November 15, 2002
Recently on the radio I heard a scientist explain why we, humans, as a species, love salty, sweet, and fatty foods even though these foods rot our teeth, give us heart disease, make us fat, and occupy only a tiny sliver of that stupid "food pyramid". Of course it’s obvious: when homo sapiens first appeared on this planet salt and fat weren’t always easy to come by, and the sugars found in fruits were an important source of energy. Add to that the fact that on the African plains where early humans roamed it was important to conserve energy – anyone who spent their time jogging or lifting weights down at the gym wasn’t going to last very long – and you know why we’re genetically trained to become couch potatoes.
In considering the question of whether there’s life on other planets, a lot of scientists have said they’d like to know how aliens, in their "technological adolescence", coped with nuclear power. More gullible types say they’d want to know why the aliens helped us build the pyramids and Macchu Picchu. If those aliens landed in my backyard tonight, I’d ask them how they survived the discovery of chili cheese fries.
What really interests me, though, is how we figured out how to eat all the things we do eat. The first things that come to mind are exotic foods: things like birds’ nest soup, jellyfish, and truffles. Actually mushrooms in general are a big question. I know that some mushrooms are really tasty, and some can kill you in a matter of hours, and there’s no simple rule like "Don’t eat the red ones" to tell you which ones to stay away from. I can imagine some palaeolithic gourmand trying to decide which mushrooms to use in the evening meal saying, "Hey George, come taste these." Five hours later with George’s lifeless corpse being dragged away, the gourmand decides to use the spongy black mushrooms instead of the white ones, and the morel of that story should be obvious.
But I digress. When you think about it everything that we eat is weird. Take cashew nuts, for instance. The outer hull of cashew nuts is not only poisonous but irritates the skin. Who was the genius who, in between stopping to scratch, pried open the outer cover just to add cashews to the bowl of mixed nuts at a dinner party? What about olives? If you’ve ever tried raw olives you know they’re tough and bitter. And yet someone back in the shrouded mists of time said, "Hey, if we soak these things in salt water, I’ll bet they’ll be just what we’ve been looking for to put in our martinis." And it may be the staff of life, but bread takes a lot of work to make. Who thought of drying wheat seeds, grinding them up, making a paste, adding yeast (figuring out yeast must have been a quantum leap), and baking it for twenty minutes at 350 degrees? And before they got around to wheat did they have some massive screwups with things like dandelion seeds? Now that I think about it, if those aliens land in my backyard, my first question is going to be, "Okay, which one of you told our ancestors we could eat the insides of pineapples?"
Enjoy this week’s offerings.
Cinderella is now 95 years old. After a fulfilling life with the now dead Prince, she happily sits upon her rocking chair, watching the world go by from her front porch, with a cat named Bob for companionship.
One sunny afternoon, out of nowhere, appeared the Fairy Godmother.
Cinderella said "Fairy Godmother, what are you doing here after all these years?"
The Fairy godmother replied, "Cinderella, you have lived an exemplary life since I last saw you. Is there anything for which your heart still yearns?"
Cinderella was taken aback, overjoyed, and after some thoughtful consideration, she uttered her first wish:
"The Prince was wonderful, but not much of an investor. I’m living hand to mouth on my disability checks, and I wish I were wealthy beyond comprehension."
Instantly, her rocking chair was turned into solid gold. Cinderella said, "Oh thank you, Fairy Godmother."
The Fairy Godmother replied "It is the least I can do. What do you want for your second wish?"
Cinderella looked down at her frail body, and said, "I wish I were young and full of the beauty of youth again." At once, her wish became reality, and her beautiful youthful visage returned.
Cinderella felt stirrings inside her that had been dormant for years. A long- forgotten vigor and vitality began to course through her.
Then the Fairy Godmother again spoke "You have one more wish, what shall it be?"
Cinderella looked over at the frightened cat in the corner and said, "I wish for you to transform Bob, my old cat, into a kind and handsome young man."
Magically, Bob suddenly underwent so fundamental a change in his biological make-up that, when complete he stood before her, a man so beautiful the likes of which neither she nor the world had ever seen.
The Fairy Godmother said, "Congratulations, Cinderella. Enjoy your new life." And, with a blazing shock of bright blue electricity, she was gone.
For a few eerie moments, Bob and Cinderella looked into each other’s eyes. Cinderella sat, breathless, gazing at the most stunningly perfect man she had ever seen.
Then Bob walked over to Cinderella, who sat transfixed in her rocking chair, and held her close in his young muscular arms. He leaned in close, blowing her golden hair with his warm breath as he whispered:
"Bet you’re sorry you had me neutered now….."