Call for Editors: Social Media and Acquisitions

The Recipes Project is looking for new editors to grow our readership and expand the range of scholarship we feature on the blog. Are you a savvy Tweeter who loves the back-and-forth exchange of social media? Are you a regular reader with ideas about what you’d like to see us feature on the blog? Do you love thinking about recipes in all their myriad forms? Then you might make a great social media or acquisitions editor, and we would love to hear from you!

Editorial duties include:

Social Media Editors

  • Amplifying, sharing, and promoting writing on recipes, especially by underrepresented groups 
  • Running our social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)
  • Regular liaising with co-editors about site development, content, and promotion

Acquisitions Editors

  • Engaging with underrepresented groups and areas of study related to recipes, especially among underrepresented groups and non-Western societies
  • Connecting with and inviting potential contributors 
  • Organizing, editing, and uploading posts in rotation with other co-editors 
  • Regular liaising with co-editors about site development, content, and promotion 

About Us

The Recipes Project is an interdisciplinary, volunteer organization. This work is the unpaid product of a community of passionate scholars of recipes.

We welcome candidates from all backgrounds, including those engaged with the culinary arts, creative food writing, and academic research. We welcome scholars from a variety of disciplines: anthropology, comparative literature, classics, history, linguistics, literary criticism, sociology, and more. Graduate students are valued members of our community.  We particularly invite submissions from those from underrepresented groups and non-Western societies. 

The Recipes Project has an international reach that explores recipes of all kinds: medical, culinary, scientific, magical. Our posts cover a range of topics relating to historic cookbooks, instructions, ingredients, guidelines, and methods of cultivation and production across time and place. We value new writers and early career researchers, giving them a platform for new writing and supporting and amplifying their work. We have a broad audience—in 2021, we averaged 18,000 unique site visitors per month, and we have over 11.5K Twitter followers. We look forward to expanding further, with your help!

Application Details

To apply, please include a CV and one-page pitch describing what you wish to bring to the team. Acquisitions Editors: include two ideas for a month-long series and how you might expand our reach to new audiences. Social Media Editors: include two ideas for a week-long social media campaign that reaches distinct and diverse groups. Have other ideas? Send them our way! 

Please submit applications via email to recipesproject@brocku.ca. First review will begin on Feb. 1, 2022 and will continue until positions are filled.

Current Editorial Team

  • Clare Gordon Bettencourt
  • Jessica Clark
  • Amanda Herbert
  • R.A. Kashanipour
  • Sarah Peters Kernan
  • Melissa Reynolds
  • Joshua Schlachet
  • Miles Wilkerson

Tales from the Archives: Human Milk as Medicine in Imperial China: Practice or Fantasy?

The Recipes Project has over 500 posts in our archives and over 120 pages for readers to sift through. That’s a lot of material! With so much excellent material on the site, it’s easy for earlier pieces to be forgotten. This Tales from the Archive post ties into this month’s theme on TEXTURES and also reminds us of some of our wonderful past content.

This month we’re sharing a 2016 post by He Bian.  It offers a rich, revealing look into the ways that human milk – like and yet unlike milk from other animals – was imagined as a medicine in Imperial China.  We hope that you enjoy this latest installment from our Recipes Project archives, and if you have any posts that you’d like for us to revisit, please send in your nominations
Amanda & Marissa (editors)

By He Bian

What does milk have in common with blood? According to Kou Zongshi (fl. 1110-1117), author of Bencao yanyi (Extended Interpretations on Materia Medica), they are basically the same vital fluid produced by the female body at two critical moments in a woman’s life. While the first menstrual period signifies the maturation of reproductive power, motherhood is the consummation of that power–miraculously causing the vital fluid to flow upward as milk. After nursing ends, the flow of milk again reverses back to blood, as evident from the return of the menses.

“Human milk.” Anon. Buyi Leigong paozhi bianlan (n.p, 1591), Book 8.

However, Kou’s original aim was to make sense of medical recipes. In particular, he was trying to figure out why do so many recipes for eye medicine use human milk to mix up powdered mineral drugs: a practice that has parallels in different cultural contexts. Since blood is essential for the five senses to function and human milk is essentially blood, Kou reasoned, this makes it an excellent medicine for eye diseases. Another recipe that may have been on his mind is the recommendation to drink “three portions of human milk” to help with obstructed menses. It makes sense if they were considered of the same origin. Like cures like.

Let’s pause here to consider what this means. Working with Chinese materia medica texts often means untangling different strands of thought, modes of compilation and miscellaneous quotations. The entry on each substance (e.g. human milk, renru or ruzhi) often begins with a learned survey of previous literature, including passages from classical literature and histories, and ends with a large (and often unwieldy) body of recipes. The problem is that the prescribed uses of the substances in the first part do not always sit well with the recipes, which are messy, opaque, and often outright strange.

In fact, Kou Zongshi’s work could be understood as a scholar-physician’s attempt to impose order and coherence on the unruly recipes, which were becoming increasingly available in print. [2] The incongruities and tension between theory and recipes, however, allows us to follow the intricate dance between empiricism and rationalism in such texts: when did authors equate recipes with real-life experiences, and when did they treat them as exemplars of theory and formulaic principles? When did book culture begin to shape the ways in which medicines were prepared, consumed, and invented?

Back to Kou Zongshi’s ingenious, if somewhat contrived, speculation over the nature of lactation. It did not seem to have caught much attention immediately. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed a growing suspicion among medical experts to discipline and curb wet nurses’ sway over childcare, and pediatric treatises abound with warnings against drunken, naughty wet nurses whose milk turns unwholesome to the infant.[3] Again, the female body’s power to nourish but also intoxicate with her transformed milk resonates with similar discourses discussed elsewhere on this blog; notably, alcoholic drinks were seen to be a bad thing that excites her passions, in contrast to ancient Roman recommendations.

In addition, the conquest of Mongols brought about increased consumption of cow and goat’s milk.[4] A leading physician active in the fourteenth century advised consuming those over human milk, which is easily “tainted with poisonous passions.” It looks like the arrival of more abundant dairy products would transform the existing pharmacopeia once and for all.

But not so simple. By the sixteenth century in China, human milk had become a “super food” of sorts, especially among elite families. Kou Zongshi’s dusty theory became a dominant trope, fanning the imagination of the female body as a machine of alchemical wonders, and her milk a sort of elixir that revitalizes the frail and depleted bodies. In the sixteenth-century encyclopedia Systematic Materia Medica (Bencao gangmu), Li Shizhen, the erudite naturalist and capable physician, criticized the excessive fetishizing of human milk. The prudent Li nevertheless included twelve “new recipes” that involve human milk as medicine. Li’s encyclopedia was first printed in 1596; soon after the turn of the century, dietary manuals began to teach people how to prepare dried milk powder at home, after collecting fresh milk from “strong women who just gave birth to boys”. Presumably, women sold their milk not as wet nurses, but directly to pharmacists (as depicted in the picture above).

So did people in imperial China consume human milk as medicine? Quite likely. But was it ubiquitous? Probably not. Recipes can be practical and fantastic, and theorists can explain and inspire. What matters is that human milk as medicine gradually came to be taken out of the context of nursing and acquired a more abstract quality as commodity.

[1] Charlotte Furth, A Flourishing Yin: Gender in China’s Medical History: 960–1665 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999).

[2] Asaf Goldschmidt, The Evolution of Chinese Medicine: Song Dynasty, 960-1200 (London ; New York: Routledge, 2009).

[3] Ping-Chen Hsiung, “To Nurse the Young: Breastfeeding and Infant Feeding in Late Imperial China,” Journal of Family History, 20, 3 (1995), pp. 217-38.

[4] Paul D. Buell, E.N. Anderson, and Charles Perry, A Soup for the Qan : Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Sihui’s Yinshan Zhengyao, 2nd Rev. and Expanded ed. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010).