Kittie Howard

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Clabber: Milk, Vanity Fair, Louisiana and Monsanto

I loved milk as a kid growing up on the farm in Louisiana, still do. However, a Vanity Fair article investigates life in a different era and how the policies of Monsanto (the international agra-mega giant) affect, not only the milk industry, but rice paddies in Asia and so much more. Please follow the link to a Vanity Fair acticle to read more about Monsanto. I think you will be surprised.


If you read "Sittin' on the Stoop", you know that the war between my grandmother and my mother ended in a truce. Life on the farm returned to normal, sorta.

Sarah, my younger sister, cried, begged, and pleaded (as only a two-year-old can do) with my grandfather not to sell Banana Horns, a cow with horns so-shaped, that she'd taken a fancy to. Pa had released Banana Horns and other cows into the pasture behind the front acres, where we lived. He wanted to fatten up the cows a bit more prior to market.

Banana Horns plodded over to the fence whenever Sarah approached. Sarah giggled with delight when she tickled the cow's nose. This very fat cow with big brown eyes and yellowish-brown hide would even lower her head so Sarah could touch her horns. And, so, Banana Horns didn't go to market.

In the meantime, while Banana Horns worked her magic, my grandmother brought my mother a pail of thick cream. At the sight, my heart sank. Mom possessed the key ingredient to make clabber.

With an eagerness that totally ruined my day, mom pulled out the clabber diaper and the whatchamacallit (a series of intertwined coat hangers), from which the diaper would hang. I swear, if I'd known the French Foreign Legion existed, my little legs would have taken off, nevermind the hot noon-day sun.

Clabber looked nasty, tasted worse. My grandparents, mother, and sister loved clabber. More than apple pie. More than homemade ice cream. Only my father and I hated the white curdles. But he was at LSU.

Within minutes, my mother and grandmother had hung the wired contraption over the kitchen sink, placed a pot in the sink, poured the cream into the diaper, and attached the stork-like bundle to the hanging wire. The cream began to drip into the metal pot. Drip! Drip! Drip!

By late evening, the fast drips would turn into slow, uneven spats. Even buried under the covers, I'd hear those splats all night. Sarah and I shared a bedroom off the kitchen. Everyone joked that Sarah could sleep through a hurricane and not stir. Not me, oh, no. I could hear a mosquito sneeze two pastures over.

At bedtime, my mother remained adamant; interior doors remained open. (So she could monitor us.) I went to bed hating clabber, woke up the same.

By morning, the cream that remained in the diaper had curdled into large white clumps. Bacteria (which I hadn't known existed) had flavored the clumps with a certain tartness. After lunch, Mom prepared generous bowls of clabber for Sarah and herself. I stared at a smaller bowl. Sarah's eyes popped with delight when Mom sprinkled sugar over the clabber, groan.

Mom and Sarah tucked into the clabber with relish. I just sat there. Now, why parents do this, I don't know, but Mom dug in, insisted I "at least try" the clabber (as if this batch tasted better.) After tearful protestations, I eventually managed to get a spoonful into my mouth. But it wouldn't go down.

My cheeks bulged. The clabber just sat in my mouth, tasting awful, swelling into a slimy glob. My cheeks bulged some more. Just as Daddy walked in and Mom stood and turned toward him, the clabber whooshed out of my mouth, like a big hurricane wind, and splattered the refrigerator with the white goo. Daddy laughed until he couldn't laugh any more. Mom beamed with happiness to see Daddy, and forgot about my whoshing clabber.

And, so, Daddy's coming home a day early from LSU ended my clabber career. Mom continued to make clabber, though. My grandfather kept milk cows on the farm. Ma pasteurized the milk. She had the proper equipment. Years earlier, Pa had worked to establish a dairy on the farm and had enjoyed success until it became apparent he lacked the resources to compete with growing dairies, like Kleinpeter Dairy, in Baton Rouge. And that turned out for the best. Pa was a cattleman, not a dairyman.

Still, we enjoyed having milk cows. Our milk tasted fresh, really fresh, with a thick foam that made a big moustache. Our milk also tasted a little sweet. Not like chocolate or a cookie. Just a little sweet that perked up the taste buds.

Pa kept his milk cows clean (they can be messy). He rotated them through the pastures. He made sure the cows grazed on grass, good sweet, bright green grasses, and not weeds and dandelions. Because what a cow eats turns into what you drink or eat.

So, interest perked when my May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair contained an investigative article about Monsanato (the global agra-giant) and seeds and farming and milk. "Monsanto's Harvest of Fear, by Donald Bartlett and James Steele, contains six pages of hard-hitting investigative journalism. Everyone concerned about what goes into their bodies should read this article.

After reading about how Monsanto threw its considerable weight around, a sense of pride emerged when I read how Kleinpeter Dairy had stood up to Monsanto's pushiness. Kleinpeter Dairy did not sell milk that contained growth hormones and stated as such on milk cartons. Kleinpeter Dairy used milk from cows "not given artificial bovine growth hormone, a supplement developed by Monsanto that can be injected into dairy cows to increase their milk output." (Monsanto's Harvest of Fear, page 5) And this had put Monsanto on the legal ceiling.

My research consisently agreed with the authors of the Vanity Fair article: The F.D.A. has not approved rBGH; studies about rBGH come from Monsnato, not outside, unbiased sources. Hence, numerous questions remain about this data, growth hormones, and milk.

Since the Vanity Fair article appeared in 2008, I didn't know who had won the battle. So, a few minutes ago I called Kleinpeter Dairy, the dairy of my youth. A real person with a delightful personality answered the phone! Soon I was speaking with a Kleinpeter representative who had time to speak to me (and who knew about clabber).

I am happy to report that Kleinpeter Dairy still does not use milk with growth hormones, that all of their dairy products are hormone free, that their dairy products are their products and not out-sourced. Someone with principles runs Kleinpeter Dairy.

But, annoyingly, if you read the Vanity Fair article you'll read where Monsanto got some of its power from a guy associated with Fox News. Pass the smellin' salts. The vapors are comin' on.

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