The emergence of camel milk and the burgeoning of consumer demand for this medicinal milk is an exercise in bottom up revolutions and the power of the purchaser.
Camel's milk imports from outside the E.U. and U.S. are blocked by governments, cow's milk lobby groups, and scientists that refuse to recognise non-U.S. studies. Camel countries are poor or in conflict regions, herders are marginalised and infrastructure is under-developed.
But camel milk is communicating. Despite camel countries in the throes of revolution or conflict, poverty or dictatorships, the word is getting out. Demand from diabetic patients, parents of autistic children and sufferers of Crohn's disease have become their own powerful lobby.
These are the innovators; people searching for alternatives when modern medicine has failed. These people, willing to test a milk based on anecdotal evidence and ancient Bedouin wisdom, are trying it for themselves and deciding what they want in their fridges. Their grassroots, bottom-up force is changing government policy. Through the fight for camel milk we can see real passionate people as change makers.
Dina Amouyal from Canada has her own powerful story. Her 19-year-old son became ill and stopped digesting nutrients. Like other parents in similar situations 'they tried everything.' Then they heard about camel's milk from an Israeli scientist, Dr Reuven Yagil, who promised an effect in just two days. From being too weak to speak, in three days, he was able to get out of bed, walk down the stairs and say, "mom, I feel good."
It's not surprising that Dina has become Canada's biggest camel's milk advocate. She subsequently fought to get camel milk flown into Canada specifically for her son. Not only can he digest the camel's milk but has brought his tolerance levels of other foods up. He is now thriving.
This is an extreme story and, for me, Dina's son's recovery is not even the most impressive part of it. The story of one person fighting national import and trade red tape speaks louder. Dina has not only impacted her son but hundreds of thousands of people. She has also impacted camel milk.
What other component of a major food has gone from unknown to supermarket shelves in our lifetimes? Probiotics, perhaps?
Travel to Mauritania and nomads will tell you that selling camel milk is like selling the air: something essential to life. Find your way to India and you'll be boosting your virility with a glass of camel milk a day -- well, according to Virmaram Jat, an 88-year-old camel herder and new daddy. Such anecdotal evidence has prompted scientists to get in on the action. See the newly created Camel Milk Wikipedia page.
The science behind the beast of burden looks like this: a camel has one stomach; so do we. This makes camel's milk the most digestible milk past our own mother's breast milk[i]. Even the lactose intolerant and milk protein allergic can tolerate camel's milk[iii] -- not because it doesn't contain lactose but because it is suited to our digestive systems. A whole food, the Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that drink just camel milk and you can thrive.
The science behind camel's milk extends to diabetics. A protein in camel's milk that mimics insulin and does not get destroyed in the human stomach, can pass to the lower intestine and be absorbed. In small communities with access to the milk, this is changing lives. Reducing dependence on insulin and improving quality of life with the iron, vitamins, and immunoglobulins that make up the rest of the milk.
So why haven't we heard of it before? There's the small matter of geography. Camels live in places that are hard to get to, herded by people who move, daily. That's the simple answer. The real answer is far more complicated but the point is something has shifted
The bottom-up revolution I am talking about can be tracked through my Google News Alerts. I subscribed to 'camel' when eight months ago I began filming the camel milk industry with The What Took You So Long Foundation. Back then I was getting a fair few celebrity 'camel-toe' incidents in my mailbox. From late last year all things camel have revolved around Australia, camel festivals and revolutions. There's not a lot left to discover on the surface of this planet, but for an animal that is basically a dinosaur, having walked with the wooly mammoth, we know precious little. With the discovery of camel science it's a bit like looking in your backyard last of all.
There is still time for new discoveries to help us to discover the camel and the science inside it: the nanobodies[vii], the advanced enzymes, the heat-stable anti-venoms. Not only can we discover it, we can use our technologies to delve deeper and spread news faster. This is where the everyday consumer steps in: supply and demand. I demand my supply of camel's milk!
The milk of the camel is nothing new to Africa, the Middle East or Central Asia. It has been used for centuries in desert regions and steppe lands. But in a California gym?
What will Americans and Europeans do with camel milk? What innovations will they make? Will consumers demand natural, non-intensively farmed camel milk and right the wrongs of the bovine industry? Will camel cheese be the new Brie?
Revolutions create new worlds. New worlds need explorers. Welcome to the camel milk blog.
[i] El-Agamy EI, Nawar M (2000). Nutritive and immunological values of
camel milk.: A comparative study with milk of other species. In: Proc. 2nd International Camelid Conference: Agroecons. Camelid Farm. Almaty, Kazakhstan, 8-12 Sept.
[iii] El-Agamya EI, Nawar M, Shamsia SM, Awada S, Haenlein FW (2009).
Are camel milk proteins convenient to the nutrition of cow milk allergic
children? Small Rum. Res. 82: 1-6
[vii] Hamers-Casterman C, Atarhouch T, Muyldermans S, Robinson G, Hamers C, Songa EB, Bendahman N, Hamers R., Naturally occurring antibodies devoid of light chains, Nature. 1993 Jun 3;363(6428):446-8