You may have heard the story about the icecreamist parlour in Covent Garden serving up “Baby Gaga” breastmilk icecream. Yes that’s right, the same milk that a human mothers breasts produce to feed their babies as opposed to the milk produced by a cow’s udders to feed their calves which is normally used in the production of icecream. Well the story certainly attracted a lot of attention and exposed a wide range of attitudes towards human breastmilk and breastfeeding. Victoria Hiley donated her breastmilk to make the Baby Gaga icecream, this is Victoria’s side of the story in her own words.
“My own adventure led me to “selling” some breast milk, being interviewed on the radio and having my breasts, appearance and HIV status discussed on blogs, forums and online comment sections throughout the English speaking world and beyond.
It all began when I saw a job advert on Mumsnet. Normally I wouldn’t even look there but it was a particularly active thread: “Mum wanted to donate milk for ice cream” or some such. It was from an ice cream parlour who were last active nearly a year ago when they had a pop up shop in Selfridges. The tossy Flash-only website annoyed me so I replied, speculating that it wasn’t real but that I was game if it were. As requested I submitted a photo.
To my surprise I received an email from one of the owners assuring me that it wasn’t a hoax, and when could he meet me?
I met him in a Starbucks on Moorgate and was reassured that he wasn’t a pervert and indeed, after I discussed breast milk fetishes and Top Gear slash fiction, began to think that I sounded far, far more seedy than he.
I agreed to have a blood test to rule out the few infections that are transmitted through breast milk (HIV, hepatitis, syphilis (active) and HTLV I and II), give some milk over and do a couple of press interviews.
In return I would get some cash to cover my expenses and time.
So I agreed, basically. I express at work so was able to produce 9oz (as
requested) worth over 2 days – I know very little about bottle feeding but this turns out to fill a normal baby bottle. I also had some frozen milk lurking at the bottom of the freezer.
I handed the milk over on Monday, and did a photo shoot and a couple of interviews for the PR agency on Tuesday. At the end of the session, the PR waved a sheet of paper under my nose.
This was the press release. I only really had a chance to glance at it. A quote from me about “using my assets for a bit of extra cash” was included. I observed that I hadn’t said such a thing and wouldn’t but by that point I knew I wasn’t really going to be able to change anything. I shrugged, said that I wasn’t going to tell him how to do his job, finished my icecream and left.
The next day texts started to arrive from colleagues who were reading that morning’s Metro. I checked the online version. Not a word from my actual interview was there but the tacky made up quote was.
Throughout the day more stories popped up. My photo from the shoot started to appear, and that quote, with my name attached, started moving up the list in Google News.
Comments started to pop up, and this is where the churnalism really bites.
I was revolting, I had AIDS and was going to infect everyone, people would like to drink from the source… my breasts and the milk they produce was appraised and discussed. Amongst the “yuk” comments and suggestions that semen should be used next, my mother in law valiantly defended my honour, getting the Huffington Post to revise the story to state, clearly, that I had been thoroughly screened.
I was scolded for not donating milk (as the mother of a toddler, I couldn’t start now anyway and could not donate milk due to being out of the country when she was young enough) and was told to keep my fluids to myself.
I was interviewed on the radio several times. I decided in advance to just have one point and make it over and over again: that we drink cow milk without a second thought. This I did. I also tried to make it clear that I hadn’t produced prodigious amounts with a breast pump, and that some women aren’t able to produce very much at all, but that doesn’t mean they can’t successfully breastfeed.
Just as things died down, Westminster Council then raided the parlour after a couple of complaints that the ice cream contained “bodily fluids.”
The complainants did not specify which body they objected to, the cows’
or the human’s, but the inspectors took the last few scoops and are subjecting it to tests. After flailing around for what to test for, they settled for hepatitis. I await the results with interest, since I don’t have hepatitis and the milk has been pasteurised anyway.
The only thing I would change is that damn fake quote. To see that going twice round the world before breakfast and having no control over it is fascinating, and alarming if I let myself think that way.”
Complaints from the public, raids by Westminster council even (allegedly) the threat of legal action from Lady Gaga. What a fuss about an icecream made with human milk. Support for breastfeeding mothers is definitely not helped by people declaring breastmilk to be “disgusting” or “nausea inducing” but maybe this will open up the debate and change some peoples perceptions. Whatever you think about the “Baby Gaga” icecream, there’s no doubt Victoria Hiley’s milk is just as good and healthy as a cow’s and probably much better! I can’t say I’ve ever made icecream from my breastmilk but it was always handy for making a cup of tea when we’d run out of the cow variety . . . . Slightly sweeter than cows milk 😉
If you’d like any information about support for breastfeeding mothers then visit the Breastfeeding Network website.