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©August 1999

Carol Jane Remsburg



Smell the Milk



"Mom, is this any good?"  So goes the cry across the land.  It doesn't just hark from our children but our spouses and extended family members as well.  What makes our noses any different than theirs?  From milk to lunchmeat, from leftovers to meats bought fresh for dinner, we smell them.  They may all appear fine, feel fine, but they have to smell fine too.


It matters not what the expiration date is labeled, we'll continue to sniff out spoilage until the item either becomes rancid or disappears via consumption.  And while the majority of those whose duty it is to 'smell everything' are wives, mothers, and women in general, there are some men who fall into that category too.  It's just that the percentage of males in this category is so small it's considered an anomaly. 


In each household, there is the "one" whose job it is to ensure the freshness of our foods.  I don't care if it's pre-packaged microwaveable popcorn, somebody has to be on hand to proclaim its edibility.  If it smells okay then the rest can be assured that food poisoning along with its requisite trauma/drama praising of the porcelain god, sometimes referred to as John, can be avoided. 


This olfactory sense is keenly developed over many years—hopefully without too many errors.  It is most finely developed in the areas for meats and seafood, dairy products, and eggs.  My mother could smell milk that would sour in 48 hours within ten paces.  Her sniffer not only ferreted out foods about to go over, but she could also detect a wayward thought or inclination of her three daughters while in a deep sleep.  Nothing escaped that radar.


Call it Darwinism or what you will, but I'm positive that it's from caveman days that this sensory perception was developed.  I can see it plainly.  A few grunts from the woman made her man understand that the now maggot-ridden Mastodon was no longer fit as food.  With a few added grunts, grumbles, and unmistakable hand gestures, the man knew he'd better bring home something smaller and decidedly fresher.  He hadn't dare drag home a leftover that had been ripening for a few days or he wasn't going to be a happy camper.


Those that tried to turn the tide with an, "Aw, Honey, it's still okay," never made it for the next hunt.  Survival of the fittest most assuredly pitched stupidity along the way—although it seems we are in a revivalist period for that just lately.


Over lo these millions of years, men were the ones who usually brought home the 'bacon' or the meat.  However, it was normally up to their mates to prepare it, present it, and store the leftovers—if possible, which lead to curing and preserving.  Through trial and error, so many died that we shudder to contemplate it.  Still, it's those with the nose in the know that manage it.


Many women today, with gratitude and appreciation of progress and equal rights, now not only have to bring their own 'bacon' home, still have the onus to prepare it, serve it to their families, store those leftovers, and clean up after it.  In a covert moment, you'll catch them smelling it for freshness no matter how good the market's reliability.  It's an innate sort of thing that we currently feel sordid for doing yet cannot help ourselves.  Once assured the foodstuff is safe, we fling off the worry for another day.


My own poor nose has gotten up close and personal with nearly everything imaginable from foods to laundry to the dog who really, really needed a bath.  Home from the grocery store, I smell every meat that gets unwrapped and re-wrapped for freezing or preparation.  There have been poultry and seafood episodes that curled my hair as my nose vowed revenge for later. 


Yet it's the milk that never stops.  For each and every pour, a smell test is required.  It matters not if the jug has just made it in the door and into the fridge.  "I" must smell it.  If others go on a supposedly furtive late-night cereal run, I still have to smell the milk.  Regardless of sleep or any other infirmity, I'll be awakened by the soft "smacking sound" as the fridge door pulls away from its seal.  The milk jug will be waved beneath my nose.  If I don't stir further, others feel it's okay.  We haven't missed yet.


Today foods are pre-packaged, freeze-dried, frozen, canned, or kept refrigerated.  They even irradiate this stuff.  All this is for freshness and to keep us from poisoning ourselves.  Will our finely tuned noses begin to lose their ability?  I sincerely hope not.


For those of you out there that are your home's designated "sniffer," don't lament.  Your gift is one of love that your family relies upon.  Teach your children well to continue this age-old yet valuable craft of the sensory.  It could save you much, this gift of loving care.



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