Dave Barry

Frogs hop into the headlines

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Oct. 1, 1995.)

As part of our continuing effort to keep you, the voting public, alarmed, today we present a Special Report entitled ''Frogs Making News.''

Our lead frog hails from West Virginia, where it was the subject of a news story in The Charleston Daily Mail, written by Evadna Bartlett and sent in by alert reader Jeremy Scott. The headline states: Putnam woman finds frog inside her frozen dinner. The story -- which is one of the most thorough frog-related stories we've ever seen -- quotes the woman, Emily Stover, as stating that she had eaten about three-quarters of a Healthy Choice Chicken Cantonese frozen dinner, and was about to eat the broccoli (''her favorite vegetable,'' the story states) when she came across what she at first thought was a piece of asparagus. Upon closer examination, however, she discovered, to her horror, that it was a frog.

''I love frogs,'' she is quoted as saying, ''but I don't want them in my food.''

The Daily Mail published a color photograph of a concerned-looking Stover holding a small green object, identified as the frog in question, next to a Healthy Choice box. The story states that Stover notified the company that makes Healthy Choice, ConAgra Foods, which sent a representative out to pick up the frog, pack it in dry ice and send it to Omaha, Neb., ''for laboratory analysis.''

The ironic thing is that some people actually eat frogs' legs on purpose. It is conceivable that we could some day receive another newspaper article concerning a consumer who had come home from the supermarket with a Healthy Choice Frog Cantonese frozen dinner, heated it up in the microwave, then discovered, to her horror, that it contained a piece of chicken.

(Note from the legal department: Barry is not in any way suggesting that there actually is any such product as Healthy Choice Frog Cantonese, or Healthy Choice Snake Cantonese, or Healthy Choice Leech Cantonese, or Healthy Choice Hundreds of Baby Spiders Cantonese; nor is he suggesting that, if these products did exist, they would be contaminated with chicken. Thank you.)

If you read this column regularly but have nevertheless somehow retained at least some brain functionality, at this point you are scratching your head and saying: ``Wait a minute! Didn't you already write about a woman in Manchester, N.H., who discovered a one-inch frog baked on one of her pretzels?''

Yes, we did. This means that within a span of only two years, there have been two reported instances of frogs showing up in people's food. And any law-enforcement expert will tell you that, because of the shame experienced by the victims, the vast majority of these cases are never reported to the authorities. The actual number of frogs found in people's food, per year, is probably much closer to 63 million. That is what we here in the professional news media call a Major Epidemic.

What is the federal government doing about it, you ask? Please do not cause us to laugh in a harsh barking manner. We have here a ''Science Watch'' column, sent in by alert reader Dale M. Lang, that appeared in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution under the heading, ''Frogs breed on space flight.'' It begins:

''A decades-long question of whether gravity is required for the fertilization of amphibians and the development of embryos has been answered, say researchers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. ... In the virtual absence of gravity during a space shuttle mission in 1992, female frogs were induced to ovulate, eggs were collected and fertilized with a sperm suspension, and resulting embryos developed to a free-living stage.''

Do not adjust your eyeballs. You are reading this correctly. At a time when millions of Americans are afraid to go into the frozen-food sections of their supermarkets because of the burgeoning epidemic of entree-dwelling frogs, an agency of our federal government has been spending billions of estimated dollars to see if it can produce frogs in space. As if we, as a nation, really need to know this. As if every time you walked into a bar, you heard ordinary American taxpayers sitting around saying: ''Yo, Vince, is gravity required for the fertilization of amphibians and the development of embryos? I've been wondering for decades.''

And there is the whole issue of safety. As Aristotle once wrote: ''When a nation, no matter how powerful and secure within its own borders, reaches the point where it is launching suspended frog sperm into space, watch out.'' Think about it: What if something goes wrong? What if the shuttle pilot, played by Tom Hanks, glances out the window and notices that a small meteor has punched a hole in one of the tanks, causing suspended frog sperm to spew into space, forming a frozen chunk that could some day fall out of orbit, with the friction of atmospheric re-entry turning it into a steaming, glowing glob, hurtling toward Earth at over 3,000 mph, and perhaps ultimately smashing, with devastating effect, directly into -- we do not wish to create panic, but it is a distinct possibility -- boxing promoter Don King. We don't know about you, but we would pay our local cable company a flat $1,000 to see this event.

Obviously there is much, much more that needs to be said about this issue, but unfortunately we have no idea what it is. Also we have run out of space, and it's time for our dinner. We're having Prozac Cantonese.