Samui Wining & Dining
Was that a Mythtake?

A light-hearted look at some urban myths about food.


14I assume that you’re a grown up? Therefore you’re either here and gainfully employed, or you’re here and on holiday. Either way you’re not a kid. You’re an adult. And what I’m getting at is that therefore you are likely to use the internet for a purpose - for research, communications or business. In the same way you don’t sit there endlessly tweeting the world that you are eating eggs for breakfast or have just taken two minutes to cross a busy road, so you don’t fritter away your hours making yourself feel important on mindless forums or in chat rooms. On the other hand . . . many people do.

    One of the main offenders here is ‘Yahoo Answers’. It’s something that I’ve been occasionally tempted to use when researching a topic, but that I’ve now learned to avoid. The first thing is that anyone is free to answer the question being posed – with 85% of answers beginning, “Well, I don’t know, but . . .”. The second thing is that 90% of the contributors appear to be living in America. And the third is that 95% of the responses are from school kids. Here’s a real-world sample: Question – “Where can I get French fries braided into my hair?” And the answer? The first reply goes, quoted exactly – “My house bcuz Im wearing them now my mom did them. They r great when Im hungary.”

      In case I’ve unintentionally wounded any of our transatlantic cousins, let me clarify my thrust. There are very, many rumours and myths circulating in our worldwide society, on all sorts of things, from crocodiles in the sewers to fingertips found in fast-food. Nearly all of these are planted and propagated by very young people, for whom the forum, the blog and the tweet have all become an integral part of their lives. Indeed, in many cases, I’m convinced (judging by the vacuity and overall lack of information) that it’s the only thing these kids have in their lives which makes them feel that they are functioning and alive, albeit seemingly delightfully brain-dead to a mature onlooker. The vast majority of these infantile cyberspacers are also, co-incidentally, resident in the USA.

       Thus, when it comes to ‘urban legends – food’, a few moments Googling this topic reveals a language that is foreign to many of us. Pop Tarts, Popsicles, Weenies, Twinkies, Tater Tots, collards, grits, succotash. Then there’s AQSIQ, FDA, FFSI, FSA, FDF (all of them American government bodies). And then the more-familiar Coke, Pepsi, KFC, McDonald’s. The vast bulk of urban food legends, for the adolescent reasons already put forward, seem to have some of these words in them. It can get confusing in a country where their crisps are chips and our chips are their fries . . .

      So let’s keep it universal. In a cosmopolitan spirit of telling-it-like-it-is, let’s pose a few popular points and check their veracity – or not!

      Firstly, is it dangerous to eat potatoes with green patches on them? Answer: yes it is. The green pigment comes about either by exposure to sunlight while growing, or by aging afterwards. It’s caused by a chemical called solanine which, if ingested, can cause symptoms ranging from nausea to death in extreme cases!

      Next up: some Thai beers contain formaldehyde. Answer: yes they do. Formaldehyde is produced naturally in all brewing processes, but no such chemical is artificially added to any Thai beers. Indeed, there was a worldwide fuss about this in 2008, relating to a Chinese brewery. The Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) were prompted to analyse 157 American beers and 57 Asian brews, and found that USA brands contained 0.10 to 0.61 milligrams of formaldehyde on average per litre, compared with 0.10 to 0.56 milligrams for all Asian products. So there.

      Another source of concern – you can use a cell phone to cook eggs. This one was documented in an experiment that went round the world in 2006, conducted by Russian scientists, Vladimir Lagovski and Andrei Moiseynko. It was upheld, and therefore sanctioned, in several notable scientific journals, too. The experiment placed a fresh egg between two cell phones that were in an active conversation. After two minutes the egg was warm, and after 40 minutes it became soft-boiled enough to eat. But it was nonsense! The science journals never bothered to check, and Vladimir Lagovski later told reporters, “At the time there was a lot of fuss about people’s brains getting fried by phones and, being from a radio-electronics background, I found it all rather silly. So I thought I’d add to the silliness, just to make a point.”

      How about ‘fat is bad for you’? Well, yes and no. It’s true for the artery-hardening saturated fats, like animal lard. But our body actually needs ‘good fats’ like polyunsaturated fats from sunflower, soya, sesame and corn oils, monounsaturated fats such as olive and rapeseed oils, and omega 3 fats from oily fish. All these are crucial for our normal functioning, and we’ll become sick without them. (And note: almost all Thai food is cooked in soy or corn oil.)

      And then there are our worries about microwaves. (This has also actually carried-over to bottles of drinking water being kept at a high temperature – such as in the back of a hot car.) The concern is that ‘dioxins’ from the plastic leech out of microwave trays into the food. These toxic chemicals are produced by burning plastics – so when rubbish is incinerated, dioxins are produced. However, the dioxins in the plastics we microwave are utterly harmless because, quite simply, they don't exist in plastic itself, but are a by-product of the combustion process when incinerated.

      Finally – chocolate is bad for you and makes you fat. Well, only if you can’t resist stuffing yourself full of it every day! Research has proved that chocolate has numerous beneficial effects on health: it has antibiotic properties, boosts memory, increases the brain’s levels of serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) and improves blood circulation, with the effect of preventing heart disease, brain aging, and erectile dysfunction.

      And that’s it. Time to munch on a Hershey bar and, suitably aroused, glug a Thai beer, cut out the green patches on my spuds and add them to a nuked-up nourishing dioxin-free polyunsaturated ready-meal in the microwave, prior to penning my next story. It’s a hard life on an island in paradise!

Rob De Wet


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