by Venetia Thompson; pictures: Ana Lorenzana
‘I’d like you to give up all dairy for two weeks.’
They were the most painful words I had ever heard; words I never thought I’d hear and which ripped at my very core. I immediately began hyperventilating, telling the doctor that he was crazy, that I knew he must be used to dealing with Mexicans who couldn’t digest lactose, but I was different: I’d grown up in the middle of nowhere next to a small dairy farm in South Devon, England, and my body was thus composed of around 75% clotted cream and 25% freshly churned butter. There was simply no amount of dairy too great for me, I explained - I was the English equivalent of Mowgli - raised by dairy cows. When I fought with my parents as a little girl, I would sprint out of the house, climb over the gate at the end our garden and hurl myself sobbing down into the grass amongst the briefly startled cows, where I would then lie listening to their slow rhythmic chewing until I’d stopped crying. At around 8, having gone jumping in cow pats with a friend (yes, this was entertainment in the countryside) I inexplicably ended up stripping totally naked and covering myself head to toe in cow shit, which I can only assume in retrospect was a defiant demonstration of cow sisterhood.
Our dining table at home was always an ode to the cow. My mother’s warm scones, fresh out of the Aga, would always be spread with freshly churned salted butter before the layer of clotted cream and the strawberry jam. Tea (English Breakfast, never Earl Grey) would always have a splash of whole milk. Bread, crumpets, pasta, jacket potatoes, mashed potato and scrambled eggs were mere vehicles for butter and cream. Thus when I decided, foolishly, to briefly embark on the Atkins Diet aged 17, carrying around a tub of clotted cream and a spoon in my handbag seemed entirely natural. Hungry? A spoonful of clotted cream and off I’d go.
No, there was simply no way my beloved dairy was now somehow causing me to break out with painful cystic acne. No way. Only it was. The good doctor’s suspicions were correct. And so now when I visit Devon later this year, I will be faced with a choice: my face or clotted cream. I think we all know which I’ll be giving priority…