensive in China, that most Chinese never developed the enzyme needed to digest dairy foods. If Chinese children are introduced to milk early on, says Brimlow, they have no trouble tolerating lactose — a finding that has spurred Nestle’s China operation to launch a wide range if dairy products aimed at the youth market. “Even as adults, it takes only three months to develop the enzyme,” Brimlow says. “They may feel a little sick for a while, but they get used to it. Yogurt is a great way to reintroduce dairy.”

I’d love to be reintroduced to dairy (without supplements), but I don’t see that happening based on my experience growing up. It’s not like I never had the enzyme. However, when I went to Taiwan, I noticed people having a fair amount of milk products and my relatives didn’t seem to have heard of lactose intolerance – we had to explain that it’s not an allergy. (A commenter over at Ezra’s place notes the same thing about Taiwan.) Among the American side of the family, I’m about the only one with a problem, though my sister has a milder reaction. So who knows what’s going on with me.

Maybe I’ve already had and lost my chance by having milk as a kid. Or maybe I’m just one of those people caught between worlds, not European enough to handle dairy – but my paternal grandmother is Swiss! – not Chinese enough to adjust as if it were new. If I ever have a MooLatte, the results no doubt will be tragic.

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