Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: Studies link bread consumption to convicted felons, violent crimes, and poor academic performance and call for "bread-free" zones to be established around schools.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, May 2006]
Origins: This tongue in cheek warning heralding the dangers of bread has been part of the online world since at least 1998. It proves via example how easily wholly factual statements can be made to appear sinister and thus be used to further a variety of causes, some praiseworthy, some not. For instance, the list's second item, "Fully HALF of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests," sounds ringingly ominous until the reader pauses to consider that on any given test, half the takers will score above the median and half below it.* Yet, by the way the statement is worded, one could easily be tricked into thinking the staff of life is at least somewhat to blame for poor academic performance.
The key to the humor piece is contained in its 12th item:
Most American bread eaters are utterly unable to distinguish between significant scientific fact and meaningless statistical babbling.This humor offering works to remind us all that what we might at first blush take to be alarming truths laid bare by the unwavering light of science might actually be meaningless statements worded in such way as to arouse ire or stir up anxieties. In this, one is reminded of the apocryphal tale told of George Smathers, who, while running in a Florida Senate primary in 1950, supposedly decried his opponent thusly:
Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to have practiced nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact thatThe "Dangers of Bread" warning was likely an homage to an earlier Journal of Irreproducible Results article sounding a similar alert about pickles. The Journal spoofs, parodies, and satirizes what its editor calls "the verbosity, pompous obscurantism, and sheer stupidity encountered in scientific publications and projects." While some of its offerings are actual reprints from legitimate journals, most of its articles
In "Pickle and Humbug," a list of similarly startling discoveries linked pickles to any number of societal ills. It reported that about 99.9% of cancer victims had eaten pickles some time in their lives, as had 100% of all soldiers, 96.8% of Communist sympathizers, and 99.7% of those involved in car and air accidents. It was also pointed out that those born in 1839 who ate pickles have suffered a 100% mortality rate, and rats force-fed
While such lists as those linking pickles and bread via dubious statistics to various bad outcomes are clearly works of humor, there is one surprising actual negative connection associated with bread: the baking of it contributes to the formation of ozone.
When yeast ferments, it produces carbon dioxide and ethanol (alcohol). During bread's baking process, much of this alcohol is vaporized, producing the enthralling aroma that is loved so deeply by so many. When that scent goes into the air and mixes with nitrogen, if the sun, humidity, temperature, and wind are right, ground-level ozone, an ingredient in smog, is created.
Bakeries that emit too much ethanol have had to install devices on their smokestacks to capture the pollutants.
Barbara "beware the yeast wind" Mikkelson
* Yes, we know the original text says "average" and not "median," but the latter concept is what the anonymous writer really meant.
Last updated: 11 May 2006
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