As if we don't have enough to worry us nowadays....
'Falling coconuts kill 150 people worldwide each year, 15 times the number of fatalities attributable to sharks.'
- George Burgess, Director of the University of Florida's
International Shark Attack File
When I was a wee squeaker, I believed that tomato seeds were really baby caterpillars. This was
because I'd spotted several of the fat, green creepy-crawlies on the tomato plants in our garden. My
parents tried to convince me that I was mistaken, but they also tried to get me to eat broccoli, so they
clearly were not to be trusted.
One of my little friends was afraid of popcorn: she thought the unpopped kernels would explode in
her stomach. Another was convinced that potato skins were poisonous. A third believed that
cauliflower was really brains. The dinner table was one horror after another.
There is a word for this: lachanaphobia, which is the fear of vegetables. Children aren't the only
ones who suffer from it. Sixteenth-century explorers discovered tomatoes1 growing in Central America. They shipped
some back to Europe, but people initially turned up their noses at them. Maybe this was because the
tomato's scientific name is Lycopersicon Esculentum, or 'edible wolf-peach', which sure sounds
like a food that could bite back. Worse, the tomato is a member of the nightshade family, a sneaky
bunch which includes the potato, eggplant and bell pepper but also includes some less appetising plants
that produce poisonous alkaloids, such as tobacco, deadly nightshade and mandrake. Some enterprising
soul decided to label the tomato an aphrodisiac and named it the 'pomme d'amour', or love apple, and the
world beat a path to his door. The sixteenth-century 'suits' noted that using sex as a come-on could
induce people to ingest potentially dangerous substances, and the modern marketing profession was
Tastes Like Chicken
Tomatoes are OK, but there are some foods we really ought to be afraid of. Every year about 100
people die from eating improperly prepared fugu, which is a poisonous blowfish, or puffer fish, native
to the Pacific Ocean. The fish contains a powerful toxin that can shut down your central nervous
system faster than you can say 'fish and chips'. Preparing fugu correctly requires great skill, and only
specially trained and licensed chefs are allowed to prepare and serve it. The most skilled chefs leave
just enough of the poison in the flesh to make the diners' mouths tingle, leading them to glance nervously
over their shoulders in case they've been joined a tall, skinny -- some would even say cadaverous --
fellow dressed in all black and wielding a large, sharp thingy2. People who've eaten fugu and lived to tell the tale say that it tastes like tofu
and has the texture of Jello 'skin', which doesn't sound like anything worth dying for. In addition,
fugu is very expensive because of the elaborate preparation it needs, which makes it all the more
attractive to some folks. Go figure.
'I cannot see her tonight.
I have to give her up
So I will eat fugu.'
- Japanese poet Buson
The odd thing about fugu poisoning - and love - is that the victim can suddenly come to his senses. If
the toxin does not kill you outright, it slows your metabolism to the point where your pulse and
respiration are undetectable. It is customary in some places to wait a few days before burying a fugu
poisoning victim, just in case he snaps out of it.3
On the other side of the globe in Haiti, someone who has run afoul of the local voodoo sorcerer may
get to experience blowfish toxin without the fun of eating a good meal. According to some scientists
who have looked into this, the sorcerer concocts a complicated poison containing ground bones, plants,
and animal parts; interestingly, one of the ingredients is a fish related to the fugu. The sorcerer doses
his intended victim, who is pronounced dead and bundled off to the cemetery for burial. A few days
later, the sorcerer digs him up. Voila: un zombie.
Another item alleged to be part of the sorcerer's tool kit is datura stramonium, also known as
the zombie cucumber, thorn apple, or jimson weed. It causes delusions, mental confusion,
disorientation, amnesia, and an impenetrable stupor -- just the thing to keep your new zombie in line.
Researchers have claimed that the zombie cucumber is used as an antidote to the blowfish poison.
After the victim has been exhumed, he's given regular doses of it to keep him in a disoriented state;
thus he's forced into slavery for the rest of his life.
It's a good story which may or may not be true. In the early 1980s Harvard ethnobotanist Wade
Davis did field work in Haiti and allegedly accompanied a voodoo sorcerer as he concocted his zombie
potion. Later Davis published The Serpent and the Rainbow, an account of his work in Haiti and
the basis of the Wes Craven film of the same name. The scientific community were suspicious of Davis's
work and the ethical implications of his methods4, but the public ate it up. To this day the jury is out on the accuracy of his
claims, and Davis himself declines to talk about it.
One of the reasons Elvis was a hunk-a hunk-a burnin' love was 'cause he loved to eat. One of his
favourite dishes was the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Presumably he wasn't too worried
about the fat and calories when he cooked up a mess of these artery-clogging babies. Here is the
recipe, courtesy of the official Presley Family Cookbook.
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 small ripe banana, mashed
2 slices white bread
2 tablespoons butter (or melted bacon fat)
Mix peanut butter and mashed banana together. Toast bread lightly. Spread peanut butter and
mashed banana on toast. Melt butter in a preheated grill pan or griddle. Place sandwch in butter and
brown on both sides.
Makes 1 sandwich. Most folks can only handle 1 or 2 of these bad boys, but Elvis was rumoured to down
a dozen of 'em in one sitting. Impressive, no?
- Gourmet Version (also known as the Hog Heaven) Top the peanut butter and
bananas with 3 slices of crispy bacon and a drizzle of honey. Call cardiologist when finished
- For The Sweet Tooth Use cinnamon or banana bread. Sprinkle the peanut butter with
cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. Call dentist when finished eating.
- The Fluffer Nutter Top the peanut butter with marshmallow crème; bananas are optional.
- Continental Elvis Use Nutella in place of peanut butter. The chocolate in the Nutella
nicely complements the flavours of the sandwich. Breakfast of Champions!
Stuff to Ponder
- The Edited Guide has an entry called An Introduction to Vodou: A Traditional
African Religion that mentions zombies.
- Chembytes E-Zine presents the evidence, both for and against, on the role of blowfish
toxin in the making of zombies.
- Are 150 people killed each year by falling coconuts, or is that another urban legend? Get the
Straight Dope on this
- Ichthyophobia is the fear of fish. Phagophobia is the fear of swallowing or of eating or of being
eaten. Now you know!
they're really fruits. Work with me here.2Not much of a
conversationalist. Tends to 'SPEAK IN CAPITAL LETTERS'. Not the life of the
party.3This sure sounds like an urban legend to
me.4Davis had supposedly paid the sorcerer
for permission to participate in his rituals, which included digging up bodies and killing
animals.5What Would Elvis