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048: Inside a Milk Tanker and the Amul Story with Bhavi Patel (Day 3 SFW2)

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

She learnt how to milk a cow named Chetna, scale up the ladder of a gigantic silo, wash the slippery insides of a stainless steel tank, and cohabitate with dairy animals in Palanpur. Bhavi Patel rebelled against the traditional Indian paths of medicine and engineering, and instead chose to pursue a B. Tech degree in Dairy Technology, much to the surprise of her family. Yesterday Bhavi shared her first hand experiences from the four years she spent at the Agricultural University.

Bhavi’s birthplace of Anand, Gujarat is synonymous with AMUL (Anand Milk Union Limited) - a state government cooperative with 3.6 million milk producers, the “utterly butterly delicious” mascot and witty advertisements loved across the country. India is the world’s largest producer of milk followed by the U.S.A. and China, thanks largely to the efforts of Verghese Kurien who steered India’s “White Revolution” at AMUL.

Last morning, thanks to Bhavi’s information dense lecture, I saw the daily Nandini orange milk sachet in a new light. There in front of me were both the horizontal and vertical seals that need to pass the Quality Assurance 2 metre drop test. For the first time, I understood “milk solids” in the ingredient list - as cows and buffalos produce less milk, and less fats in the summer. I saw that it is enriched with Vitamins A and D which are not naturally present in milk. And that the percentage of “milk fat” and “milk SNF - solids not fat” were clearly labelled so as to meet legal definitions, and be marketed as “standardised” milk.

I sent a silent prayer to the 19th century French chemist Louis Pastuer who made it safe for millions of us to consume milk. I was grateful to the numerous technological inventions (including electric refrigeration), advances in storage and transportation that make it possible for me to open my door to a bag of milk. But most of all I was beholden to the numerous farmers who take their cows and buffalos out for grazing, who hand-pick the juiciest grasses when they are pregnant, and who ride to the abundant collection centres with their cans brimming with warm milk.

Post Script:

Not all is rosy in the milk industry. We would need another session to deal with artificial insemination, hormonal injections to increase milk yield, separation of the calves from the mothers, urban cows that eat out of garbage cans, and the plastic packets of milk that end up in landfills and the sea. Milk processing in India is a complex universe.

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