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FOOD FOR THOUGHT
10 Extreme Food Fads
|1|THE BEAN DIET
The Ancient Greek Pythagoras and his followers were among the earliest vegetarians, but it had nothing to do with healthy eating or compassion for animals. According to Pythagoras, vegetarianism was the only way to ensure you were not eating your grandmother or another relative, whose soul could have migrated to your neighbor's pig. The great mathematician was said to be so passionate about his diet that he met his death defending a bean field.
|2|THE YOGURT DIET
The Russian biologist Ilya Metchnikoff, winner of Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1908, was a depressive who twice attempted suicide. His second attempt was with a large dose of morphine, which only succeeded in causing him to throw up and sit around in a catatonic state. While pondering the futility of life and the certainty of death, Metchnikoff was puzzled by the longevity of peasants in the backwoods of Bulgaria, many of whom lived to be more than a hundred. He decided that it was because they ate lots of yogurt. To test his theory he binged on untold gallons of the stuff, meanwhile boasting extensively about its life-extending properties. He died six years later at the age of seventy-one, leaving behind just a handful of fellow yogurt enthusiasts.
|3|THE FRUIT-AND-VEGETABLE-FREE DIET
In 1770 English physician William Stark set out to find a cure for scurvy by subjecting himself to a series of dietary regimes. Stark, a healthy six-footer, meticulously recorded the measurements of everything he ate, the prevailing weather conditions, and the weight of all his daily excretions. After spending thirty-one days on a diet of bread and water, which made him "dull and listless," he moved on to dietary experiments with olive oil, milk, roasted goose, boiled beef, fat, figs, and veal. After seven months of living exclusively on honey puddings and Cheshire cheese, he died of scurvy at the age of twenty- nine. He had considered testing fresh fruits and vegetables but never got around to it.
|4|THE GRAHAM DIET
Advocated in the 1930s by the US Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham, who taught that the consumption of meat and dairy products stimulated excessive sexual desire and "bad habits," including masturbation, which he regarded as an evil that inevitably led to blindness and insanity. The Graham diet consisted mainly of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat, and high-fiber foods, especially the graham cracker, which was so bland and tasteless it earned him the nickname "Dr. Sawdust." He developed a band of dedicated supporters across the United States, but his diet soon lost popularity when devotees became too weak to stand up, and the remainder lost faith when their mentor dropped dead at the age of fifty-seven.
|5|THE PEOPLE DIET
Montezuma II, the last Aztec ruler in Mexico, was famed for his gluttony. On a typical night he liked to eat chicken, turkey, songbirds, doves, ducks, rabbits, pheasants, partridges, quail, plus an adolescent boy or two, followed by tortillas and hot chocolate.
|6|THE "I'LL HAVE A GATOR SANDWICH AND MAKE IT SNAPPY" DIET
The actor Steve McQueen, in the last stages of cancer, lived on a diet largely comprising boiled alligator skin and apricot pits, washed down with urine, as was prescribed by his Mexican doctors.
|7|THE BOOGER DIET
According to Austrian medical expert Professor Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, picking your nose with your fingers and eating your boogers is a great way of strengthening the body's immune system. Dr. Bischinger describes mucophagy-the act of eating one's own extracted mucus-as "making great sense medically and a perfectly natural thing to do." The doctor also noted that children happily eat their own boogers, but by the time they become adults they have stopped under pressure from society.
|8|THE MILK DIET
The ninth president of the United States, William Henry Harrison, ate only cheese and milk products. His term, the shortest in the history of the presidency, lasted thirty days, eleven hours, and thirty minutes. The inventor Thomas Edison spent his last few years consuming nothing more than a pint of milk once every three hours.
|9|THE TAPEWORM DIET
Tapeworms are parasites living in the intestine of human hosts, consuming the host's food. As a result, people with tapeworms are hungry all the time but still able to remain thin, no matter how much they eat. Advertisements for "tapeworm pills" first emerged in the 1920s and since then a number of famous women, including the opera singer Maria Callas, are alleged to have tried this eating plan. An urban myth circulated during the early eighties that a US diet company was offering a "miracle diet pill," and women who took it lost such an alarming amount of weight in a very short time that doctors decided to look into it. When they opened a bottle of these mysterious pills to investigate the contents, they were greeted by the head of a tapeworm.
|10|THE FLETCHER DIET
Arguably the most revolting diet in history was an idea put forward by an American, Horace Fletcher in the 1900s. He was an athlete who had become so fat he was refused life insurance, prompting him to invent his own diet regime. After just four months he had shed more than forty pounds. Basically, on Fletcher's diet you can eat anything and as much of it as you like, but everything, including liquids, has to be chewed at least thirty-two times (or about one hundred times a minute) before tilting the head backward to allow the masticated food to slide down one's throat, accompanied by huge amounts of saliva. Hasty eating, Fletcher believed, resulted in undigested food clogging up the system, which led to constipation and the colon becoming a dangerous cesspool of bacteria (it was an era obsessed by the evils of constipation). People who gave "Fletcherising," a try, including John D. Rockefeller and Mark Twain, found that they ate less because the chewing took so long, thus diminishing the desire to eat, not to mention the will to live. Fletcher died of bronchitis, aged sixty-nine.
Blood, Sweat, and Takeaways
12 SURPRISE FILLINGS
404 B.C.: The great plague of Athens, probably caused by contaminated cereals, leads to the defeat of the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War.
1861: Mrs. Beeton's Book of Cookery and Household Management, regarded as the housewife's cookery bible, contains several potentially lethal recipes, including one for mayonnaise made with raw eggs. Mrs. Beeton will go to her grave at age twenty-eight knowing nothing of salmonella.
1983: In August, the Times of London reports that a man living in West Germany found a human finger in his bread roll. In 2004 a man found part of a thumb in his sandwich, and in 2005 a whole finger was discovered in some frozen custard.
1992: A unique case of food contamination occurs in October, when nine people complain that Linda McCartney's famous brand of vegetarian pies had been "spiked" with steak and kidney.
1992: An American bread company is taken to court after a woman in Los Angeles finds a used condom in a large loaf.
1997: A British couple from Carlisle, Northumbria, find a six-inch bloodstained hypodermic needle inside a half-eaten loaf of bread purchased from a local supermarket.
1997: Dalvin Stokes sues a cafeteria in Winter Haven, Florida, after finding a condom in his sweet potato pie.
2000: An intact human head turns up inside a large cod for sale in a fishmonger's store in Queensland, Australia. Police determine that the head belonged to a thirty-nine-year-old trawler fisherman missing after falling overboard about thirty-one miles out a few days earlier.
2005: A human penis turns up in a bottle of ketchup in Stockholm, Sweden. Housewife Viktoria Ed, who discovered the organ while putting the sauce on bread rolls for her husband, Stefan, and their children, Madeleine and Simon, described it as "medium size." The Godegaarden brand ketchup was made in Turkey and distributed in Sweden by the company Axfood. Ed commented, "I will never buy this brand again, it's finished."
2008: A woman from Wisconsin tries to extort money from an expensive restaurant by putting a rat in her lunch. Debbie Miller, forty-three, threatened to alert the media unless The Seasons gave her $500,000. Instead of paying up, the owners turned it over to investigators, who smelled a rat when they determined that it had in fact been cooked in a microwave: The restaurant doesn't use microwaves. Miller is later found guilty of planting the rodent.
2008: Two UK shopowners are fined for selling chocolate cake that had been sprinkled with human feces. A customer alerted the authorities after sampling the foul-smelling gateaux and noticing that it didn't taste or smell "quite right." Saeed Hasmi and Jan Yadgari, who ran the Italiano Pizzeria in Roath, Cardiff, were fined £1,500 for selling food unfit for human consumption.
2009: A cook from New Jersey is found guilty of putting hair in the bagel sandwich of a police officer who had given him a ticket. The officer had ticketed the cook when he failed to pull over for a traffic violation. Police asked the local press not to report the incident for fear of copycat crimes, but the paper published the story anyway.
Gluttons for Punishment
12 MORE FOOD-RELATED DEATHS
488 B.C.: Anacreon, Greek poet and composer of drinking songs, chokes to death on a grape stone.
230 B.C.: The Roman senator Fabius chokes to death on a single goat hair that had inadvertently found its way into the milk he was drinking.
A.D. 30: Claudius Drusus, eldest son of the Roman Emperor Claudius, chokes after playfully tossing a pear into the air and then catching it in his mouth.
1589: The Duke of Brunswick is reported to have "burst asunder" at Rostock after eating a giant platter of strawberries.
1723: The Earl of Harold, Lord of the Bedchamber to King George II, chokes to death after swallowing an ear of barley.
1751: The French philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie dies after a feast given in his honor, at which he tries to show off by setting a new world record for eating pheasant paté with truffles.
1771: Adolf Frederick, king of Sweden, expires from digestive problems after dining on lobster, caviar, sauerkraut, smoked herring, and Champagne, topped off with fourteen servings of his favorite dessert: a traditional Swedish pastry served in a bowl of hot milk. He is remembered by Swedish schoolchildren as "the king who ate himself to death."
1872: Mark Twain employs a researcher, Washington newspaper man J. H. Riley, to prospect for diamonds in South Africa and gather material that Twain could use in a book. The venture is aborted when the researcher dies from blood poisoning after accidentally stabbing himself in the mouth with a fork after a stranger knocked his elbow in a restaurant.
1919: In Boston a giant tank at the Purity Distilling Company spills 2.3 million gallons of molasses, sending a fifteen-foot high wave of the brown goo traveling at 35 mph toward a street full of people. Twenty-one people die and 150 are injured.
1926: Stuntman Bobby Leach, the second person ever to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel, dies after slipping on an orange peel he just discarded. His broken leg has to be amputated, which led to the onset of gangrene that ultimately killed him.
1975: The Japanese actor Bando¯ Mitsugoro¯ VIII dies after ordering four portions of the deadly delicacy fugu kimo (puffer fish livers) in a restaurant in Kyoto, claiming he was immune to the poison. When ingested, the toxin in fugu paralyzes nerves and muscles, which in some cases leads to respiratory failure and death. The chef of the restaurant, in awe of the prestigious artist known as Japan's "living national treasure," felt he could not refuse the request and subsequently lost his license.
2009: Twenty-two-year-old Vincent Smith II, a factory worker at the Cocoa Services Inc. plant in New Jersey, dies after falling into a vat of melted chocolate. He was loading chunks of raw chocolate into the vat to be melted when he slipped and fell into the vat, where he was knocked unconscious by a rotating paddle and subsequently drowned.
Your Eatin' Heart
12 ACTS OF CANNIBALISM
1820: The whaling ship Essex is sunk by a whale, and Captain Pollard and several of his crew survive a long ordeal at sea by resorting to cannibalism. Several years later Pollard was asked by a relative of one of the lost sailors if the captain remembered the man. He replied: "Remember him? Hell, son, I ate him."
1845: Sir John Franklin made a doomed attempt to traverse the Northwest Passage in the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. His 128 officers and men were last seen near Baffin Island, two months after sailing from London with enough canned food to last five years. Unfortunately, the canning process was defective and the food became contaminated with lead. Those who survived by eating their colleagues died of scurvy.
1846: Lewis Keseberg is one of eighty-seven men, women, and children who set out on a two-thousand-mile trek west, looking for a new life in California, in a wagon train led by Illinois farmer George Donner and his family. The expedition was badly planned and ill-prepared, with insufficient provisions to survive the harsh winter. Of the original party, only forty-seven made it to the end of the trail, having survived by eating their dead companions. Some of the survivors struck a less than penitent attitude about their terrible dilemma. Keseberg cheerfully confessed to a preference for human liver, lights (lungs), and brain soup. In an emotional tribute to George Donner's wife Tamsen, he noted, "she was the healthiest woman I ever ate." Years later Keseberg became wealthy by opening a steakhouse.
1877: Lakota Sioux Chief Rain in the Face is the tactical genius behind the ambush of General Custer at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Afterward he admits that he had cut out Custer's heart and eaten it. He said he didn't much like the taste of human flesh, he just wanted revenge.
1910: The Mexican artist Diego Rivera, noted for his murals and for his relationship with the painter Frida Kahlo, conducts an experiment with fellow students in an anatomy art class. For two months they live on nothing but the meat of human corpses purchased from the city morgue. According to Rivera's autobiography, "everyone's health improved."
1931: In the interest of research, allegedly, the American travel writer and New York Times journalist William Buehler Seabrook cooks and eats a chunk of human meat from the body of a recently deceased accident victim, obtained from a hospital intern in France. Seabrook, a friend of the occultist Aleister Crowley noted, "It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal."
1950: The politician Victor Biaka-Boda, a former witch doctor representing the Ivory Coast in the French Senate, tours his country to communicate with his constituents and find out about their concerns, one of which was a food shortage. They ate him.
1989: John Weber, a twenty-five-year-old factory worker from Wisconsin is convicted for the murder of his wife's seventeen-year-old sister. During his trial Weber confessed that he made a pâté from his sister- in-law's leg.
From the Trade Paperback edition.