Even though knowledge is power, there are some rather nasty things you just do not want to know about. Unfortunately, awareness of some of these things may, like, save the planet or prevent you from getting cancer or protect our food supply. So in that sense, it’s a really lucky thing that there exist people who are going to tell you the whole sordid story, refusing to spare your ears or eyes. Take my friend Wendee, for instance.
Wendee is a freelance science writer. Even though I am the most unscientific person around, she invited me to join her email group of science writers last year. Me, who avoided chemistry, biology and physics in high school, took Earth Science to fulfill the academic requirement AND EVEN THEN only retained one bit of knowledge from that class: how to gleek, as taught by my equally-unscientific pal Sandra. (I know I’ve gone on about the gleeking in another post but I really am proud of this talent. Ask anybody who has ever worked with me.)
However, eager to learn by osmosis, I joined Wendee’s group last summer. As expected, mixed in with the status updates and market information, there has been a fair amount of serious, scholarly, scientific conversation—until the other night. That was when I returned home from a long day of wine and work (no, not in that order), fired up my computer and found the following conversation in my inbox.
Useless (or, gross?) info of the day. Vanilla, strawberry, and raspberry “natural flavor” can come from the castor sacs near a beaver’s anus. And, worse, butter rum flavor (MY FAVORITE) comes from “civet absolute” — an actual scraping inside a civet’s anus. This is all in my article. - Wendee
I just don’t understand why they have to probe the asses of critters when there are actual vanilla beans, strawberries, raspberries, butter, and rum out there. Is it for cost reasons? How easy it to catch a freaking civet anyway…I should think it would be easier to pick some berries. - Miranda
Yeah! How economical is it to trap beavers and raid their castor sacs? Or do they raise them in captivity for this important purpose? And on a more profound level, why does extract of wildlife butt taste good to us? - Sharon
Beaver butt and civet anus? Are you kidding me? How am I ever going to eat ice cream again? (And now, how are you ever going to eat ice cream again?) Sharon has a very good point: why do these things taste good to us? We’re even willing to pay premium dinero for coffee beans that are dug out of civet poop. Say what?
Wendee will be sharing all sorts of information like this and more—oh, so much more— in her forthcoming article for Environmental Health Perspectives, due out in March or April. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a challenge. Incorporate the following sentence into an in-person conversation this week: “How economical is it to trap beavers and raid their castor sacs?” And then do report back with your socio-scientific results. Or maybe just a picture of the look on your conversation partner’s face.
Have any other gross facts to share with us? The door has been opened for you!