Burning Man, the desert festival of self-expression for repressed tech workers who like to wear goofy costumes and do ayahuasca, prides itself on its 10 principles, which include gifting and “radical self-reliance,” the ability for anyone “to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.”
One participant took that last part very literally: A Burning Man attendee posted on Instagram that she distributed her breast milk to other festivalgoers, and they used it to make lattes in the desert.
It’s not just any Burning Man attendee, either: It’s Miki Agrawal, the controversial co-founder of Thinx, a brand of women’s “period panties.” One of Agrawal’s employees accused her of sexual harassment earlier this year for taking things too far in the office, discussing sex, groping female employees, and attending video conferences naked (“I just love the taboo space,” she told New York Magazine last year). Agrawal left the company in March, and founded Tushy, a bidet company. The lawsuit was settled confidentially.
On Instagram, Agrawal posted a photo of herself wearing a breast pump, with a long caption about her experience at the festival. “I pumped my breasts every three hours at @burningman and gave away most of my milk. Some people downed a whole four ounces hoping for a hangover cure. Some wanted it for their coffee to make lattes. So many were excited and curious to try it. I drank some too when I ran out of water, it tastes like sweet coconut milk!” she wrote, noting that few of the attendees seemed to understand the mechanics of breast-feeding or pumping.
Told that her breast milk gifts were raising eyebrows on Twitter, Agrawal didn’t get what the fuss was about. She thinks it’s time to have “a greater conversation about, why is it uncomfortable to talk about pumping? Or to have an adult try it because they tasted it like 35 years ago and are like, ‘I forgot what it tasted like, let me try it again,'” she told The Washington Post. “It’s about supporting women, period.”
Burning Man has long been a place where people can live outside of society’s conventions and get freaky. In addition to the iconic sculptures, decorated bicycles, and fire-breathing dragons, there are also attractions like orgies, “human petting zoos” and tons of hallucinogenic drugs. Based on this 2015 tweet, it was likely not the first time breast milk was served at Burning Man.
“I was pumping my breasts out, and people were very amused and curious,” said Agrawal, and, guided by the festival’s principles, she decided that “my gift to the Burn was my breast milk, to give out to people who wanted some healing.”
She thinks about 30 or 40 people tried it. “Some people downed a whole bottle,” she said. “Burning Man is a place where you can try things without judgment.”
She gave a bag to a nearby “coffee camp” (camps are groups of Burning Man participants who provide a service or experience), and they put it on the menu. “They had regular, soy and breast milk as the options.”
Every few years, up pops a story about someone trying to sell human breast milk products. In 2010, Manhattan restaurant Klee Brasserie briefly served cheese made with the chef’s wife’s breast milk, before it was banned from serving the dish. Critic Gael Greene sampled it: “Indeed, it is quite bland, slightly sweet, the mild taste overwhelmed by the accompanying apricot preserves and a sprinkle of paprika. It’s the unexpected texture that’s so off-putting. Strangely soft, bouncy, like panna cotta.” In 2015, a London ice cream company relaunched its line of breast milk ice cream, which was previously confiscated in 2011, according to Eater. There is a thriving black market online for people who wish to purchase and consume breast milk as a fetish, or in a belief that it is a health elixir.
But they really shouldn’t, and not just because the thought of it might make you squirm. A study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that “breast milk won’t improve health or sports performance. There’s less protein in human breast milk than cow’s milk, and any adult who claims a health boost from breast milk is probably experiencing a textbook case of the placebo effect,” reported Newsweek. Besides, breast milk can transmit infectious diseases.
And there’s one more reason for adults not to eat or drink breast milk, as the Village Voice succinctly put it: “Breast-milk cheese forces babies to compete with hipster foodies for mother’s milk, and a baby can’t punch a foodie in the face.”
But Agrawal isn’t deterred and says she will continue to offer her extra breast milk to curious people.
“The fact that any part of that could be seen as taboo — why is she doing that in public, or having people try it? — it’s time that that conversation changes,” she said.
More from Food: