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Matt:

When a hen lays an egg, which end comes out first? Settle our bet.

— Fat End and Pointed End, via email

Ever seen a pregnant hen? There’s an even better question. With hens and all other birds, you’ve got to look fast if you want to catch them in maternity clothes. So, say mama chicken is clucking around the barnyard, when a follicle matures in her ovary. It pops out and heads for the oviduct, a long tube that connects the hen’s insides to her outsides. If she’s been fooling around with a rooster, the ovum is fertilized at this point. But no rooster is required. If this hen is a little cog in the vast machinery of the grocery-store-egg laying industry, the egg goes unfertilized. The ovum keeps moving along the oviduct, where the albumen (the clear, gooey stuff around the yolk) is deposited. Next the shell membrane and the shell are laid down. The shell hardens as the egg moves toward its destination. About 24 hours after the whole process began, the egg pops out, fat end first. Considering the physics of egg laying, it’s more efficient for the hen’s muscles to push against the small end. Ouch.

Matt:

I have had strawberry ice cream shakes that have a rich, delicious strawberry flavor. But when I eat strawberries, they have very little taste and don’t seem to be strawberry flavored at all. What gives?

— Jerry Dixon, Santee

How sad. We have two things going on here, both of which make Grandma cry. She’s old enough to remember real food, and she really misses it. So, let’s look at your rich, delicious strawberry-flavored milk shake. It might not contain any strawberries at all. It just contains enough of 59 specific chemicals that food-flavor experts have determined will fool us into thinking we’re eating the real thing. (For example, amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, benzyl isobutyrate, ethyl cinnamate, methyl naphthyl ketone, ethyl heptanoate, 2-butanone, 4-methylacetophenone, and oh, my gosh, mint essential oil, rose, and rum ether. Yum!) The more of this glop we drink or eat, the more we use this fake taste as our benchmark for “rich, delicious strawberry flavor.” It’s not. It’s rich, delicious chemical and sugar flavor that seems to approximate what we remember as the real thing. Even if there are real strawberries in whatever you’re drinking, odds are the flavor has been enhanced with the chemical mixture. Real strawberries just aren’t strawberry enough to suit us. We want an intense, jolting taste experience.

The other thing that’s happening is on the strawberry’s end. Given the economics of fruit growing, the best berry is one that grows big and red really fast. No time to waste letting flavor develop. When we buy in the supermarket, we buy with our eyes, and fat and red are what we’re looking for. Unfortunately, any fruit’s flavor develops as it sits quietly on the plant, basking in the sun. What we often get in the grocery store are the corporate, gene-manipulated strawberries that look good, ship well, have a longer shelf life, but have no taste. There’s a chance that some kids have no idea what a real strawberry tastes like. Kid food is some of the most taste manipulated by the corporate goons.

The industrial tastemakers do admit there are two flavors that so far have eluded them. Cherry and grape. They have yet to come up with convincing substitutes. So, the swill that you drink that’s labeled “cherry” or “grape” is very distant from the real fruit taste; but if we drink a lot of it, then we begin to use the swill as our standard for real grape/cherry taste. Makes Grandma yearn for the old days, when you could put a TV dinner in the oven and know you were getting real flavors, not some cooked-up chemical cocktail.

Hey, Matt:

Is there such a thing as spontaneous human combustion? I saw a TV show about it, and it didn’t really give a straight answer. I know you will.

— Willis, via email

There’s been a lot of weasel-wording about this subject. We even contributed to the pointless debate a while ago. The research elves concluded there wasn’t any real evidence for the idea of people bursting into flame and dying. But maybe it’s time to revisit the subject. Seems somebody has set up an experiment that suggests people can catch on fire without a large heat source. Charred bodies have been found in locations where nothing else in the room was burned.

The scientists rounded up a dead pig, since pig skin and human skin are very similar. They wrapped it in cloth to simulate clothing. Then they set the pig on fire. It burned slowly for many hours, and the charring pattern matched that of people thought to be victims of spontaneous human combustion. The experimenters had opined that human bodies can burn slowly because of what they called the wick effect, similar to a candle. Except in the case of a body, the fuel is fat. So, a smoker konks out, catches clothing on fire with a cigarette, and smolders away. Glad the science guys finally settled the question.

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