me + milk and cheese + Richard Armitage + fandom identity battles, part 1

This part is mostly about me + milk + cheese + identity. I define the term “identity battle,” which is necessary for understanding part 2. If these topics don’t interest you, skip right ahead.
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imageSource: RASnarktastic

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44008800301-2[Left: Cheesehead hat. Not Richard Armitage]

When you grow up in America’s Dairyland, certain things may not be said. Dislike of anything to do with milk, for example. MILK IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE. In a state where people regularly are seen in public with rubber foam hats made in the shape of a triangle of cheese, it’s the law.

The Ladies’ Aid (or Today’s Women in Christ, as they call themselves these days) provided huge cheese plates for mom’s funeral. My best friend from school, whom I hadn’t seen since the fall of 1998, showed up out of the blue, and while I was sitting next to her, I passed her a cheese plate and said, “Have some, it looks yummy,” and she looked both ways (her parents were sitting next to her on the other side) and then she leaned over and whispered in my ear, “I’ve never really liked cheese.” This is someone I had classes with every single day for thirteen years of school and at whose house I slept over at all the time and played in band with and I don’t know what all and we’re 44 and now she’s admitting to me that she doesn’t like cheese? You just can’t say it.

Milk-Carton[Remember these? At some point images of missing children started appearing on them.]

This state of affairs is overdetermined — we were raised not to waste food, and it was a farming community and so we had a lot of dairy available. Especially milk. In the elementary grades, we got a half-pint of milk to drink in the morning and a half-pint in the afternoon and a half-pint of chocolate milk on Fridays and we were not allowed to refuse it or pour it out. Woe to the little girl who hid her opened pint in the box of empty pints and got noticed. The smell of sour milk from those boxes will accompany me till the day I die. In the early 1980s, the Reagan administration paid price supports to milk producers, so a lot of surplus cheese was floating around; they gave it not just to welfare recipients but also to elderly people at nutrition sites. My school had federally subsidized hot lunches and so we got three generous slices of that processed cheese on our lunch trays every day. It had to be eaten; if you gave your tray back to a lunch lady with food still on it you got a talking to. Everyone from my school (there’s a “you know you’re from [town] if” page on facebook where this comes up regularly) remembers thirty years of being given “cheese buns” by Mrs. Seefeldt on Fridays. We liked Mrs. Seefeldt and we liked cheese buns — generous white dinner rolls filled with cheese slices and buttered on top and briefly broiled in a big industrial oven so they were warm, crisply and melty. Where it got tiring was when we got the three slices of cheese with the cheese buns. I like cheese; my problems came with the vegetables. My mom froze hers fresh from the garden, and putting canned peas in my mouth and even worse, swallowing them, cost me a lot of effort. Still does. It’s the texture of the peas, I think.

milk-can[Left: milk can, where you used to collect your milk before putting it in the bulk tank, from which it was pumped to go to the dairy.]

So here’s my unspeakable secret: I didn’t especially like milk and I still don’t. I finally got myself to drink it as an adult by all but killing the taste of the milk with generous infusions of coffee. I was the kid who constantly snuck her unwanted, undrunk milk into the box of empty pints and getting yelled at. I figured out in fifth grade, when the world opened up a bit more and they began to offer a choice, that I liked 2 percent better than whole and skim better than 2 percent. It must have had something to do with the taste of the milk fat. But I’m getting the story out of order.

Because the real kind of milk I couldn’t stand as a kid?

Raw milk.

rawmilk

[Right: the terror drink of my childhood: raw milk, unpasteurized, unhomogenized. You can tell because it’s yellowish and the cream is starting to separate.]

To understand the significance of that, you should know that all, all, all, of my ancestors I’ve been able to trace up until my parents’ generation, farmed. Peasants got off the boat from Europe in the 1850s, took the train to Wisconsin, found themselves some pasture and some animals, and got right down to business. All of my grandparents still had working dairy farms when I was a kid.

My ancestors grew up drinking unpasteurized milk and my parents certainly drank it. They relished it. They liked the fresh cream skimmed off the top of the milk can and buttermilk (the liquid left after you churn the butter out of the cream) and probably some other stuff I don’t even remember anymore. But it has a really strong smell, a smell of cow and barnyard, and it was always offered to me as fresh from the cow as possible because, according to the adults in my life, that was the way it tasted best. I couldn’t even drink it if I pinched my nose shut while I tried.

I spent a lot of weekends with my grandparents and milk had to be bought from the store for when I was there. My refusal to drink raw milk turned into a thing, a severe moral failing that probably stemmed, my maternal grandmother thought, from my parents’ avowed desire not to farm. I might be growing up in the country but I was just as spoiled as a city kid. Or maybe it was a sign — my father’s mother thought — that I was being parented badly. I was allowed to do a lot of other things that were either unnecessary or questionable and refusing raw milk was just another one on the list.

L.lactis.UWc[Left: Lactococcus lactis, the bacteria naturally occurring in milk and the state microbe of Wisconsin. I’m not kidding. If there were any more room on the flag, we’d put it there.]

Because it was a bone of contention, of course, my grandparents pushed it. Every time I was there it was offered to me and various sorts of coercion brought to bear from yelling to cajoling to rewards to … I don’t even know anymore. I loved my grandparents but it was a struggle at times.

“Just try it,” my mother urged me at every meal. She was probably eager not to be accused of either spoiling me or bad parenting. My deal with her at home that I had to drink an 8 oz. cup of milk at every meal I ate at home, and a pint of it at lunch time, because that was enough calcium for the day. (If the teachers ever hassled her about my milk waste at school, she never told me about it.)

“I can’t,” I would say — angrily, or miserably, or defiantly — and someone would sigh heavily and get up and pour a glass of pasteurized milk from the refrigerator which I didn’t like either but I would drink, at least. It didn’t help affairs that my brother had no problem with raw milk and swallowed it right down while smiling at me over the rim of the glass.

620px-Beta-D-Lactose.svg[Right: Chemical structure of lactose]

So, yeah. Milk = identity in a Wisconsin farming community. Can you imagine admitting to lactose intolerance in this setting? How that would play? It’s probably a little different now, but back then, I didn’t meet a lactose intolerant adult until I was twenty, I am sure, and even then, despite my emotional raw milk “trauma,” I was skeptical. Really? You can’t drink milk or dairy products? Ever? It makes you nauseated, sick, even violently ill? Can’t be. There’s no such thing. What do you mean? Your digestion won’t break down milk sugar? You really can’t drink milk?

My grandparents would have been lactose-intolerance intolerant, if that makes any sense. Milk is good for you. We produce milk. We’ve always produced milk. If you reject our milk, you reject us. You don’t love us. Spoiled, ungrateful. Growing up away from a farm. We love you and you’re not doing enough chores and I need to make sure you know how to render your own lard because sure as shootin’ your mother will never teach you. Most of all, I’d say from my perspective these days — rejecting their milk was read as a rejection of their identity. I was a bookish little girl who didn’t fit in and this was one front on which they could fight their battle to force me to do it.

2009-08-02-lola-lollipop-cows-milk-good-for-bones-lactose-intolerance-vegetarian-vegan-comics-91My mom didn’t care about the milk so much although she loved raw milk and it was a major blow when something about chemo made it taste bad to her. She’d always ask me, when I talked to her, whether I was drinking enough milk. For her it was about nutrition and “building healthy bones and teeth.” The USDA at the time recommended two portions of meat or poultry, three of dairy, four of carbohydrates and four of fruits and vegetables daily. (Does anyone else remember those colorful posters in schools that said, “Eat the 2 – 3 – 4 – 4 way!”)? Someone told me recently that the U.S. government no longer considers animal protein necessary to a health diet and that they’re dithering over whether to continue to recommend three portions of dairy products a day as well. People are worried that the dairy lobby is forcing the government to make recommendations that are not healthy. I have no idea; I don’t follow it all that closely. Large sections of the world are lactose intolerant — most of China and Africa, apparently. So it can’t be healthy for everyone. But the allegiance to health was also a statement about identity — I am your mother, I want you to be healthy, drink your milk.

starbucks-latte[Right: How I drink my milk now.]

Me? I try to get a lot of calcium against osteoporosis, but I get most of it via cheese and the milk disguised undetectably in my favorite coffee drinks. I never touch raw milk. I haven’t tried to in thirty years. I have tried yogurt made from unpasteurized milk and I can get it down if it’s flavored. That’s the limit. My brother and sister-in-law make my nieces drink milk and they don’t really resist, but they also know that if they’re eating with me, they get water or juice if they don’t want milk.

Was I gonna die if I didn’t drink raw milk, or even pasteurized milk? Nah. I read a lot of blogs that say unpasteurized is the only way to go but I don’t think I can go there. Lots of ways to get calcium if that’s what you’re worried about. For my grandparents, my drinking milk was about belonging. They couldn’t live with a grandchild who didn’t belong. For my teachers, it was about good pedagogy and obedience. For my mother, it was about her concern for my health, which was very much tied up in her own picture of herself as a good, attentive mother.

For my nieces’ parents, I think it has something to do with teaching their daughters Wisconsin manners — also an identity issue. My sister-in-law milks part-time in a milking parlor, but they do not have a cow at home. They do drink milk with rBST (BGH) in it, which is the current identity battle going on around milk in Wisconsin. It’s an identity battle because it gets to the picture of self that one has as a producer and consumer of milk. That is: the basic idea of my grandparents’ generation still stands: dairy farmers produce wholesome healthy food for America. It’s a basic tenet of their identity then and now. If Wisconsin’s dairy farmers use hormone additives to aid that process and make their production break even, is what they produce still wholesome?

Note that I’m not talking here about whether rBST in the amounts it appears in in milk is safe for human consumption (jury still out as far as I know), or whether its use to increase production is hard on cows (definitely). Rather, I’m talking about the picture of him or herself that a Wisconsin dairy farmer has as a user or non-user of BGH in his/her herd. It’s an identity battle because the choice in either direction is seen by the farmer and those around him or her as a reflection of who he or she is. Is a farmer who uses BGH a sellout to the big industrial farms and Big Food? Is one who doesn’t more truly faithful to the notion of the farmer as the necessary and benevolent, hard-working provider of wholesome food? Or does it matter at all? The answers to these questions are the terrain of identity battles.

to Part 2.

~ by Servetus on November 13, 2013.

71 Responses to “me + milk and cheese + Richard Armitage + fandom identity battles, part 1”

  1. […] From part 1. […]

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  2. Don’t hate me because I’m reading this with a cold glass of 2%milk in one hand and a shortbread cookie half hanging out of my mouth while I type. I remember the lady next door used to get those big containers of milk when I was a kid. (we lived in the city.) Mom talks about scraping the cream off the top and making butter and cream and buttermilk and all that crap. I only cheese if it’s melted, don’t like plastic cheese except in grilled cheese sandwiches, (that’s the stuff that’s wrapped in single slices) and can still chug a gallon of 2% milk down in one sitting on a bet….oh and I love the little truck farm veggies we buy along the side of the road. Don’t care if they sell most of their veggies to the big corporations. On to part 2.

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  3. Add “Dairyland heretic” to the list of things we have in common. I don’t mind milk (yeah, I will not touch raw milk either…the smell of the milk room – ugh), but the ubiquitous platters of cheese? Pass.

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  4. Just last week at my house it was decided we had ‘nothing to eat’ because we had run out of cheese to put on it.
    I’m with obscura on milk that ‘smells of the milk room’ , gah!

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  5. the milk room. And then the smell of disinfectant in the classroom early mornings because all the kids had to milk before school.

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  6. uch … and then .. when I worked at DQ in hs, the sour milk smeller in the cooler. We washed and disinfected it every day and disinfected the machines every day, but when I was working the product would spatter onto my arms and shirt and get warm and smell of sour milk … I couldn’t eat ice cream for three years after that.

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  7. I still gag when I remember how much milk was forced on me as a child. It turns out that I was allergic, and my body knew that beer glass full of milk at every meal and those cartons at school were making me ill. I was diagnosed at 7 years old and haven’t had a glass of milk since. I asked for tea in restaurants after that, and I was seen as weird and somehow unAmerican. So yes, I can relate.

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  8. My brother used to drink fresh “warm from cow” milk ..yack!..with this awful foam ..yaaack!..just to see my reaction..stupid bugger 🙂

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  9. As a vegan, I don’t drink milk, but I love the fan art of RA eating chocolate ice-cream for reasons that I refuse to explain.

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  10. Completely sympathise, although I was never offered raw milk, I’ve never been keen on milk as a drink and when I was a child there was a policy of the government providing “free” milk to school children every day so it was always being offered to me, I basically had to hold my breath and drink it down as quickly as possible trying to enjoy the “coldness”. Yuk! But my kids are addicted to the stuff and I do like milky coffee now.

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  11. I have only had the misfortune to have raw milk once in my life and that was on a campsite in France when I was 8. It was still warm from the cow and I’m pretty sure I refused it. Raw milk is something you would only ever see in this country if you knew a friendly dairy farmer – I don’t know anyone who has it. I’m a bit funny about pasteurised milk too. I hated being forced to drink milk at primary school but I have discovered as an adult that as long as the milk is skimmed I can drink it quite happily. I can’t, however, go anywhere near hot milk!

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    • Try hot milk with a touch of butter, a teaspoon of sugar and 2 shots of bourbon…sprinkle cinnamon on top…will cure anything. Even if it doesn’t, who the heck cares.

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    • I love milk, but it should come straight out of the fridge. I vave a similar experience like you. When I was around five or six years old we went on holidays. My mum bought me a little milk can and we went every morining to a dairy farmer and could watch the man milking the cow and pouring the milk in our cans. I hated the smell of the cowshed and being forced to drink the udder warm milk was even worse. In Germany you drink hot milk with honey when you get a cold or if you can´t go to sleep.

      Will try TheArkenstone`s recipe next time, sounds good.

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    • it’s illegal to sell it in most of the US, as I understand it. But it’s not hard to find.

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  12. Oh my. I was shuddering as I read this; I’m allergic to dairy (the casein not the lactose) and I can only imagine the hell of living in a place where its consumption is so strongly tied to the local identity. Although, I suppose, there are ways in which I never fit in with the expected identity of my origins, so I should be able to translate this to my own experiences. I’m just too busy cringing at the idea of being forced to drink so much milk on a daily basis. :O

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  13. I spent a major portion of my childhood sick and being tied to close proximity to a bathroom because it was expected that I drink milk at every meal. It never even occurred to anyone in my family that the milk might be the reason for my constantly upset stomach. Then I went away to college, never drank another glass of milk again, (I traded a glass of milk for half a grapefruit at every meal and ended up LOSING the freshman 10) and I haven’t had the stomach problem since. I can’t even imagine growing up in Wisconsin! Fortunately, I can do cheese and yogurt, though I refuse to eat grocery store cheese. Artisan cheese is what we eat. It tastes like something as opposed to the stuff that turns into glue in your stomach that is available at most grocery stores.

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    • yeah — cheese in France was amazing!!! I mean, I’ve never not liked cheese but the world of cheese outside of the US is so much larger and it’s improved drastically over the years.

      I also stopped drinking such huge quantities of milk (and eating lima beans) when I went to college. Ah, adulthood …

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  14. Perhaps I have some information that can console you with ‚raw milk‘ and your dislike of it.
    My mother’s family background – or better my whole family background (though my father’s part is not from this area) is deeply rooted in farming, cow farming and agriculture. My mother’s maiden name is even mentioned in connection to farming in documents of the area going back as far as the 13th century. The family name also indicates an agricultural tradition in itself, rooted in a tree name which only grows in warm climate and is said to have been brought to the area by the Romans. (No, not wine, but a special kind of cherry.)
    So milk and raw milk was omnipresent during my childhood.
    While I must say, my parents and grandparents and farming uncle and aunt took great care that neither I nor my sister ever drank ‘raw milk’.
    They said it can make you ill and so it was strictly forbidden to drink it throughout my whole childhood, though we had (optional in later years, obligatory at the beginning, as far as I remember) milk rations for school lunch. (While taking milk had the connotation of being a ‘good’ pupil, as you mention ;o)
    The raw milk at least needed to stand for about one day to be somewhat drinkable, but as far as I remember, my grandmother and uncle never drank it, but rather gave the milk back to young cows (and drinking it had the connotation of taking away their food) or just used it for cooking or only the butter and cream.
    I just once tasted a small sip of raw milk and the only thing of it I can remember is, that it tasted sweet and fat, nearly not anything like milk, because the heavy fat part in it covers all other taste almost completely. That was all I ever was allowed to try of it. I did not get ill of it, but I was watched closely by all family, when I tried that sip. My sister insisted on trying it and I was caught in the effort with her. I was not so overly curious regarding fat milk, which still contained all the cream and a large junk of butter, because I had anticipated it to tast like biting into a piece of rancid first drawn out raw butter, which I did not appreciate overmuch.
    I can cope quite well with the 2% milk as well, while I get queasy with fatter milk. For me, I don’t cope well with milk sugar and I think the fatter milk seems to contain more of that. So every food (or medication) where milk sugar is artificially added feels like poison to me, while I really like milk in general and tolerate lactose. But what I am really addicted to is cheeeees ;o)

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    • Raw milk can give you tuberculosis, although that’s not a very serious risk these days. That was the main reason for the law against unpasteurized milk, as I understand it. You can also slop pigs with unpasteurized milk or whey, too, they like it. I was always tempted …

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      • I had forgotten all about the Tuberculosis part of that event. (Selective memory). Though I think my family watched me so attentively while drinking, because they feared much more imminent results like a revolting stomach 😉
        Yes to the pigs also. I just had not wanted to mention them in case you or your readers might be offended. I always liked to accompany my grandmother while feeding them and the smell of their brew just was delicious. Nothing like rancid milk, but like sweet milk mixed with aromatic grain. Hmmmm….
        My family in my time delivered nearly all of their milk to a large international dairy company and only used the part over their delivery contingent themselves. I think the company even is active and known in the U.S. Though they so often changed their company name that I don’t know who currently is the major share holder giving the name to the dairy company branch right now.

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        • my grandparents had pigs. I have a recurring dream that involves the sow. She was mean.

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          • Oh, how sad. I only have lovely memories of them. They were quite happily ‘oinking’ and especially the little ones were so lovely.
            What I admired of them was their attentiveness. You could not trick a pig or approach undetected. So I have quite a high opinion of their intelligence and my parents needed to keep me far away when once the butcher came when we were there. That is the element why I never could be a farmer with animals, while I do well with plants.
            For me, you really stirr old memories and awaken a time long gone with your post, Servetus!

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            • Pigs are definitely smart, and also cleaner than most people realize.

              It’s funny, the memories of the time “long gone” — I don’t feel that way, all of these things seem not that long ago to me, but of course, you’re right, many of them have disappeared. And moreso in Germany — where the curve of modernization after 1945 was incredibly steep.

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  15. I’m sorry, all I could think of when I saw the blog post title was the (genius) COMIC BOOK “Milk and Cheese.” My bad….

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  16. When I was 16, I spent three months as an exchange student in Germany, living with a German family and attending a nearby Gymnasium (high school, I guess you’d say).
    The family I lived with lived down the road from a small farm with a dairy, and every day we walked the mile or so to the farm to get a pail of raw milk, which the mother of the family thought essential for the health of her three children (the oldest was a boy my age, then a girl a few years younger, then a 10-year-old boy). Those kids had to drink the raw milk at every meal — and the pitcher was kept on a shelf, not in the refrigerator! Yuck.
    As a foreigner and a visitor, I was allowed to drink a cup of tea with my meals, instead of the milk. In the eyes of the other kids, this gave me a special ‘adult’ status, because the parents drank tea.
    I was very grateful for that — even though I usually like milk, I couldn’t get used to the idea of warm, slightly sour raw milk they drank.

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    • You are a lucky one. As I posted my comment a few lines before I was only forced to drink raw milk on holidays. My daughters never had to. Nowadays you can hardly get it, it`s not offered in supermarkets etc., suppose it´s because of hygienic regulations.

      What an interesting post, all of us made their own experiences with milk an dairy products 🙂

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    • My North German ex-SO’s family doesn’t refrigerate cheese for most of the year — it’s on a platter on a ceramic bell and comes on the table for breakfast and supper. That took a little getting used to. None of them seem to suffer.

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      • Actually, when I told my rural-Ohio-raised DH about the raw milk sitting out on the shelf, he said that raw milk doesn’t spoil as quickly as pasteurized milk, so it’s fine to leave it out. I guess it’s a different lifestyle.

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        • I did not know that. In general Germans think Americans over-refrigerate.

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        • When you leave raw milk for some days at room temperature, it turns into soured milk, and you can still drink or rather eat it without any problem. That’s what people did before refrigerators were common in kitchens. But the bacteria which are necessary for the process don’t exist anymore in pasteurized milk, so it just spoils.

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  17. Maybe I shouldn’t mention that when I go hiking in Austria, I have a half litre of raw milk at every “Alm” where I can get it. (Will have a beer if I can’t) 😉 But that’s because I love it, I absolutely agree in that milk is not a must in your diet.

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  18. I love milk, just not the raw one. And even more when some chocolate powder is added. (I’ve never found out how that’s called – chocolate milk?)
    Being a celiac in a country which is known for its many different kinds of bread, I relate to your story about the lactose intolerance. Usually I don’t even think about what other people around me are eating, only when I have a really, really bad day, I try to avoid happy people with cakes. 😉

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    • oh, man, celiac and surrounded by bread? wow. you must be a saint.

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      • It’s true, I miss “normal” bread, but even the best bread is so not worth all the unpleasant consequences. One year of a very inconsequent gluten-free diet due to “but I WANT to eat that!!!” has taught me that. 😛 That and a lot of self-discipline.

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  19. I grew up on a place that was a dairy farm before we owned it. There were several others around here too. My dad was a quasi-farmer. Sometimes we had milk cows and sometimes we didn’t. When we did, there was raw milk and butter. I remember that both were strong, but it was the taste of the butter that I’ll never forget. It was wonderful! And what about the smell of fresh cow manure 🙂 The dairy barn and silo are still standing. It was always a fantasy of mine to renovate the barn — it would make a wonderful home.

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    • Butter from raw milk is spectacular, as is cheese from raw milk (which is hard to get the US, there’s a periodic import ban on it).

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  20. Just got a chance to read this, this is good. Pssh, don’t say anything, but I don’t drink milk at all. Since June I have been using almond milk for my cereal and since July for my coffee. I still eat cheese, yogurt and ice cream, but have cut down even on them. If they want to toss me out of the state for not drinking milk, I want to go some where warm. Only son’s2 and 3 have been milk drinkers in our house.

    My co-workers daughter has a dairy allergy, no dairy ever for her, could mean death, that is how bad it is for her. Also one of our other teachers has a son the same way.

    Milk is no longer something the students have to take, in fact for the most part it don’t even count. They have to have fruit or veg or both, protein/ grain. They keep changing what counts.

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  21. […] burial seems inappropriate and there is no clear intended location. The place becomes the focus of an identity battle that tells us something about ourselves, not about […]

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  22. […] work, not about being one thing for myself, but about being many things for many people. Not about taking on just one more identity battle, but about (as best I can) freeing myself and others from all of […]

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  23. […] big glass of unsweetened iced tea (perverse — I really should be drinking milk, but you know how I feel about milk) and sat down, when I heard a muffled noise from the […]

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