(This Dave Barry column was originally published March 29, 1998.)
I have received some important information via a letter from Claire Nordstrum, 13, a student in Wisconsin (state motto: "Moo"). Claire states that her science teacher told the class that "it's a proven fact that on average a person eats six spiders in a year." Another science fact this teacher revealed, according to Claire, is that "wood ticks breathe through their butts."
This sounds logical to me, since if a wood tick had its whole head burrowed into your body, it wouldn't be able to breathe through its face (assuming ticks have faces) unless it was wearing some kind of tiny snorkel, which is unlikely, although I think we all have to agree that "The Wood Tick Snorkels" would be an excellent name for a rock band.
So if Claire's teacher is correct about the wood ticks, it stands to reason that he is also correct about the average human eating six spiders a year, although I honestly can't remember ever deliberately eating a single one, even in college. I have asked around among my associates, and although some of them admitted that they have eaten crabs -- which are biologically classified as "arthropods, " which means "the same thing as spiders" -- nobody could remember eating a spider per se.
One possible explanation for this discrepancy is that, while most of us do not eat spiders, a few people -- and here I am thinking of Martha Stewart -- gobble them by the handful, thereby raising the national average. But the more likely explanation is that spiders are sneaking into our food supply. We have observed this type of behavior in certain other types of animals, specifically frogs. If you are a regular reader of this column and have been taking your medication, you no doubt recall my reports on the following documented incidents:
- In 1993, a New Hampshire consumer found a deceased frog baked onto a pretzel.
- In 1995, a West Virginia consumer found a deceased frog in a frozen chicken Cantonese dinner.
- Later in 1995, a consumer at a Mexican restaurant in California found a deceased frog in a taco.
In journalism terms, the first incident constituted what we call an "outbreak" of frogs showing up in food. With the second incident, it became a "rash"; and with the third, it officially became a "wave." I regret to report that we now have to upgrade it to the status of "epidemic, " because of a news item, sent in by alert reader Bill Starr, from the front page of the Feb. 12, 1997, edition of The Brazil (Ind.) Times, a newspaper that claims, cryptically, to have served Clay County for "over 108" years. This item concerns a man who was putting some sauce on a Taco Bell double-decker taco, when he saw something sticking out. He pulled on the thing, and discovered, to his shock, that it was -- you guessed it -- a knife belonging to O.J. Simpson.
No, seriously, it was a deceased frog, which was taken into custody by the Indiana State Board of Health, which I imagine will assign it a public defender who will have it filing appeals at the taxpayers' expense for decades. But the point is: For every frog that is apprehended by the authorities, hundreds, perhaps thousands, escape detection and are eaten by consumers such as yourself. And it is entirely possible that if you were to open up the stomachs of those frogs, you would find that a certain percentage -- let us say 85 -- contain spiders. Thus the scientific conclusion we must come to is: You eat spiders. Accept it! Look yourself in the mirror and say: "I am a spider-eater! No different from Martha Stewart!"
You need not be alarmed about this. In the words of the American Medical Association: "It is perfectly safe to eat spiders, unless of course one of them is a pregnant female, in which case you will become a giant buffet for several thousand hungry baby spiders looking to chow down on your pancreas."
So don't worry! Go ahead and enjoy your favorite dish! Unless your favorite dish is squirrel brains. I say this in light of an Associated Press report, sent in by hundreds of alert readers, concerning two Kentucky doctors who wrote a medical-journal article warning that eating squirrel brains -- which are considered a delicacy in parts of Kentucky -- can be dangerous, because the squirrels might be carrying a form of mad-cow disease.
The AP report states that "cooked squirrel brain is about the size of a ping-pong ball and is said to taste something like liver, only mushy." It further states that Kentucky hunters kill and eat 1.5 million squirrels per year, and that some people also cook road kill squirrels, which is alarming because "a crazed squirrel may be more likely to dash into traffic and get killed."
This report raises some troubling questions, including:
1. Since when do squirrels have brains?
2. Have squirrels and cows been mating? How?
3. Doesn't a person who eats road kill rodent organs pretty much deserve to die?
4. What percentage of these squirrels have recently eaten frogs?
I think Oprah should do a show on this important topic and get slapped with a huge lawsuit by the Kentucky Squirrel Ranchers Association. Because we are talking about the public health here; we cannot just ignore it and burrow our heads into the sand. But if we do, we should remember to breathe like wood ticks.