Pretty much everyone knows about the need for contact comfort in infancy; whether the infant receives it or not has life-long consequences. Why?
Early Contact Comfort Research
Psychologists believe that contact comfort forms the foundation for attachments. As far back as the 1950s, Harry Harlow’s studies demonstrated the importance of physical comfort. In his lab, young monkeys preferred snuggling with a soft, cloth-covered mannequin over a wire mannequin. Even when the wire mannequin provided food, the baby monkeys chose to cuddle with the mannequin that provided contact comfort.
Similarly, human babies need to feel safe and comforted. From this secure base, they develop the confidence interact with and explore their worlds.
According to John Bowlby, who saw first-hand the effects of World War II on civilian populations, children need two things to develop a healthy attachment:
The caregiver must be responsive to the child’s physical, social, and emotional needs
The caregiver and child must engage in mutually enjoyable interactions
As Bowlby observed, even infants try to prevent separation from their parents. When such separation is imminent, babies cry, refuse a stranger’s comfort, and wait for the parent to return.
Eric Erikson, a contemporary of Harlow and Bowlby, theorized that human psychosocial development occurs in eight stages. Erikson was in agreement on the importance of a secure base, arguing that the most important goal of infancy was the development of a basic sense of trust in one’s caregivers. Infants are dependent and must rely on others to meet their basic physical needs as well as their needs for stimulation and comfort. A caregiver who consistently meets these needs instills a sense of trust in the world is a trustworthy place.
In 1982, Erikson concluded that a lack of this basic trust could contaminate all aspects of a person’s life and deprive the person of love and fellowship. For example, a premature infant who has to spend their first weeks in an incubator might not develop a strong bond with parents. A child born unwanted or with physical problems that make them less desirable to a parent is more likely to develop a mistrust of the world. Under these circumstances, the parent isn’t likely to provide what the child needs to develop trust. Not being able to trust others, even family and close friends, has profound effects in teens and adults.
Children who have not had ample physical and emotional attention are likely to develop emotional, social, and behavioral problems when they are older.
Lack of Contact Comfort
The human brain changes extensively during infancy. Children from deprived surroundings such as orphanages, show vastly different hormone levels than parent-raised children even beyond the baby years.
Human babies can actually die from lack of touch.
In the nineteenth century, most infants in orphanages and institutions in the United States died of marasmus (“wasting away”). In the 1930s, doctors called a child’s physical decline when separated from caregivers anaclitic depression or hospitalism. A survey of institutions in 1915 reported that the majority of children under age two who had died exhibited “failure to thrive” symptoms. The lack of touch and affection drastically decreased their ability to grow, maintain a healthy weight, and develop.
James Prescott (1971) found that deprivation of touch and movement contributed to later emotional problems. In cultures in which people were very physically affectionate towards infants, levels of adult aggression were relatively low. On the other hand, in cultures that did not encourage as much physical touch, level of adult aggression were higher.
Skin to skin contact benefits both the child and the parent. It reduces parental stress and depression.
According to an article at itspsychology.com, the benefits of contact comfort for adults are numerous. It can help to reduce stress and anxiety, regulate emotions, and increase the production of feel-good hormones. It can also help strengthen relationships and build trust between people. As mentioned earlier, infants who don’t have a foundation for trust have a much tougher time trusting as adults.
For those with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, physical contact can be an invaluable source of comfort and security, safety and connection. Research has shown that the physical touch of another person can help reduce feelings of fear, anger, and sadness.
When people are mourning a death or other loss, a typical response is to hug the person, or at least touch the person’s arm, hold hands, or offer a pat on the back.
In stressful situations (like a court or doctor’s office), you are likely to see people holding hands or leaning on the shoulder of a loved one while waiting. In times of heightened stress or fear, people unconsciously reach for comfort from those around them. Children who usually consider themselves too old for cuddles will climb on a parent’s lap. Siblings who otherwise don’t get along might hug or simply lean together. Even complete strangers often feel compelled to seek or offer a pat on the shoulder or hand on the back, as the situation dictates.
In addition, contact comfort can help speed up the healing process for physical wounds. For example, patients who are touched on the shoulder by nurses and other medical personnel heal faster. Other studies have shown that physical touch can help reduce pain and inflammation. This is because the body releases oxytocin and endorphins, which can help reduce stress and promote relaxation.
Touching can help strengthen relationships and build trust between people. Studies have shown that physical touch increase feelings of closeness and connection, and levels of trust and understanding.
As with infants, when adults are physically touched by another person, it can help us feel safe and connected. This can be especially helpful for those struggling with insecurity or feeling disconnected from their partner.
Make sure to give and receive physical affection regularly. This can be as simple as a hug or holding hands.
Take time to be intentional about physical contact with those you love. Make sure to focus on the connection and the feeling of being held or touched.
Try to be mindful of the effect that physical touch can have. Pay attention to how it makes you feel and how it can help create a deeper connection with those around you.
Make sure to establish boundaries around physical contact. Respect the wishes of those you touch and be aware of their comfort level.
Under a huge range of circumstances—you can imagine what those might be—an adult’s needs for physical closeness and touch just aren’t satisfied. Those people might decide to find a professional cuddler (or cuddlist). You can hire a professional cuddle-buddy for $60-$100 per hour for non-sexual hugs and cuddles. Both people remain fully clothed. The permissible touching is clearly delineated—much like when getting a massage in the U.S.
Bottom Line: Non-violent physical touch is comforting, and beneficial in many ways. Contact comfort is a good thing!
Although wild and domestic turkeys are genetically the same species, that’s about where the similarity ends.
The domestic turkey lost its ability to fly well through selective breeding that created heavier, broad-breasted birds. The shorter legs of the domestic turkey also mean it can’t run as well as its wild cousin.
Generations of farmers have bred domesticated turkeys to have more breast meat, meatier thighs, and white feathers. (White feathers don’t leave the dark pigmentation after plucking.) Most of the turkey we eat is from the Broad Breasted White breed.
Americans consume about 736 million pounds of turkey each Thanksgiving. In 2022, Americans collectively spent approximately $1.1 billion on Thanksgiving turkeys.
Some reports say Americans consume an average of 18 pounds of turkey meat per capita each year. Other estimates suggest it’s 13.6 pounds per person. In any case, it’s more than anyone consumes at a single meal, even Thanksgiving.
While Americans prefer the white meat of turkeys, most of the rest of the world prefers the dark meat.
Avian myologists (bird muscle scientists) refer to dark meat as “red muscle.” Animals use red muscle for sustained activity—chiefly walking, in the case of a turkey. The dark color comes from a chemical compound in the muscle called myoglobin, which plays a key role in oxygen transport. White muscle, in contrast, is suitable only for short bursts of activity such as, for turkeys, flying. That’s why the turkey’s leg meat and thigh meat are dark, and its breast meat (which makes up the primary flight muscles) is white. Other more “flighty” birds, such as ducks and geese, have red muscle (and dark meat) throughout.
Creative chefs have written whole cookbooks about turkey.
As with other cookbooks, you can find recipes for appetizers, beverages, soups, breads, salads, side dishes, sandwiches, burgers, and many uses for leftovers.
Facts About Turkeys Off the Table
Male turkeys are sometimes called “gobblers,” after the “gobble” call they make. Alternatively, they are called “toms.” Females are called “hens.”
Many factors impact a tom turkey’s impulse to gobble. The presence of other male turkeys or of female turkeys, the weather, the time of year, and a turkey’s age all influence when and how loudly a tom turkey gobbles.
Hens make a clucking sound. Other turkey sounds include “purrs,” “yelps,” “cutts,” “cackles,” “hoots,” and “kee-kees.”
Adult gobblers weigh between 16 and 22 pounds. They have a beard of modified feathers on their chests that reaches seven inches or more long and sharp spurs on their legs for fighting.
Hens are smaller, weighing around 8 to 12 pounds. They have no beard or spurs.
Both genders have a snood (a dangly appendage on the face) and a wattle (the red, fleshy thing that hangs from a turkey’s neck). However, they only have a few feathers on the head.
Snood length is an indicator of a male turkey’s health. When males challenge each other, scientists can use snood length to predict the winner. In addition, a 1997 study in the Journal of Avian Biology found that female turkeys prefer males with long snoods.
Tom turkeys also have caruncles, visible bumps on their heads. The larger the caruncles, the more testosterone a tom has.
Turkey hens live together in flocks (called rafters) with their female young. These rafters can have 50 or more birds!
Male turkeys form their own flocks, sometimes further separated by age. At mating time, agroup of related male turkeys will band together to court females. However, only one member of the group gets to mate.
Commercial poultry farms today artificially inseminate turkey eggs. Generations of selectively breeding for larger breasts has created birds too large and heavy to mate naturally.
When a hen is ready to make little turkeys, she’ll lay one egg per day, over a period of about two weeks until she has a clutch of 10 to 12 eggs.Then, the eggs incubate for about one month before hatching.
A clever observer can determine a turkey’s gender from its droppings. Males produce long, thin, spiral-shaped poop. Females’ poop clumps more and looks like the letter J.
Early farmers kept turkeys on small farms not just for their meat but also because they ate large numbers of insects and so were a great source of pest control.
One of the difficulties of raising turkeys stems from their curiosity. Without sturdy and cleverly built pens, turkeys will get out of their enclosures and wander off to explore the neighborhood. Also, they tend to get into places they can’t get out of, such as nearby buildings and the pens of other animals. In particular, turkeys commonly get their heads caught in fences!
A flock of wild turkeys has caused problems at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California. The curious and territorial birds are big enough to deter pedestrians, stop traffic, and even halt aircraft.
Adults must teach their young to eat from special feeders and waterers, just like other baby animals.
Turkeys like to roost high up in trees where they are safe from predators and can see any danger coming. They are not always graceful when descending, often crashing from branch to branch on their way to the ground.
Turkeys have approximately 3,500 feathers at maturity. If you’re particularly industrious, you can use these feathers, along with chicken feathers, to make feather-tick bedding. It’s not nearly so light and comfy as down!
Wild turkeys swim very well. They can flatten their feathers for a stream-lined effect, steer with their tails, and kick with their powerful legs.
Turkey skins are tanned and used to make items like cowboy boots, belts, and other accessories.
The dance called the Turkey Trot was named for the short, jerky steps a turkey makes. It became very popular following its introduction in a San Francisco nightclub in 1910. The movements were so “outlandish” that authorities used to arrest people for Turkey Trotting in public, and Pope Pius X begged his flock not to follow the new dance craze.
Once Halloween is over, it’s all about Thanksgiving. The shift of focus from goblins to gobblers is instantaneous. Although officially called Thanksgiving, for many it’s really Turkey Day. But beyond dinner, what do people really know of Meleagris gallopavo, the wild turkey that gave rise to the one likely to be on the platter?
Turkeys in North America
Turkeys are native to North America, as are all the subspecies. M. gallopavo silvestris, sometimes called forest turkeys or eastern wild turkeys, are the most numerous of the subspecies, more than five million.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Native Americans domesticated turkeys more than 1500 years ago, before Europeans set foot on the continent. Archaeologists have found turkey bones in burial mounds in Tennessee, Kentucky and some other parts of the South. Turkey relics have surfaced in Arizona dating as far back as 25 C.E., and turkey-raising may well be one of the oldest forms of organized meat production in the Northern Hemisphere.
Indigenous farmers raised turkeys in Mexico and Central America more than 500 years before the Spanish arrived. Evidence of turkey bones at religious sites and burial mounds suggests that turkeys served a ceremonial role as well as providing meat. Although native to North America, the turkey’s range extended into Mexico.
Turkey Trade in Central America
Central Mexico once acted as a center of turkey domestication. Archaeologists have found bones of Meleagris gallopavo from as early as 8000 B.C.E. in what was once Maya territory. Remains of turkey pens and fossilized poop containing traces of corn suggest ancient Mayans kept and fed turkeys, trading them throughout Central America.
A 1980s archaeological dig at the El Mirador assemblage in Guatemala unearthed seven turkey skeletons. The bones were from more than 2000 years ago and more than 400 miles from their native range in Central Mexico.
Thornton studied the bones, and concluded they did not belong to the indigenous ocellated turkeys that roamed Mayan territory. Those birds are small, with blue heads and iridescent blue, green, and copper feathers, she says,”almost like a cross between a turkey and a peacock.” The bones found in the temple appeared to belong to the larger, duller Mexican turkey.
After reexamining the bones, Thornton collaborated with archaeologist Camilla Speller, an expert in ancient DNA analysis at the University of Calgary in Canada, to confirm that the bones belonged to M. gallopavo. Only one of the bones yielded enough replicable DNA for analysis. That DNA was an exact match with M. gallopavo, and not the ocellated turkey.
Mayan traders maintained long-distance exchange networks between northern Mesoamerica and Mayan territory. They moved many objects such as jade, obsidian, and pottery throughout these networks between 300 B.C.E. and 200 C.E., when the bones likely originated, says Thornton. However, she says, this is the first sign that Mayan traders may have transported living animals as well.
As early as 300 B.C.E, people transported Mexican turkeys between 650 and 950 kilometers outside of the their natural range. In a study Thornton and others published, they argued that this distribution suggests turkey domestication in Mexico may have begun centuries earlier than scientists previously thought.
“I think they did a good job of making the case that the Meleagris gallopavo birds at El Mirador were derived from Central Mexico and were probably being confined,” says William Lipe, an archaeologist at Washington State University, Pullman. However, the small sample of DNA concerns him, and he agrees with Thornton that scientists need to do more research. “My guess is that the history of turkey domestication in the New World is fairly complex and that we are just beginning to see some of the outlines of it.”
Turkeys in Europe
So, it’s likely that the Mayans of southern Mexico domesticated turkeys, maybe 2000 years ago. Spanish explorers took Mexican wild turkeys domesticated by the Aztecs back to Europe about 1519. These turkeys spread rapidly throughout Europe, and traders introduced them to England between 1524 and 1541. There, they became a highly sought-after element of gourmet dinners.
After those early domestic turkeys spread across Europe in the 1500s, European colonists brought them back. When colonists set off for the New World, they brought turkeys back across the Atlantic, to the land of their origin. At the time, the turkey was already one of the most plentiful foods of Native Americans. The wild cousin is slim, tall and long-legged. It possesses keen eyesight, hearing, and native cunning, making it a difficult target for human and animal hunters alike.
“The wild turkey in a sprint can outrun a galloping horse for a short distance,” said Charles Ruth, Big Game Program coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). “Although it is one of the largest game birds, weighing up to 25 pounds, it can fly distances of more than a mile, sometimes at speeds of 55 miles per hour.”
The Modern Turkey
Despite these survival traits, by the early 20th century, wild turkey numbers had plummeted because of overhunting and loss of habitat. In the early 1900s, the population reached a low of around 30,000 birds.
Fortunately, game managers stepped in, re-introducing wild-caught birds to areas where turkeys had disappeared. Thanks to these efforts, since the 1940s, wild turkeys have been prospering. There are now wild turkeys in all of the lower 48 states and even Hawaii, far beyond their original range. They number more than seven million.
Restoration of the wild turkey in South Carolina is one of the Palmetto State’s most noteworthy conservation success stories. In the early 1900s, only small pockets of wild turkeys survived in South Carolina. They lived primarily in the Lowcountry’s Francis Marion National Forest and along the Savannah River swamps. Today, the wild turkey is widespread throughout South Carolina. All 46 counties hold a spring hunting season (there is no fall season). Wild turkey restoration was made possible through the efforts of the SCDNR, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the forest products industry, private landowners, and South Carolina sportsmen and sportswomen.
Myth:Benjamin Franklin suggested the turkey as a national symbol or part of the Great Seal for America.
Fact: In 1784, Benjamin Franklin did praise the turkey. He wrote that compared to the bald eagle, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” But he never actually proposed the turkey as a symbol for America.
Myth: Turkeys are just big chickens.
Fact: More than 45 million years of evolution separates the two species. However, both are more closely related to dinosaurs than most modern birds!
Myth: Turkeys are so dumb, they’ll stare at the sky during a storm and drown in the rain.
Fact: Some turkeys have a unique genetic condition called tetanic torticollar spasms. This condition can result in some strange behaviors, like staring at the sky. No turkeys with this condition have been reported dying from looking up in the rain.
Myth: Turkey is high in tryptophan. Eating turkey makes you sleepy.
Fact: Turkey is just one of many foods that contain tryptophan. In order to feel the effects, you’d need to eat nearly 8 pounds of turkey in one sitting.
Bottom Line: When you think turkey, think beyond the supermarket.
Commercially available bananas are far from my favorite fruit: too soft, too sweet. I may well be in the minority here. In the U.S., they outsell oranges and apples combined.
Just look at the numbers!
Bananas are one of the most consumed and cheapest fruits worldwide: they are the most traded fruit and the fifth most traded agricultural product. In 2022, the global export value of the banana trade totaled US$12.5 billion. Banana growers exported 19.6 billion metric tonnes of bananas (with the exception of plantains) in 2022. Cavendish bananas alone had a retail value of approximately US$ 25.74 in 2022. They are the fourth most important crop in the world, behind wheat, rice, and corn.
The U.S. imports bananas primarily from Guatemala, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Columbia, and Honduras. Chiquita-Fyffes, Del Monte, Dole, Grupo Noboa S.A. own or subcontract the majority of banana plantations around the world. According to World Top Exports, “The biggest 5 exporters of bananas (Ecuador, Philippines, Guatemala, Costa Rica then the Netherlands) accounted for three-fifths (60%) of all banana sales on international markets.”
Many banana growing countries don’t export them; banana growers sell them for domestic consumption.
A Brief History of Bananas
But what are we talking about, really? Botanically, a banana is a berry that grows on several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa. These plants look like trees but are actually giant herbs. The Latin name for banana, musa sapientum, translates to “fruit of the wise men.”
Food historians believe the first wild bananas grew in jungles in regions of Asia such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Researchers have found domestication projects of the fruit in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Based on archaeological evidence, the cultivation of bananas in the highlands of New Guinea dates back as far as 8000 BCE.
Alexander the Great first discovered the taste of bananas while campaigning in India in 327 BCE. Islamic conquerors brought the banana back to Palestine in 650, and Arab merchants eventually spread them around Africa.
Portuguese sailors brought bananas from West Africa, introducing them to the Americas in the 16th century. Its Guinean (Wolof) name was banema, which later became banana in English. From Guinea, we also get the word guineo for an unripe banana.
Merchants introduced bananas to North America in the 1880s. Fashionable people ate them with a knife and fork.
What we eat in the U.S. today is almost exclusively the dessert banana Cavendish. Prior to the 1950s, the Gros Michel variety dominated the US market. However, a combination of fungal plagues, particularly Panama disease, wiped out nearly all of the Gros Michel plantations.
Artificial banana flavoring actually tastes like a Gros Michel banana (or an English pear, depending on who you ask). When you eat banana flavored candy, you’re getting a taste of the past!
The Cavendish banana variety is now under threat from the same disease that struck its predecessor. Panama disease has evolved into a new strain (Tropical Race 4), which can resist many of the quarantine and anti-fungal measures of farmers. Since researchers first identified Tropical Race 4 in Australia in 1997, they have traced its spread across Oceania, South-East Asia, and the Middle East. In 2021, the Peruvian government declared a phytosanitary emergency for the whole country after detecting the new strain of Panama disease. (Researchers think Panama disease actually originates in South-East Asia, not Panama or anywhere in South America.)
And then there’s banana ketchup. During World War II, ketchup producers in the Philippines faced a shortage of tomatoes but had plenty of bananas on hand. Maria Orosa, a Filipino chemist and food scientist, created banana ketchup to solve both problems. She made a paste of bananas, vinegar, sugar, and spices, and added red food coloring. People who have tried it claim it tastes just like the ketchup you’d find in any fast food restaurant in America.
But How Much Do You Really Know About This Fruit?
One might think that a banana is a banana, but there are between 500 to 1000 different varieties of bananas growing around the world, subdivided into 50 groups. Some are sweet, like the Cavendish banana, which is the most common and most widely exported. In many countries, people differentiate between bananas (sweet and eaten as a snack or dessert) and plantains (starchy and used in cooking).
Cultivated bananas reproduce asexually. Each plant basically grows as a clone of its elder, starting from suckers or pups growing out of its base. The lack of variety and adaptation leads to extreme vulnerability, such as from Panama disease.
Due to their need for a warm, tropical climate, bananas can not grow easily in most of the United States. Many farmers in Hawaii grow some of the lesser well-known varieties of banana, such as Blue Java bananas, which purportedly taste like vanilla ice cream. Small groves of banana trees grow throughout the American south, in Florida yards and along Louisiana highways.
Banana bunches grow pointing up. Growers call these bunches “hands.” Each hand typically has about 20 “fingers”.
In 2001, a banana cluster took the title of the “largest bunch of bananas.” It held 473 individual bananas or “fingers” and weighed a whopping 287 lbs (130 kg). Kabana SA and Tecorone SL grew the bunch in the Canary Islands.
Consider health benefits in particular. Bananas are nutritious. They have approximately 89 calories per 100 grams (3.5 oz). Bananas are most known for their potassium content but also contain B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber. These support heart health and digestive health. According to research, eating bananas can lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks. Foods that are high in potassium might stop fatal blockages from occurring and can also inhibit the hardening and narrowing of arteries.
Bananas contain serotonin, a natural substance that alleviates depression and balances other moods. This form of serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, so bananas don’t act as a kind of natural antidepressant. However, a banana’s high concentration of vitamin B6 can help the body to produce its own serotonin naturally. This chemical also contributes to an overall well-balanced feeling amongst consumers.
If you have a bug bite, the inside of a banana peel can relieve itching. The natural oils found in the banana skin contains a chemical that helps alleviate irritation from mosquito bites and poison ivy.
If bananas are too green to eat, put them in a paper bag with an apple or tomato. The banana’s ripening will speed up overnight. These helpers release more ethylene than others. This is the chemical that helps fruits ripen over time.
For the same reason, don’t keep fresh flowers on a counter or table next to bananas. The released ethylene will make the flowers wilt more quickly.
In 2016, police in Mumbai forced a thief to eat 48 bananas so that they could retrieve the gold chain he stole and swallowed.
Authorities in China have banned seductively eating a banana during a live stream, as of 2016. This is to keep under-aged women from attracting older male audiences. The Chinese government deems such acts harmful to social morality. Wearing suspenders on a live stream is also illegal.
Jordan Maddocks set a record for running the fastest marathon while dressed as a fruit in 2020. He ran the Rock n’ Roll Arizona Marathon in 2 hours and 41 minutes.
Banana fruits are naturally radioactive! This radioactivity is present in fruits containing potassium and potassium decays. You could die of banana radiation poisoning if you were able to eat 10 million bananas at once. You might experience chronic symptoms if you were to eat 274 bananas every day for 7 years. What are the chances?
The Guinness Book of World Records recognized Patrick Bertoletti as the man who could eat the most bananas in one minute. He peeled and ate eight bananas on the 14th of January in 2012 at Sierra Studios, Illinois, USA. In 2015, Pedro Aguilar from Mexico City, Mexico matched the record on July 26, 2015. You can do the math!
Fifty percent of people who are allergic to latex are allergic to bananas as well. The term for this phenomenon is latex-food syndrome or latex-fruit allergy. While few people are born with allergy, it can be developed later on in life.
Bananas can float on water. They have relatively low density and multiple air pockets. Similar fruits such as watermelons, oranges, and apples are also naturally buoyant.
Bananas are approximately 75% water, which seems like a lot. By comparison, cucumbers or radishes have 96% and 95% water respectively.
A team at Kitasato University in Minato, Japan won the 2014 Ig Nobel Prize in Physics for calculating precisely how slippery a banana peel is. As it turns out, it is all down to the polysaccharide molecules in the peel, a substance also found in our joints. When crushed, the cells in a banana peel release these polysaccharide molecules as a gel, coating whatever surface they touch.
Rubbing the inside of banana peels on leather products like handbags or shoes works like shoe polish. The potassium in bananas, just like the potassium in leather polish, conditions and shines leather. Just rub the banana peel on the surface needing a polish and wipe off any residue with a cloth.
A monkey peels a banana upside down compared to our method: they pinch the nub at the floral end and split the skin to peel it down toward the stem. The most nutrient-dense part of a banana is opposite the stem, the part that would be pointed up when a banana was growing on the tree. Peeling a banana from this end allows the monkey (or you) to reach the best part of the banana first. People who peel a banana from the floral top are also slightly less likely to contaminate the fruit with bacteria from the stem. Hungry monkeys will sometimes just eat the whole banana, peel and all!
Banana leaves have nearly as many uses as the fruits. When cooked, they have many nutritious benefits. People use them as a building material or for rain protection. They can be formed into biodegradable cooking or eating utensils. Weavers can process fibers from banana leaves and stems into rope and fabric.
The Dark Side of Bananas
I don’t like to write downer blogs, but be aware. There is evidence of price fixing on bananas, keeping them at 79 cent a pound. This is possible because of the concentration of banana plantations and export under the control of just a few companies. The cost savings to consumers means that those actually growing and harvesting the fruit often live on subsistence earnings.
Bottom Line: Bananas are popular and convenient and more complicated than you probably knew.
Athens, Ohio, as Dean Winchester mentions in the “Route 666” episode of Supernatural (Season 1, Episode 13), is one of the most haunted areas in the U.S. I lived in Athens for seven years during my undergraduate and graduate years, and if ghosts roamed the area, I never noticed them. Or maybe they didn’t notice me?
On a hillside near the Hocking River are the grounds currently known as The Ridges. At one time, this was site of the Athens Lunatic Asylum, later renamed The Athens Hospital for the Insane. The stately brick buildings served as a mental hospital from1874 to 1993. With over a hundred years of patients, and over 1,700 identified people buried in its cemeteries, it’s prime real estate for ghost stories.
“The most well-known ghost story of The Ridges centers around Margaret Schilling, a patient who was accidentally locked into a seldom used building during a game of hide and seek. After being missing for a month, a janitor found her remains on the floor. Due to the decomposition, a massive stain was left. As a result of this, stories surrounding both the stain and Margaret Schilling’s ghost circulate around the former asylum.”
In addition, stories abound of apparitions, disembodied voices, and objects moved by unseen hands.
Much of this and what follows is recent urban legend. As a doctoral student in psychology, I worked for a time at what was known colloquially as “the state hospital.” And although I could testify to the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and have no reason to doubt the performance of lobotomies, as far as I know, there were no ghosts or other spirits roaming the halls while the hospital was in operation. So much of this has arisen in the last thirty years.
Wilson Hall (Ohio University)
Wilson Hall is one of several buildings that make up West Green dormitory complex. In the 1970s, a male student died in room 428. I don’t know the circumstances, but a few years later, another the student committed suicide in that room. He was rumored to have chosen the room for its energy. Ohio University officials sealed the room.
“Students have reported demonic faces scratched into the wood, apparitions of the students who passed away, objects flying across the room and disembodied voices that ranged from whispering to shouting.
“The dorm room’s closing makes it the only dorm officially sealed off for paranormal activity in the nation.”
Here again, until relatively recently, West Green’s claim to fame on campus was that the women who lived there had exceptionally muscular legs from hiking uphill to the main campus!
There are graves there dating back to the 1800s. Many of these burial sites are for soldiers who fought in the Civil War—including Athens residents who joined the army—and those who died in a battle just north of the city.
A statue in the cemetery known as “The Angel of the Unknown Soldiers” memorializes these unidentified soldiers. “Many visitors have reported seeing the angel flutter its wings, blink or shed tears, adding an even creepier ambiance to an already creepy place.”
I lived on West State Street for a time, completely unaware of the cemetery—and never before heard of the statue or its manifestations.
A coal mining town in that area was abandoned in the 1940s. A few structures remained: the supports of a bridge, a cemetery and the tunnel. The basic story is that a ghost haunts the tunnel after being killed by a train.
“There are variations in the story, with some saying the victim was a pregnant woman, others saying it was an 8-foot-tall man and more. However, the most common variation centers around a railroad worker who was struck by the incoming train, then doomed to haunt the tunnel.”
Prior to the alleged train death, multiple deaths occurred in the area, from accidents in the tunnel, accidents from the bridge or unknown causes. The ghosts of these dead people are said to haunt the area, “taking the forms of apparitions or ghostly orbs of light floating in the tunnel and the surrounding woods.”
Suffice it to say, I never heard of the Moonville Tunnel before reading this article.
Located northeast of The Plains is Mount Nebo, a hilltop that once served as the grounds of a cabin owned by Johnathan Koons in the 1850s. For a time, many people knew of the area because of its importance in the early American Spiritualism movement. I never heard of Mount Nebo when I lived in Athens, let alone know that it had been a hotbed of spiritualism. That changed when a friend gave me a copy of Enchanted Ground: The Spirit Room of Jonathan Koons, by Sharon Hatfield (2018).
Note: For the short version of the Koons legends, see the Alicia Szczesniak article. For the long version, see the Hatfield book.
Koons was a fairly prosperous farmer in the hills outside Athens. The story goes that upon arriving at Mount Nebo, the Koons family began to experience strange phenomena, such as paranormal activity and otherworldly sensations. He became interested in Spiritualism in 1852 and was told at a séance that he was “the most powerful medium on Earth” and that all of his eight children had psychic gifts. Acting on spirit instructions, he built a “spirit room” for the use of visiting spirits. Koons built a log house, 16 X 12 feet, and equipped it with all kinds of musical instruments.
The family quickly gained acclaim as spiritualists in the area, with people visiting to experience the Koons’ séances and commune with the dead in their “spirit room.” Soon the place became famous, and people traveled great distances—at least as far away as New Orleans— to see the curious phenomena.
The eldest boy, Nahum, age18, sat at the “spirit table,” the audience on benches beyond, twenty to thirty people at a time. The lights would go out, and visitors experienced a variety of otherworldly sensations. Spectral faces appeared. Objects flew through the air. Floating pistols shot targets across the room. Disembodied hands, lit by phosphorescence, touched participants. A trumpet floated around the ceiling and called out the names of guests, passing on messages from deceased loved ones.
J. Everett of Athens County, Ohio, who investigated the Koons’ phenomena, published the messages of the spirits under the title A Book for Skeptics: Being a Communication from Angels (1853). He also printed a number of documents describing occurrences in the spirit house, including a chart of the spheres Nahum Koons drew while in a trance. Charles Partridge wrote of his visit in the American Spiritual Telegraph of 1855.
Neighbors of the Koons family were more disapproving. Mobs attacked the Koons house, set fire to their crops and barns, and beat their children. Finally, the Koons left the area and began missionary wanderings, which lasted for many years. They provided free medium services to the public, and they greatly advanced the cause of early American Spiritualism.
While the actual spirit room has long since weathered away, this story is still more truth than fiction. Archaelogists have found graves of deceased Koons children in the area. Historians have records and documents detailing the trek to the spirit room. Some descendants of Johnathan Koons still possess the artifacts the dead told him to find.
Much less famously, two or three miles from the Koons’ farm was another lonely farmhouse, belonging to John Tippie, where another “spirit room” was laid out on the same plan. The manifestations in the Tippie family were identical to those in the Koons’ log house. Each had a “spirit machine” that consisted of a complex arrangement of zinc and copper for the alleged purpose of collecting and focusing the magnetic aura used in the demonstrations. The Tippies had ten children, all mediums.
So there you have it! Hatfield’s written a well-documented non-fiction book as entertaining as a novel, and I highly recommend it.
Supernatural in America
Apparently, I lived in near proximity to all sorts of supernatural phenomena for years, completely unaware. Perhaps I was focused on classes and jobs to the point of oblivion. Or perhaps I’m just not psychically receptive.
Forty-one percent of Americans believe in ghosts, according to a YouGov study in 2021. (Twenty percent polled were unsure if they believe in ghosts.) Simultaneously, 43% of Americans polled believe demons exist.
Eighteen percent of adult Americans claim they’ve seen or been near a ghost, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey. Twenty-nine percent claim they have been touched by someone who died.
Older Gallup polls found that about three-fourths of Americans profess at least one paranormal belief. The most popular was extrasensory perception (ESP), mentioned by 41%, followed closely by belief in haunted houses (37%). A special analysis of the data shows that 73% of Americans believe in at least one of the 10 items listed, while 27% believe in none of them.
Last week, I wrote about the difference between cleanliness and personal grooming habits. Hygiene refers to cleaning habits performed to remove pathogens and keep yourself healthy (such as flossing). Doctors and researchers provide guidelines for how and how often to clean yourself for hygiene’s sake. On the other hand, people determine how and how often to groom themselves based on cultural norms and personal identity (think shaving facial hair).
But there is more to the human body than the head, no matter what science fiction might dream up. How to determine grooming and hygiene standards below the neck?
Correct hand washing plays a major role promoting health and hygiene. Even Louis XIV of France, who took only two baths in his adult life, washed his hands daily. In the past few years, we’ve all (hopefully) become more conscientious about keeping our hands clean to prevent the spread of disease.
So how many times a day should you be washing your hands? According to experts, aiming for six to 10 washes a day can make a big difference when it comes to keeping viruses and bacteria at bay. Up to 80% of communicable diseases are transferred by touch.
One USDA study found that up to 97% of people don’t wash their hands correctly when cooking at home. While 58% of people wash with soap and water, very few people wash their hands for long enough. Most people only wash their hands for 6 seconds. Around 33% of people don’t even use soap when washing their hands.
The CDC recommends always washing your hands after you use the toilet, whether it is in your home or somewhere else. Germs in feces (poop) can make you sick. These germs can get on your hands after you use the toilet or change a diaper.
According to one bit of research in 2009, 69% of men don’t wash their hands every time they use a toilet or urinal. Another study from 2019 suggests that 6% of men only wash their hands after having a bowel movement.
Nearly twice as many bacteria are transferred during a handshake compared with a high five, whereas the fist bump consistently gave the lowest transmission.
The average human hand houses 150 different kinds of bacteria. There are typically between 10,000 and 10 million bacteria on each of your hands. Most germs can survive on your hands for three hours. Besides coughing and sneezing, door handles are the most likely way that cold viruses spread.
Showering and Bathing
As I’ve discussed before, washing the entire body tends to be more a question of social norm than actual hygiene. In Australia, 80% of people say they shower every day. In China, half the population regularly bathes only twice a week. A majority of Brazilians shower twice a day!
Approximately two-thirds of Americans shower daily, according to a 2021 survey. In the US, the habit of daily showering tends to start around puberty and becomes lifelong.
Women are more likely to shower or bathe less than once a day (38% compared with 29% of men); they are more likely to shower every other day (23% of women doing this compared with 14% of men). More men also admit that they never shower or bathe – 3% saying so (compared with 0% of women).
A recent survey showed only 60% of American men showered daily, but 12% of those men showered more than once a day. (Maybe these guys all lived in a tropical rainforest?) 15% of guys showered every other day, 9% every few days, and a particularly stinky 2% showered once a week or less.
While the majority of Americans shower every day, some experts say it is probably not necessary. Although many doctors say a daily shower is fine for most people, more than that could start to cause skin problems. But for many people, two to three times a week is enough and may be even better to maintain good health. It depends in part on your lifestyle.
Keep in mind that showering twice a day or frequently taking hot or long showers can strip your skin of important oils. This can lead to dry, itchy skin. Additionally, dry, cracking skin can provide gaps for infectious bacteria.
Dr. C. Brandon Mitchell, a professor of dermatology, suggested showering or bathing once or twice a week. In general, experts say a few times a week rather than daily is plenty. Also, keep showers short and lukewarm, as too much water, particularly hot water, dries out the skin. Showering less often in winter makes sense, dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Herrmann noted.
Americans have voted with their tweets, overwhelmingly in favor of the bath. People in 44 states preferring a bath over a shower. Only people in Idaho, North Dakota, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Alabama prefer showers over baths. I find this hard to believe, and tweeting hardly constitutes a scientific study.
Industry experts noted that most people who renovated their bathrooms in 2022 added or adapted a shower.
How do you know when you need to shower or bathe? Perhaps the most immediate (and obvious) clue is odor. It’s not just sweat that makes you stink. The bacteria multiplying on your body produce gasses as they consume proteins and fatty acids.
Deodorant and Antiperspirant
Deodorants and antiperspirants don’t serve any medical purpose. People use them strictly for grooming purposes rather than hygiene.
Young Americans make up the largest group of deodorant users worldwide. 90% of Americans age 18-29 use deodorant daily, as opposed to only 78% aged 60 and over. The United States of America is the largest market for deodorant use, with nearly $5 billion in sales.
Like brushing your teeth or washing your face, putting on deodorant or antiperspirant every day might seem like one of those rituals crucial for basic hygiene. But your decision is most likely based more on personal and cultural preferences than any potential medical necessity, dermatology experts say.
Dr. Joshua Zeichner is a dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in in New York City. “We live in a society where body odor is not universally accepted, making deodorant a part of your daily hygiene routine. There’s also a stigma surrounding wetness of the clothes because of sweat, which has pushed antiperspirants into daily skincare routines.”
Antiperspirants are deodorants, but not all deodorants are antiperspirants.
Dr. Jeannette Graf, is a dermatologist, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, and author of Stop Aging, Start Living. “If you’re trying to stay dry and control sweat, you’ll need an antiperspirant with aluminum salts to target your sweat glands. If odor is your only concern, deodorant will offer odor protection.”
Not everyone wants their glands to be plugged by anything at all, much less by aluminum and/or other related ingredients.
There’s no reason to limit your use of deodorant to armpits. Lume describes itself as “whole body deodorant.” Their website suggests, “Think pits, underboobs, belly buttons, tummy folds, butt cracks, thigh creases, vulvas, balls, and feet!”
And Last but not Least: Body Hair
By and large, removing body hair is more a matter of culture and personal preference than of health and hygiene.
Any place that grows hair is shaved by somebody. Skipping lightly over arm pits, legs, chests, backs, etc., and going straight to the most private body hair, here’s what’s happening.
A recent study by JAMA Dermatology surveyed 3372 American women and found that more than 80 percent groom their pubic hair regularly. About 5 percent groom daily, but a monthly regimen is more common. About 75 percent stick to removing hair from the front and the bikini line. More than 60 percent have gone completely bare.
About 50 percent of men reported regular manscaping, according to a 2017 study. Of those who groom, nearly 90 percent take away hair that’s front and center, and more than half remove hair from the scrotum and shaft as well. And, FYI, it’s totally normal to have hair on your penis.
Those who groom are more likely to engage in or receive oral sex. How you choose to groom your pubic hair — or if you choose to trim at all — is a matter of personal preference. And your choice won’t have a direct impact on your orgasm or fun.
The majority of women who groom (59%) cite hygiene as a reason. And about 60 percent of men (age 25 to 34) report the same motivation. According to Dr. Tami Rowen, professor of gynecology at UCSF, “It’s a misconception that pubic hair is unhygienic.”
The presence of pubic hair doesn’t make you smell bad. Yes, more of your natural scent might cling to your hair, but that might be a good thing. Those pheromones produced by our apocrine glands are part of the science behind attraction.
Bottom Line: Clean and well-groomed are two very different things.
When we talk about cleanliness, we often combine grooming habits with hygiene. Society dictates certain standards of personal grooming, such as combing hair or masking body odor, that we unconsciously absorb. These habits might contribute to health, but they might simply be the result of doing it the way you’ve always done it.
Hygiene, on the other hand, refers to grooming practices that contribute to health or prevent the spread of disease. Habits like regularly flossing and washing your face can help you to stay healthy.
Personal grooming is largely a matter of personal preference, but researchers have determined the ideal levels of cleanliness for best hygiene.
So, how clean should you be keeping everything above your neck?
Note: Grooming patterns, hygiene standards, and social expectations of cleanliness vary wildly around the world, but this blog will focus on America.
Wash Your Face
When it comes to cleanliness—to hygiene—one of the first activities that comes to mind is washing hands and faces.
In general, wash your face twice a day. According to Nazanin Saedi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Philadelphia, “I tell patients that it’s important to wash your face in the morning and at the end of the day.”
Washing your face is an important tool to keep yourself healthy, especially during cold and flu season. In addition to removing dirt and sweat from your skin, proper face-washing removes germs that could spread illness. In particular, you can help stop the spread of airborne, respiratory infections (like Covid-19 and the common cold) by regularly washing off droplets from coughing and sneezing. Washing your face is particularly effective in removing allergens, bacteria, and viruses that spread through contact with mucous membranes (like pink eye).
If you’re not doing it frequently enough you might notice a buildup of skin cells and clogged pores, which could result in acne. How often you wash your face often depends on your skin type, your goals, and (to some extent), your environment. On average, you should be washing your face one to two times per day. But do we?
According to a recent study, 55 percent of people say they don’t cleanse their faces each day, a statistic that most dermatologists would shake their heads at. The study found that 48 percent of Americans don’t use cleanser when they do wash their faces—and almost half admit to using shampoo or conditioner or hand soap instead. Not only are people choosing the wrong products (a.k.a., ones that aren’t meant for facial skin), but many are also using the same washcloth up to four times before washing it. (For reference, experts say you should use a clean cloth every single time.)
Note: Splashing one’s face with water in the morning isn’t washing at all.
A 2017 survey showed that 60% of men don’t wash their faces at all. Most men, along with 48% of women, admitted to often skipping facial cleansing before bed.
Which Brings Us to Oral Hygiene
Good oral hygiene plays a surprisingly large role in maintaining overall health. It can help prevent endocarditis, periodontitis, and pneumonia. People with good oral hygiene habits have lower incidences of cardiovascular disease and fewer pregnancy complications.
The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day. However, fewer than 70% of Americans report meeting that standard. This means that more than 30% of Americans don’t brush enough.
Additionally, only 1 in 10 Americans brush their teeth correctly. Most people spend only about fifteen seconds per round of brushing. Studies have shown that you need a full two minutes of brushing to properly clean all tooth surfaces.
Frayed bristles can’t clean correctly, and even worse — they harbor all kinds of nasty germs. The American Dental Association suggests changing your toothbrush every three or four months.
Our modern standard of having perfectly white, even, straight teeth stems from black and white films. Because naturally-colored teeth showed up as gray on screen, many stars whitened their teeth or wore veneers. Ordinary people soon began to follow the fashion of bleaching and straightening their teeth for cosmetic reasons. Today, the American smile has become a $29.6 billion industry.
Electric toothbrushes may clean teeth and gums much better than a manual toothbrush. Either sort of toothbrush can be effective, though electric toothbrushes are easier to use effectively. People who use an electric toothbrush generally have healthier gums and less tooth decay. They also keep their teeth for longer, compared with those who use a manual toothbrush. But electric toothbrushes can be messy!
Listerine created the word “halitosis” as part of a marketing campaign to sell mouthwash. Humans have had bad breath for as long as we’ve had teeth, but a Listerinecampaign in the 1920s turned it into a social problem. By gargling with Listerine, people could remove an invisible barrier to popularity, sex appeal, marriage, and career advancement. (Listerine also worked as a dandruff shampoo, cold remedy, and floor cleaner!)
Daily flossing prevents cavities and helps to keep our gums in good shape.
Surveys conducted by the American Dental Association have shown that less than 50 percent of adults in the U.S. floss on a daily basis. In fact, studies show that only 30% of Americans floss at least once a day.
With the exception of treating certain conditions like head lice or ringworm, regular hair washing is not medically necessary. The scalp naturally produces sebum, an oil that protects against infection as well as moisturizing the skin. In fact, washing hair too frequently can strip the sebum from the scalp and cause itchiness and flaking.
Today, most people’s hair hygiene routine stems from social or cosmetic reasons rather than health concerns. A recent survey conducted by LookFantastic found that 49% of women polled reported washing their hair every day.
Carolyn Goh, MD, assistant clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA says, “There is no blanket recommendation. If hair is visibly oily, scalp is itching, or there’s flaking due to dirt,” those are signs it’s time to shampoo.
Hair texture plays a huge role in determining hygiene routines. People with thin or fine hair may need to wash more often. Those with thick, curly, or coiled hair might be more comfortable waiting longer between washes.
For the average person with straight hair, shampooing every other day, or every 2 to 3 days, is generally fine. Hair with a very straight texture is likely to start looking oily and limp faster, calling for more frequent washing.
People with curlier or wavier hair may be able to go longer between washing before their hair starts to look dirty. Some dermatologists recommend washing hair no more than once a week or even every other week. This will help prevent build-up of hair care products, which can be drying to the hair.
The scalp can produce varying levels of sebum, which also affects how often hair needs to be washed. Washing too often can cause the scalp to overproduce oil as well as upsetting the pH balance of the microbiome on the skin. According to dermatologist Blair Murphy-Rose, MD, “Too frequent washing of the scalp with harsh cleansers can upset that microbiome, and an imbalance in the microbiome can lead to scalp problems.”
And Last But Not Least: Facial Hair
Like washing the hair on your head, shaving the hair on your face generally serves no medical purpose. However, the presence or lack of facial hair is highly important to a sense of self-identity and social acceptance. Grooming or removing facial hair is an integral part to many people’s hygiene routines.
Having hair and not wanting it leads many people to bleach, shave, or wax to remove or disguise hair temporarily. Laser hair removal or electrolysis treatments kill hair cells below the skin surface for permanent hair removal.
Facial shaving in women is more common than you might think. It’s done to remove vellus and terminal hairs from the cheeks, chin, upper lip, and side burn areas. Facial shaving also provides mechanical exfoliation, which can help skin look brighter and cleaner.
Many women wax their chins or upper lips to remove unwanted facial hair. Using warm or cool wax to pull hairs out by the roots gives a longer-lasting smoothness, but the risk of side effects is higher. People have reported pain, rashes, sun sensitivity, or even scarring after facial waxing.
Rather than removing unwanted facial hair, some people choose simply to bleach it. Lightening hair follicles reduces the appearance of facial hair but leaves it in place. Though generally easier and cheaper than waxing, bleaching hair still runs the risk of irritating skin.
Three out of four American women ages 18 to 34 have had facial hair removed or done it themselves in the last year. Most common removal locations are eyebrows (58 percent), upper lip (41 percent) and chin (21 percent), according to a 2014 survey by Mintel, which did not track removal methods.
How often a woman shaves her face is usually down to genetics and personal preferences. In general, the recommendation is that women shave their faces every 2-3 days if they like a clean shave and every 3-5 days if they’re just looking to style or trim.
The presence or absence of facial hair serves as strong indicator of gender in our society. For many transgender people, transitioning begins with the daily application or removal of facial hair. Hormone therapy can eventually help people to grow or stop growing facial hair on their own. Transgender women report laser hair removal as the most common form of facial procedure. Transgender men may turn to hair transplants to fill in hairlines and eyebrows as well as beards and moustaches.
Some cisgender men also use hair transplants to achieve their desired facial hair. Doctors move strips of hair or individual hair follicles from the back of a patient’s head to the jaw, cheek, or upper lip. Because this is such an expensive procedure, many medical tourists travel to Turkey for hair transplants.
During a June 2017 survey, 29 percent of men reported trimming or shaving their beard every day.
Fluffy bandits a.k.a. trash pandas a.k.a Pyroton lotor a.k.a raccoons are infamous for raiding garbage cans, even those with weighted lids. They are reputed to eat almost anything.
They look like cute, cuddly bandits, but they can be quite fearsome when approached. (More about that later.)
What Do Raccoons Eat
Raccoons are truly omnivorous, and in the wild they eat about 40% invertebrates, 33% plants, and 27% vertebrates.
More specifically, when it comes to meat, raccoons eat more invertebrates than vertebrates. Some of the raccoon’s favorites are frogs, fish, crayfish, insects, rodents and bird eggs. Their voracious appetites allows raccoons to help control the populations of some pests, like yellow jackets and mice. When food is scarce (or they’re feeling lazy), raccoons will scavenge human trash or eat roadkill.
For plants, they like cherries, apples, acorns, persimmons, berries, peaches, citrus fruits, plums, wild grapes, figs, watermelons, beech nuts, corn, and walnuts. And they raid bird feeders whether food is scarce or not!
In more urban environments, raccoons will eat pretty much anything.
In fact, urban raccoons suffer some of the same consequences as humans when they share the unhealthy parts of human diets. Their access to drive-thru dumpsters and grocery store bins provide raccoons with plenty of fried, sweetened, and highly processed foods. A research team in Canada has found that raccoons in urban areas have higher blood glucose levels and higher weight than those living in wildlife preserves.
Raccoons in Cultural History
Long before Europeans came to North America, raccoons played a vital role in the lives of Indigenous people who already lived here. Our names for these animals today reflects this history. The English name “raccoon” comes from the Powhatan word aroughcun, meaning “hand-scratcher.” Further south, the Nahuatl/Aztec word mapachtli led to the modern Spanish word “mapache” or “one that takes everything in its hands.”
In many mythologies, Raccoon played the part of a trickster spirit, spreading mischief or using cleverness to escape danger. The Abenaki told stories of how the raccoon Azeban tricked other animals into giving him food or lost a shouting match with a waterfall. A Menominee story of a raccoon tricking blind men served as a morality tale for children. A Seneca legend of raccoons disguised as humans illustrated their intelligence escaping from an evil magician.
Raccoons in the Cooking Pot
In addition to starring in many American stories, raccoons have also starred in the American diet! Until the middle of the 20th century, people commonly trapped and ate raccoon along with many other small game animals that adapted to survive near humans.
Raccoons require very clever traps to outwit their nimble paws. According to historian Michael Twitty, enslaved people from West Africa adapted traps they had used for grasscutters, a West African bush rodent, to catch raccoons. Those traps were nearly identical to the traps Native Americans had been using to catch raccoons for centuries. The cooking methods both groups used for raccoon meat also greatly resembled West African culinary traditions.
In addition to providing people with a ready source of protein, hunting and trapping raccoons also helped to control the population of animals that would otherwise eat crops. Selling pelts also brought in some extra income. In some places, particularly in the North where raccoon fur is thicker, raccoon meat for the table was more of a byproduct of the practice of selling pelts. Mark Twain listed raccoon as one of the foods he missed most while traveling in Europe in the 1870s.
At one point, discerning consumers could find raccoon meat on the menu from cookbooks in Colorado to fancy restaurants in Maine. The spread of factory farming in the 20th century made beef, chicken, and pork more affordable and more popular in the American diet. There are some places where you can still find raccoon in the kitchen. I hear the best meat is in the hind-quarters.
Habitat (Natural and Otherwise)
Raccoons are very adaptable, living in a wide range of climates and habitats. They live quite happily in forests, marshes, prairies, and cities. Historically, raccoons ranged from Central America all the way up to what is now southern Canada. They typically make their dens in trees or caves, though they will also make homes in barns, abandoned vehicles, and other human-made locations.
Raccoons have made themselves right at home in Germany, much to the dismay of German homeowners and wildlife control. Back in the early 20th century, a few people in German started raising raccoons for their fur. Bombs struck one of these farms during World War II, releasing dozens of raccoons into the surrounding countryside. In 1934, forestry officials released several pairs of raccoons into the wild in an attempt to increase wildlife diversity. Today, there are as many as a million of these waschbären (“washing bears”) in Germany, devastating local bird and turtle populations, destroying vineyards, and causing traffic accidents. German raccoons seem to be especially attracted to stealing beer, wine, and hard cider, getting noticeably drunk at festivals or breaking into kitchens and targeting beer.
Germany isn’t the only place in Europe where raccoons are making a nuisance of themselves. A similar story of fur farms and war has caused an invasion of raton laveur (“little washing rats”) in France. Authorities in Madrid called for a raccoon culling in 2013 “to control and eradicate this unwelcome invasive species” that has made itself unwelcome in Spain. Scotland lists raccoons as one of the top 50 invasive, non-native species. The European Union has classified Pyroton lotor, the North American raccoon as an invasive species and banned their sale and import.
In 1977, the anime Araiguma Rasukaru, telling the story of a man who adopted a pet raccoon, became a massive hit in Japan. Fans of Rascal the Raccoon began importing at least 1,500 raccoons a month to Japan. After realizing that raccoons don’t make good pets, many people then released them into the wild. The descendents of those raccoons today have spread to 42 of the 47 prefectures in Japan. They destroy crops, damage historic shrines, spread disease, and steal from fish and produce vendors. North American raccoons have begun to displace native Japanese “raccoon” dogs, tanuki.
Cohabitation with Humans
Though raccoons are more than happy to live in human areas, they can be vicious when defending themselves or their kits. But generally, even if people try to scare them off with noise or lights, raccoons are bold and simply back off to return later.
Humans should be particularly cautious of approaching raccoons in North America because they are common carriers of rabies, roundworms, and leptospirosis, according to The Humane Society. Having a raccoon as a pet is not recommended, even if you’re the President.
In 1926, Vinnie Joyce in Mississippi sent a raccoon to the White House, promising the Coolidges that it had “a toothsome flavor” and would make a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Rather than eating the furry gift, Calvin and Grace Coolidge named the raccoon Rebecca, gave her an embroidered collar, and invited her to participate in the White House Easter Egg Roll. At the end of Coolidge’s presidency, Rebecca went to live in Rock Creek Park in Maryland.
Raccoons are round, fuzzy creatures with bushy tails and a black fur mask around their eye area. They are about as big as small dogs, about 23 to 37 inches and 4 to 23 lbs., according to National Geographic.
They are adaptable and use their dexterous front paws and long fingers much like human hands to climb and manipulate things. These front paws are hyper-sensitive, particularly when wet. Raccoons in the wild use this extreme sensitivity to search for food underwater from the banks of streams.
Even in captivity, raccoons will often rub their food underwater before eating it. Scientists believe that, rather than washing their food, raccoons are softening the vibrissae on their paws, allowing them to feel their food more carefully to ensure it is safe.
With their clever paws and intelligent brains, raccoons can open locks, figure out traps, solve puzzles, and get into almost anything containing food. In studies, raccoons successfully opened complex locks 11 out of 13 times and then remembered the solutions when presented with the same locks later.
Raccoons live around 2 to 3 years in the wild, though raccoons in captivity can sometimes live as long as 20 years. But they are always with us.
Baby raccoons are called kits or cubs and are usually born in the early summer. Females have one to seven offspring and are only pregnant for 2-2.5 months. A mother and her baby raccoons are called a nursery.
At birth, raccoon kits are blind and deaf. For the first two months of their lives, babies live in their den and nurse from their mothers. At 12 weeks, they will start to roam away from their mothers for whole nights at a time. They become completely independent at 8 to 12 months of age.
Coonpath Road is near the town where I grew up. The implication that coons follow a circuit or path is accurate. They are active from dusk to dawn, and when they raid my bird feeder, it is near the same time every night.
Bottom Line: Raccoons are fascinating creatures, but best observed from a distance.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan declared July to be National Ice Cream Month and the third Sunday of the July to be National Ice Cream Day. In doing so, he said, “Ice cream is a nutritious and wholesome food, enjoyed by over ninety percent of the people in the United States.”
He spent $200 on ice cream during the summer of 1790—which comes to about $6,600 today—and merchant records prove it. When he moved into the President’s House, he brought 309 pieces of equipment for making ice cream, plus tasting spoons, cups, and other paraphernalia for entertaining.
It would be hard to top Washington’s passion for ice cream, but Jefferson certainly left his mark as an ice cream devotee. In fact, historians credit him as the first American in history to write down a recipe for ice cream. It is one of only ten recipes in Jefferson’s handwriting. The recipe most likely dates from his time in France.
Although Jefferson himself did not note the source, his granddaughter recorded a virtually identical recipe later in the 19th century and attributed it to “Petit,” indicating that Jefferson’s French butler was the original source of this recipe. It is definitely in the French style. After serving as Ambassador to France, one of the souvenirs Jefferson brought home was the vanilla bean. Jefferson may have introduced the United States to vanilla in 1789.
Vanilla Ice Cream
~2 bottles of good cream ~6 yolks of eggs ~1/2 lb. sugar ~1 vanilla bean
Mix the yolks & sugar; put the cream on a fire in a casserole, first putting in a stick of Vanilla. When near boiling take it off & pour it gently into the mixture of eggs & sugar. Stir it well. Put it on the fire again stirring it thoroughly with a spoon. When near boiling take it off and strain it thro’ a towel. Put it in the Sabottiere [the canister within an ice pail] then set it in ice an hour before it is to be served. Put into the ice a handful of salt. Put salt on the coverlid of the Sabottiere & cover the whole with ice. Leave it still half a quarter of an hour. Turn the Sabottiere in the ice 10 minutes; open it from time to time to detach the ice from the sides. Stir it well with the Spatula. Put it in moulds, justling it well down on the knee; then put the mould into the same bucket of ice. Leave it there to the moment of serving it.
Jefferson enjoyed ice cream so much that he had an ice house excavated on the White House grounds, in part to ensure that ice cream could be made during the summer months. Monticello had several ice houses for the same purpose. Jefferson likely helped to popularize ice cream in this country when he served it at the President’s House in Washington. There are no less than six references to ice cream being served at the President’s House between 1801 and 1809; several times guests described it being served inside of a crust or pastry.
Similar to Baked Alaska?
A small man, James Madison wasn’t a voracious eater. But he seemed always to have room for ice cream. His wife, Dolley Madison, who was truly a trendsetting first lady, loved ice cream. No doubt, she did much to popularize the dessert in America, too. We don’t know much of James Madison’s flavor preferences, but Dolley Madison preferred oyster. (At the time, there were no standard ingredients for ice cream, and early “taste testers” tried everything from grated cheese to foie gras.) In 1813, Dolley Madison served a “magnificent strawberry ice cream creation” at Madison’s second inaugural banquet at the White House.
In celebration of his inauguration on March 4, 1829, Jackson invited the American public to the White House. He was “a man of the people.” Overwhelming crowds ruined many White House furnishings and forced the new president to make a getaway through a window. They broke dishes and glasses, and generally wreaked havoc on the White House in the process. Of relevance here: among other things, the rowdy guests feasted on ice cream and cake. Staff moved the whisky punch outside, the celebrants followed, and staff handed ice cream and cake to those on the lawn through open windows.
Martin Van Buren
In deference to the severe economic depression during van Buren’s presidency, the White House chefs offered relatively restrained menus to residents and visitors alike. However, van Buren’s daughter-in-law Angelica Singleton Van Buren, who performed as hostess at the White House, honored the president’s Dutch roots by serving desserts popular in the Dutch community. Called oliebollen or “Dutchies”, these little donuts often were filled with currants, raisins, or candied fruit. They are said to be life-changing with ice cream, maybe pecans sprinkled on top.
Few in Washington, DC, partied like they partied at Lincoln’s second inaugural ball. The crowd of 4,000 attacked the 250-feet-long buffet table. They had much to choose from – including ice cream in “vanilla, lemon, white coffee, chocolate, burnt almonds, and maraschino” flavors, among other treats. The inaugural crowd descended like locusts on the feast, leaving the floor “sticky, pasty and oily with wasted confections, mashed cake, and debris of fowl and meat.”
While courting, McKinley once spilled a tray of strawberry ice cream all over Ida Saxton’s white dress. She didn’t hold it against him and married him on January 25, 1871.
As president, Teddy Roosevelt liked to ride his horse around the estate of the presidential physician, Dr. Presley Rixey, in Arlington. Dr. Rixey had a log cabin on his property, where the president would stop for ice cream.
William H. Taft
Our stoutest president, Taft loved ice cream. First Lady Nellie Taft served it to guests in the Red Room three times a week. To ensure a ready supply, the Taft White House took measures: the Tafts not only added a large Peerless Ice Cream Freezer to the White House kitchen in 1912, but kept a Holstein cow on the grounds to ensure a fresh supply of milk and cream.
Coolidge and his wife served ice cream at a 1924 White House reception honoring World War I veterans.
In 1923, Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover visited Seward, Alaska. While out on a walk there, Lou Henry stopped to share her ice cream cone with a small black bear cub. Not a recommended activity, but is it reasonable to assume that the couple enjoyed ice cream?
In 1941, reporters at Roosevelt’s annual party for the press stayed till the wee hours. At about 1 a.m., ice cream was being served in the main hallway. Eleanor Roosevelt, who was standing behind the table, said ”Don’t you think it’s a little late for ice cream?” All took the hint and went home.
Harry S. Truman
Starting at age 14, Harry Truman worked at a pharmacy and soda fountain located on West Maple Avenue in Independence, MO, now the home of Clinton’s Soda Fountain. According to their website, Harry Truman’s favorite was a butterscotch sundae with chocolate ice cream. I found confirmation that he worked there “as a boy” but not about his ice cream preferences and nothing about his actual job. So maybe this doesn’t contradict the info about Obama? (See below.)
Dwight D. Eisenhower
There’s a readily available photo of Eisenhower eating a Good Humor ice cream bar, but I found no context and no other info on his ice cream preferences. It may have simply been a command performance for public relations.
The Eisenhower Library has a recipe for Mamie Eisenhower’s “Frosted Mint Delight“, one of Dwight’s favorite desserts. The recipe calls for a mixture of crushed pineapple and mint apple jelly, served frozen with whipped cream, almost like ice cream.
John F. Kennedy
JFK frequented Four Seas Ice Cream (a stone’s throw from the Long Dell Inn) and his favorite flavors were vanilla and peach.
As First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy preferred French desserts, particularly bombe glacée.
~3 eggs ~1 cup sugar ~1 pint milk ~1 quart whipping cream ~1/2 gallon soft peaches, peeled, mashed, and sweetened to taste
Beat eggs in a heavy saucepan until thick. Gradually add sugar, beating well. Add milk and whipping cream. Mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low. Continue cooking and stirring until mixture thickens and coats a metal spoon. Let cool. Stir in peaches and pour into freezer can of a 1-gallon ice cream freezer. Freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions.
A well known conservationist, Lady Bird Johnson chose flower-themed desserts for her daughters’ engagement parties. White House Executive Chef Henry Haller served “flowerpot sundaes” in clay flowerpots, which he filled with layers of sponge cake, ice cream, and meringue, topped with a fresh flower.
Though he adopted the practice of eating light, Richard Nixon always had room for ice cream. Newspaper accounts during his presidency reported that, even after large state dinners, Nixon frequently finished his evening with an ice cream sundae.
In 1969, Richard Nixon requested an dessert “no one had ever seen” for a dinner celebrating astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins at a reception in Los Angeles. Pastry chef Ernest Mueller created marzipan and raisin ice cream globes, covered them in meringue, and served the toasted balls in pools of blackberry sauce. By all reports, the astronauts greatly enjoyed their “Clair de Lunes.“
Ford had a nearly heroic devotion to butter pecan ice cream. Whenever he visited his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, his travel assistant Jon Nunn would make sure that butter pecan ice cream was always on hand. Every night he’d ask his aide, “I’ll bet there’s a little ice cream in the fridge, isn’t there, Jon?” And there always was.
Ford once told his doctor he wanted to lose 10 pounds. “That’s easy” said the physician. “Either give up your nightly martini or give up your butter pecan ice cream.” The martini was history.
Reports abound that Carter still enjoyed plenty of ice cream 3 months into hospice care—peanut butter ice cream being preferred.
In 1984, as part of Presidential Proclamation 5219, Reagan said ice cream has “a reputation as the perfect dessert and snack food” and pointed out that nearly ten percent of all the milk American dairy farmers produce every year becomes ice cream.
Since becoming vegan, he’s opted for raspberry sorbet.
George W. Bush
At a campaign stop in in Pennsylvania in 2006, George W. Bush ordered pralines and cream ice cream. When word got around, pralines and cream reportedly flew over the counter at that Pennsylvania ice cream shop for weeks and weeks. Although he prefers cones of praline and cream, he’ll eat vanilla custard in a pinch.
George W. Bush reportedly shipped cartons of Blue Bell ice cream from the creamery in his native Texas to the White House and to the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine.
As far as I can confirm, Obama is the only president to have worked the counter at an ice cream shop. At age 16, he worked at a Baskin-Robbins in Honolulu. Scooping, scooping, and more scooping—hard on his wrists. In an essay about his first job, Obama admitted, “I was less interested in what the job meant for my future and more concerned about what it meant for my jump shot.”
When Barack Obama went home to Hawaii for presidential vacations, he’d enjoy confections from his youth – coconut ice cream and Hawaiian shaved ice.
Barack Obama is the only president to have a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor named after him: “Yes, Pecan!” in honor of his campaign slogan “Yes, We Can!” In 2014, a Japanese ice cream company released a matcha tea flavored ice cream called “Obamatcha” to celebrate the American president’s fond memories of eating matcha popsicles as a child. A Russian ice cream company also released “Obamka” ice cream bars in 2016 in a rather odd bid to cash in on “chilling” relations between the US and Russia.
Donald J. Trump
This president likes ice cream so much as a dinner dessert that the White House ushers had instructions to always slip him an extra scoop. In an interview with Time magazine, Trump boasted of having two scoops of ice cream with his chocolate pie while other diners got one.
Toads have had a bad rap in the west. At least as far back as Shakespeare the toad’s ugliness had become a synonym for anything loathsome. And then there is the poisonous nature of toads. Could anything so repulsive and toxic not be evil? And let’s not forget the association of toads with witchcraft, and even Satan himself.
On the other hand, according to Robert DeGraaff (The Book of the Toad), “There is a great deal of evidence that in early Asiatic cultures and in the pre-Columbian civilizations of the Americas the toad was regarded as a divinity, the great primeval Earth Mother, the source and end of all life.”
Today, there is evidence that reality falls somewhere in between.
Most toxic compounds of these toxin are steroids similar to digoxin. Patients who have inadvertently ingested toad toxins usually have gastrointestinal symptoms consisting of nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort.
Toad secretions and cake have been used as a drug for its cardiotonic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic (pain relief) effects since ancient times. Doctors in China have used Bufo genus toad cake dissolved in water to treat heart disease and slow the spread of cancerous cells for centuries.
The mild poison of most toads in the U.S. is not lethal to humans, but it can cause allergic reactions. It is important to wash your hands after touching a toad.
Two Poisonous Toads in the U.S.
The glands of American toads secrete bufotoxin, a poisonous substance meant to make the toad unpalatable to potential predators. Although most toads in the United States are only mildly toxic, their secretions can cause serious damage when smaller pets (such as dogs or cats) eat one of these toad varieties.
I’m going into some detail here because these two species pose a real danger as opposed being a nuisance or discomfort, like most toads in this country.
FYI, the most poisonous toad in the world is the golden poison frog (Phyllobates terribilis), also known as the golden dart frog or golden poison arrow frog, is a poison dart frog endemic to the rainforests of Colombia. Think curare.
Avoiding toads is relatively easy for most of us: they are nocturnal, and they hibernate underground during cold weather.
There is no specific antidote for toad toxins, so pay attention!
Rhinella marina (Cane Toad)
Cane toads’ native stomping ground ranges from to the Amazon basin in South America all the way north to the lower Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. They have established habitats in Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam (including Cocos Island) and Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, and Republic of Palau. In Australia, where farmers originally introduced them to help control scarabs eating sugarcane, cane toads have become one of the worst invasive species in the world.
The skin-gland secretions of cane toads (bufotoxin and bufotenin) are highly toxic and can sicken or even kill animals that bite or feed on them, including native animals and domestic pets.
When swallowed, cane toad toxin can affect the heart and central nervous system. People may experience blood pressure swings, breathing problems, paralysis, seizures, salivation, twitching, vomiting, and crying. Adult cane toads can secrete enough toxin to kill a small child. In severe cases. exposure can cause death through cardiac arrest, sometimes within 15 minutes. At the least, the skin secretions irritate the skin or burn the eyes of people who handle them.
Humans can also use this toxin as a weapon. The Emberá and Wounaan people of Panama have traditionally used Cane Toad toxins on the tips of their arrows.
The prevalence of a toxin resistance gene makes it possible for some snakes of the sub-family Natricinae to consume native toads. In a 2021 article from the Journal of North American Herpetology, researchers Jordan Donini and Sean Doody said, “We documented successful consumption of the invasive cane toad by the Southern Watersnake (Nerodia fasciata) in southwest Florida, both in the wild and in the laboratory.”
Depending on where you live/travel, it can be important to know the difference between a cane toad and a native southern toad (Anaxyrus terrestris). Adult cane toads are much larger than adult southern toads, which only grow to a maximum of approximately 3 to 4 inches. Cane toads do not have ridges across the head, as seen in the southern toad.
Cane Toad Appearance:
Tan to reddish-brown, dark brown or gray
Creamy yellow belly
4”-6” long (sometimes 9 inches)
Backs are marked with dark spots
Triangular parotoid glands on shoulders that secrete a milky toxin substance (native southern toads have oval glands)
No ridges on top of head unlike native southern toad
Their native habitat in the US includes Arizona, New Mexico (where they are a threatened species), and California (where they are a species of special concern). Because these toads are native, they cannot be legally killed in those areas. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to harvest their toxins.
The smoke from dried toad cake of both Cane Toads and Sonoran Desert River Toads causes hallucinations. Licking a toad will likely just cause extreme discomfort for both yourself and the toad.
Cane Toad secretions contain bufotenine, a tryptamine that can have hallucinogenic effects in large enough doses. Several religious traditions have used this toxin for ceremonial purposes. The Olmec obtained bufotenine by milking toads over hot rocks and then using the toxin as a narcotic. Chemical analysis of seven Haitian “zombie powders” found secretion glands from Cane Toads, along with puffer fish and hyla tree frogs.
Sonoran Desert toads secrete an enzyme known as O-methyl-transferase, which converts bufotenine into the extremely potent psychedelic 5-MeO-DMT. When a human inhales smoke from 5-MeO-DMT, they experience hallucinations many have called “religious.” Researchers are developing treatments for depression, anxiety, and addiction from the psychedelic properties of Sonoran Desert toad secretions. Dr. Alan K. Davis, a clinical psychologist at Johns Hopkins University warns, “It’s such an intense experience that, in most cases, doing it at a party isn’t safe. It’s not a recreational drug. If people get dosed too high, they can ‘white out’ and disassociate from their mind and body.”
All Bufo species of toads have parotid glands that release toxic substances when the animals are threatened. These toxic substances are biologically active compounds, such as dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin, bufotenine, bufogenin, bufotoxins, and indolealkylamines. You might notice that the first four listed here are familiar!
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), processed toad toxins have been used for treating various diseases for hundreds of years. Modern studies have revealed the molecular mechanisms that support the development of these components into medicines for the treatment of inflammatory diseases and cancers.
Recently there have been studies that demonstrated the therapeutic potential of toxins from other species of toads, such as Australian cane toads.
Toxins from toads have long been known to contain rich chemicals with great pharmaceutical potential. Recent studies have shown more than 100 such chemical components, including peptides, steroids, indole alkaloids, bufogargarizanines, organic acids, and others, in the parotoid and skins gland secretions from different species of toads.
Frogs or Toads?
Many people confuse frogs and toads. After all, they are biologically related and share many characteristics. Scientifically, frogs and toads belong to the same taxonomical group. Both have glandular skin and similar diets, which they swallow whole. Additionally, both are amphibians and periodically shed their skin.
Live on land
Live near water
Sleek, smooth skin
Mucus-covered skin looks wet even when dry
Legs longer than head and body
Get around by crawling
Hop instead of crawl
Broad, flat nose
Spawn in chains
Spawn in gooey clumps
Solid black, round shaped tadpoles
Gold-flecked, slim shaped tadpoles
Among amphibians, the anurans, or frogs and toads, are perhaps the most intelligent, and have the largest brain-to-body ratio of the amphibians.
American toads hibernate during the winter. They will usually dig backwards and bury themselves in the dirt of their summer home. However, they may also overwinter in another area nearby.
You can find toads in all but the coldest parts of the world.
Adult toads eat insects, snails, slugs and earthworms.
Toads do not drink water. Instead, they absorb it through their skin.
Despite spending most of its life on land, a toad will return to the water during the mating season. They lay their eggs in water.
Being carnivores, toads prefer eating live meat. They do not consume dead meat or previously killed animals. Technically, they are able to consume fruits and vegetables, but it might not make them happy.
A toad will also eat its own skin after shedding it. However, they do this to hide from predators rather than for any nutritional value.
Toads live approximately 5-10 years in the wild. However, a toad in captivity can live up to 40 years.
Collective nouns for a group of toads includes a knot, nest, array, knob, knab, lump, and squiggle.
Toads can carry salmonella, which they can transfer to humans or other animals handling them.