Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Of all the horrors mankind has unleashed upon our fragile planet, perhaps nothing is worse than the dread spectre of climate change. You can't turn on the news these days without hearing disturbing tales of melting ice caps, changes to the jet stream, and an upswing in damaging storms around the world. It's scary business. But now something's come along that might even be more terrifying than the prospect of global warming, and we're equally responsible.

I speak, of course, about global flavoring.

Dateline: Scotland. Two weeks ago, it was revealed that a series of heavy storms along the Scottish coast have washed up at least four large lumps... of antique lard.

According to the Scottish Office of Natural Heritage, the lard lumps are suspected to be from the wreck of a merchant vessel sunk during World War II. Back then, the lard was being transported in large barrels. Eventually the barrels rotted away and this year's storm season was enough to raise the lard and deposit it on the beach in big barrel-sized goobers.

Kinda gross and disturbing, sure, but not as gross or disturbing as the quote from Therese Alampo, manager of the St. Cyrus Natural Reserve where the lard washed up:

"It's given us some interesting sights recently on the reserve," she told the British press. "I'm sure there have been people wondering what on earth has washed up on the beach. Animals, including my dog, have certainly enjoyed the lard, and it still looks and smells good enough to have a fry-up with!"

That's funny, because "good" is never a word that I've ever associated with the smell of lard. Not once have I cracked open a tub of Crisco and gone, "Mmmm!" Last I checked, "aged lard" is NOT a top-selling Scentsy fragrance. Then again, no slight against our vast contingency of Scottish readers, but I find it dubious at best to trust the olfactory opinions of a culture that invented haggis.

And I do not own a dog, ergo I'm fairly unqualified to speak of the average canine's skill sets. That said, if I were walking along the beach and came across a barrel-sized pile of gelatinous ick, would my initial reaction be to hand the investigation over to my beloved Fido for a taste-test? Not so much.

How dumb must dogs be? I've seen my share of nature documentaries. All you need is one night of Shark Week to know that marine biologists have frequently sliced open the innards of sharks to reveal everything from tin cans to Doc Martens. There are entire species of fish that live on the backs of other fish and survive off their crumbs. A surplus of snails, slugs, and undersea creepy-crawlies hang out on the ocean floor and survive by hoovering up barely edible bits of slime and filth.

An entire ecosystem of marine life survives on finding whatever food it can -- yet apparantly all of nature's undersea wonders have swam on by these piles of lard for decades and gone, "Naw, that's not food. I'm good." But kick it onshore after 70 years and dogs go wild for the stuff. I always knew cats were smarter.

Why do we care about land-roving lard in the first place? What it is about aged food that we as human beings find so exciting? As I type, you might be aging wine in your basement. Caves in France and Italy are full of cheeses ripening away. In Scandinavia, fish are buried and left to ferment for upwards of a year to give it that extra tasty zing (which hopefully isn't botulism.)

But here's the thing that's always amazed me about aged food. If you think about it, in order to discover that certain types of cheese taste best after sitting around for a year, some dude in history must have left some cheese out for a year to see what would happen. Does this mean that ALL food has, at one time or another in history, been left out for a year and then taste-tested? And did the guy who tried a year-old hot dog live long enough to tell others that it's not so much a delicacy as it is poison? And why is it that a hot dog turns green after a short time yet lard can be submerged for 70 years to make a delightful pet treat? And does the threat of global flavoring end with four hunks of ocean lard? Hardly.

Dateline: the Pacific Northwest. Researchers at Portland State University recently sampled ocean water drawn from various points along the Oregon coast and have discovered the ocean water to be laced... with caffeine. Et tu, Starbucks? If nothing else, this clearly explains why the crabs on "Deadliest Catch" look so jittery.

If you haven't done the math, it's as gross as you'd expect. Remember that latte you had an hour ago? Well, an hour from NOW you're going to flush away some of that latte, and apparantly septic tanks aren't so perfect after all. High rainfall equals sewer overflow equals groundwater runoff equals ocean contamination and THIS is why we never see dolphins taking a nap.

This all seems like an absolutely horrible... waste of caffeine. Caffeine that I need to function on a daily basis. This isn't a pollution issue or an environmental issue -- this is a human internal effiency issue. Clearly we need to train our bodies to consume and utilize every drop of caffeine we put into them. When I slam an 8-Hour Energy, I want all eight hours, not six for me and two for some lucky catfish swimming by. I need to have a serious productivity seminar with my kidneys.

So the bad news is that we're awful polluters slowly destroying our precious oceans with lard and caffeine. The good news is that lard and caffeine are two of my five major food groups, so I'm kinda okay with it. If we could only figure out a way to start polluting our seas with bacon, tacos, and chocolate, I might consider moving to the coastline.

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