Friday, June 13, 2014

The Surreal with the Fringe on Top -- Why you need to doubt almost everything you see, hear, or read on the Internet

"The curtains are made out of fish bladders.
That dashboard--dried skin from a dead cow.
And that fringe atop us? Caterpillar spit?
Ain't she a beauty?"
In one of the opening numbers of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, Oklahoma!, Curly tries to persuade Laurey to go to the box social with him by promising to take her there “in the slickest gig ya ever seen” – the surrey with the fringe on top.

It’s a sweet ride. The wheels are yella, the upholstery’s brown, the dashboard’s genuine leather, with isinglass curtains you can roll right down, in case there’s a change in the weather.

When I first heard about isinglass curtains during rehearsal for our high school’s rendition of Oklahoma!, I pictured an exotic, delicate roll-able crystal sheet. Turns out isinglass curtains are actually made from the dried swim bladders of fish like sturgeon or cod. Not as romantic, of course, but certainly nothing to fear.

Until now. Fish bladders are all over the news this week, striking fear into the hearts of beer drinkers everywhere. Why? Well, according to food blogger, Vani Hari, some beer brands “are trying to slowly poison us with cheap and harmful ingredients,” like fish bladders.

It’s great hype, resulting in breathless headlines and countless morning TV show appearances for Food Babe Vani Hari (who will show you how to avoid being poisoned by your food for a mere $17.99 a month).

The trouble is her claim about fish bladders in beer is alarmingly overblown … a fish story, if you will … and patently absurd.

Humans have been clarifying beer and wine with isinglass for centuries. They are among a group of substances known as “finings”—which includes egg whites, blood, milk and Irish moss for you vegetarians—that are used to remove organic compounds like yeast, sulfides, and proteins from beer to improve the clarity or to affect the taste and aroma of the final product. During the process, all these scary finings settle to the bottom of the cask and disposed of.

But you wouldn’t know it from the headlines that demand to know: “What’s in your beer? Fish bladder and anti-freeze ingredient?,” “What’s in that beer you’re drinking? Are brewers hiding something?,” and Vani’s own eyebrow-raiser: The Shocking Ingredients In Beer.

Vani certainly has a right to make bank by hyping imaginary dangers to a gullible public, and the media has a right to attract eyeballs with sensational headlines. But if you’re at all interested in learning the facts on any given issue, you owe it to yourself to dig just a little deeper before taking your place among the chorus of the easily misinformed.

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