HKIHSS MMEA Lecture Series (8 March): Veronica Sau-Wa Mak - From Medicine to a Staple Food — How Science and Tradition are Shaping the Milk Production and Consumption in Modern China

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Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences


Making Modernity in East Asia Lecture Series

From Medicine to a Staple Food—How Science and Tradition are Shaping the Milk Production and Consumption in Modern China

Dr. Veronica Sau-Wa Mak

Hong Kong Shue Yan University


Date & Time: March 8, 2021 | 4:00 pm (HKT)

Details and Registration:



China, where most people are known to be lactase impersistent, now becomes the second largest dairy market after the US. Contrary to the popular stereotype about traditional Chinese cuisines being dairy free, this lecture will show that the water buffalo cheese and milk products have been part of the food system of Guangdong for centuries, though these indigenous milk products have been gradually replaced by western cow’s milk. This lecture will also challenge the common belief that the surge in cow’s milk consumption in China is a sign indicating westernization of Chinese diet. This lecture will demonstrate the complexity. On one hand, traditional Chinese medical knowledge has been used to design and promote western cow’s milk in China. On the other hand, the culture of milk consumption in China today has been shaped by modern nutrition science, traditional Chinese medical practices, economic reform and China’s modernization project, showing how science, material culture, social and political rules are intricately linked. Milk products, both old and new, provide people of different social classes with new imagination of bodies and capacities, new ways of conducting social interactions, new tactics to fulfill their traditional and modern roles as parents, workers and modern citizens under the context of rapidly globalizing societies, while at the same time create new food safety, environmental and inequality problems.


About the Speaker

Dr. Veronica Sau-Wa Mak is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the Hong Kong Shue Yan University. Her research interests focus on food, heritage and politics in China and Hong Kong. She is the author of Milk Craze in China: Body, Science and Hope (University of Hawai'i Press 2021). In this book, she reveals the multiple ways in which global industries and Chinese dairy conglomerates sabotage and destroy local dairy farms. Veronica has also published professional papers in academic journals, such as Ecology of Food and Nutrition, Food and Foodways and Asian Anthropology, and contributed chapters to Globalised Eating Cultures, Mediatization and Mediation, eds. Jörg Dürrschmidt and York Kautt (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), and Chinese Food and Foodways in Southeast Asia and Beyond, ed. Tan Chee-Beng (NUS Press, 2011).


(This is an event organized by the CRF Project “Making Modernity in East Asia: Technologies of Everyday Life, 19th – 21st Centuries” (RGC CRF HKU C7011-16G).)


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