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When Food Fights Back

By DeLane McDuffie
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Tomato with a Band-Aid®The next time you bite into a piece of fruit, consider its feelings. Now apologize. What did it ever do to you but make you healthier? For centuries, we've cooked, shredded, chopped up, grilled, and sautéed food. And you know that ain't right. They don't deserve to be set ablaze or mutilated. Well, this time, they're out for revenge. Over time, food and beverages have been slowly but surely strengthening their resistance against human imperialism. So watch yourself out there, buddy, and match the food or beverage with the place it attacked. You've been warned.

  1. Molasses – Boston. The Great Molasses Flood of 1919. No joke. The Purity Distilling Company of Boston's North End stored 2.5 million gallons of molasses in their 58-foot-high tank (about as tall as a six-story building). The molasses was to be used as a sweetener and to make ethyl alcohol for liquor and weapons. On January 15, a mysterious explosion within the tank caused a molasses tsunami. Clocking a syrup land speed record of 35 mph, waves up to 15 feet ripped through the streets; flipped over cars, horses, and buggies; pushed a train off its tracks; and knocked down a few buildings, thus marking the only time that the phrase "slower than molasses" didn't apply to molasses. There were 21 deaths and a reported 150 people injured. Through a completely unrelated event, Congress passed the 18th Amendment the very next day, ushering in the immensely popular Prohibition Era.
  2. Mushroom/Fungi – Pont-Saint-Esprit. Back in August 1951, the residents of the small village of Pont-Saint-Esprit (Bridge of the Holy Spirit), France were chomping on the bread from Mr. Roch Briand's bakery, as usual. Little did they know that a rare ergot fungus had contaminated that year's local rye crops. Uh-oh. Several of the 4,400 residents suddenly underwent hallucinogenic symptoms. Some had convulsions, ran aimlessly through the streets, yelled that red flowers were growing out of their bodies and their heads were melting, and attempted suicide. In the Middle Ages, ergot poisoning was called "St. Anthony's Fire." Ergot restricts blood flow to the appendages and can cause gangrene. If not treated, victims can feel like they're Joan of Arc being burned alive, before their extremities rot off. In the end, seven people died, while the sick and injured numbered in the hundreds.
  3. Porter – London. Meux's Brewery Company owned a 22-foot-high vat that held 511,920 liters of porter (a dark malt beer), which was surrounded by several other vats of beer. On October 17, 1814, one of the metal hoops that held it together snapped. The vat exploded, the exiting beer crashed into and shattered the other vats, and the neighborhood below never knew what hit it. The beer tidal wave, totaling 1,224,000 liters, splashed down on the slum area of St. Giles, obliterating two homes and a pub. The first casualty was the pub's 14-year-old barmaid Eleanor Cooper. As flood victims began arriving at the local hospital, the current patients smelled the overwhelming scent of beer and nearly incited a riot, declaring that they were missing out on an impromptu Oktoberfest and demanding to be served. Eight people drowned, while one died from alcohol poisoning. It was months before the beer stench dissipated. The affected families of the drowned were so poor that they displayed the corpses of their relatives for public viewing, charging admission.
  4. Whisky – Dublin. The June 26, 1875, edition of The Illustrated London News tells the account of nearly 560,000 liters of whisky covering several streets in the Liberties section of town. That may sound like heaven to hard-core liquor lovers. Too bad it was a real-life River Styx—a river of fiery, frisky whisky. It was a free-for-all. Local Scots were scooping up what they could in their boots and hats. Four folks died from swallowing the hot lava-like whisky, probably forgetting that it was hot lava-like whisky. The families of destroyed houses and property were later compensated.
  5. Tomatoes – The World. October 1978 was a dark, frightening time. American troops were deployed to the San Diego area to thwart the efforts of a growing insurgency. The president even had to organize a special task force of military experts and scientists to neutralize the resistance. Ordinary citizens and soldiers perished and struggled in vain while law enforcement was rendered helpless, as even its artillery could not stop the enemy. However, this red army was eventually stopped and defeated—by the horrible, horrible song "Puberty Love." The next thing that happened . . . was . . . um . . . I'll stop now. Nothing else happened. This is just the plot of the B-movie spoof Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Just seeing if you were paying attention. You were.
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