When I was 18 years old, I was in a television commercial for a dairy company in El Paso, Texas -- specifically, touting their cottage cheese. I was horribly unsuited to the task. The poor owners of the ad agency who brought me on board were in need of a good stiff drink at the end of the day -- “dairy” my foot. Whether they were going to be able to splice together 60 seconds of footage from the hours of effort was seriously in question. I must have said my lines a hundred times, but a self-protection mechanism has allowed me to black out on what, exactly, they were.
Yet, the commercial ran for years, long after the workout clothes I wore for it were out of style, long after I’d forgotten all about it. Forgotten, that is, until, all of a sudden from time to time, some group in one of El Paso’s mega-malls would start yelling, “Look! Look! It’s the Cottage Cheese Queen!” (Why always “Cottage Cheese Queen?” Evidence of my astonishingly bad acting skills, I guess, as I never wore a crown.)
Years later, after I’d worked for a number of years as a print journalist and during the time I was pursuing a degree in anthropology, my husband-to-be asked me if I’d ever considered going into television journalism. I looked at him like he’d grown a second head.
It’s funny because it’s so wrong.
Strangely enough, I’ve become a lifelong advocate for dairy -- really really really -- or more accurately, a one-woman proponent of individuals eating correctly for the particular set of genes they have. Food Anthropology was a sub-category of the discipline that particularly captured my interest. (See Gary Nabhan’s Why Some Like It Hot, about the interplay between biology and culture in what we eat.) In my case, the half-Norwegian organism that is me runs best on dairy, lots and lots of dairy. I actually don’t feel all that great, if circumstance forces me to go without for several days. The Cuban half of my genes, though, don’t seem to have expressed themselves, digestively speaking. I tend to be allergic to tropical fruits, for example.
It can be complicated to figure out, given that we human beings are a genetically mixed-up lot, but it’s possible, a worthy endeavor in the matrix of working toward better health. A good place to begin might be by asking, “What makes me feel good, what makes me sick or nauseous?” and then looking for geographical connections in those foods. Lactose intolerance is a pretty good indicator you didn't get certain genes from ancestral herding people, in so far as dairy is concerned.
I got to thinking about all this today because I made a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. For my entire adulthood, I have never made a grilled cheese sandwich without thinking about the time my Great Aunt Nell came to visit when I was about 8 years old. She was like royalty, and my little brother and I were beside ourselves with excitement.
On the first full day, Aunt Nell wanted a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and -- imagine the honor -- my parents said I, the brand-spanking new cook of very simple things, could make it.
It would be the best grilled cheese sandwich in the whole wide world!
I put a quarter inch of butter on the bread. I put another quarter inch on the other side of the bread. I repeated on the second piece of bread, both sides. I sliced the cheese at least a half-inch thick. The stack went into the pan of melted butter: butter, bread, butter, cheese, butter, bread, butter on top.
I finished the confection. I leaned really close into Aunt Nell as she took the first bite.
“So??? How is it?”
She made a face. “It’s kind of -- buttery.”
“I know! Yummy, right?”