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The Fizzy History of National Beverage Day

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Saturday, May 6 marks National Beverage Day, yet another obscure entry on the calendar that seems to be only slightly more respectable than, say, National Weatherperson’s Day (February 5).

It’s typically beverage manufacturers that make the most of these occasions, and you’re likely to come across invitations on social media from carbonated or flavored drink makers to “celebrate” by buying lots of sugar water. That was more or less the motive in 1921, when one of the earliest recorded mentions of a National Beverage Day—then called Bottled Carbonated Beverage Day—can be spotted. An unnamed contributor to The Re-Ly-On Bottler, a trade magazine dedicated to educating beverage producers, urged regional bottlers to utilize as many radio and newspaper resources as they could to promote their carbonated community.

“Give the public a new slant on the subject of drinking,” read the fizzy propaganda. “Let them know that carbonated beverages properly made and bottled are held in the highest regard by pure food authorities.”

Assuring consumers that bottled soda was free from impurities was a high priority. Inconsistent and nonexistent government oversight had plagued the food industry at the turn of the century, with inaccurate labels and suspect ingredients. The U.S. government even set up a “poison squad” in 1902 to see how adulterants like borax would be tolerated in volunteers. With consumers becoming more educated about what they were putting on their tables and into their bodies, bottlers wanted to soothe worries over contamination. In organizing a day devoted to the cause, the American Bottlers of Carbonated Beverages could marshal their ad efforts to promote carbonation as a kind of homogenization process—and even something downright healthy.

“Carbonic Gas is an enemy of the bacteria which menace us in food and drink,” read a 1925 ad in the Hartford Courant. “This is the gas which puts the bubbles in bottled carbonated beverages. It is pure of itself and it promotes purity in the beverages of which it is a part ... The thoughtful housewife will always have a case … in her home.”

Soda, the ad insisted, “contains more energy-forming material than many foods.” A graph showing that 16 ounces of soda contained 157 calories proved the point: that was far more than cabbages or turnips.

An ad in The Monroe News-Star that same year was more direct. “In days gone by, consumers … were very skeptical, for the reason they believed soda water was injurious to health, thinking it was made out of harmful ingredients and in an unsanitary plant, and right they were.”

Thanks to more restrictive state sanitary laws, the ad continued, that was no longer a concern. Soda was “pure” and “wholesome.” The notice was posted by Grapico Bottling, which assured readers they could “drink freely” and still “need no doctor.”

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Bottled Carbonated Beverage Day permanently became the less specific National Beverage Day, as ads throughout the 1920s alternately referred to it as National Carbonated Beverage Day or simply Beverage Day, among others. But in 1925, bottlers decreed it an annual event to be held the first Wednesday of each May. As time went on, there became less of a need to reassure soda enthusiasts that bottlers had eliminated “every vestige of germs.” They also may have had increasing trouble propagating the notion of soda as “healthful.” We don’t think National Eat Your Vegetables Day ever had this problem.

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This Just In
The Honey Smacks In Your Pantry May Be Contaminated With Salmonella
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.
Doc_Brown, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Cropped.

Salmonella, a bacterial food-borne illness often associated with raw eggs and undercooked chicken, has been linked recently to a popular children's cereal. According to Snopes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging consumers to avoid Kellogg’s Honey Smacks, citing the brand as the likely cause of the Salmonella outbreak spreading across the U.S.

Since early March, 73 people in 31 states have contracted the virus. Salmonella clears up in most people on its own, but in some cases it can lead to hospitalization or even death. Twenty-four victims have been admitted to hospitals so far, with no reported deaths. Of the 39 patients who were questioned, 30 of them remembered eating cold cereal and 14 of them specifically cited Honey Smacks.

In response to the outbreak, the Kellogg Company has recalled its 15.3-ounce and 23-ounce boxes of Honey Smacks printed with any "best if used by" date between June 14, 2018 and June 14, 2019 (recalled boxes are labeled on the bottom with the UPC codes 3800039103 or 3800014810). The CDC recommends that you take even greater precautions by throwing out or returning any Honey Smacks you have at home, regardless of package size, "best by" date, or whether your family has eaten from the box previously without getting sick.

Symptoms of Salmonella include diarrhea, fever, headache, and abdominal pain, and usually appear 12 hours to three days after the contaminated food is ingested. If you or someone in your household is showing signs of the infection, ask a doctor about how to best treat it.

[h/t Snopes]

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Big Questions
Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell Funny?
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The asparagus has a long and storied history. It was mentioned in the myths and the scholarly writings of ancient Greece, and its cultivation was the subject of a detailed lesson in Cato the Elder's treatise, On Agriculture. But it wasn't until the turn of the 18th century that discussion of the link between asparagus and odorous urine emerged. In 1731, John Arbuthnot, physician to Queen Anne, noted in a book about food that asparagus "affects the urine with a foetid smell ... and therefore have been suspected by some physicians as not friendly to the kidneys." Benjamin Franklin also noticed that eating asparagus "shall give our urine a disagreeable odor."

Since then, there has been debate over what is responsible for the stinky pee phenomenon. Polish chemist and doctor Marceli Nencki identified a compound called methanethiol as the cause in 1891, after a study that involved four men eating about three and a half pounds of asparagus apiece. In 1975, Robert H. White, a chemist at the University of California at San Diego, used gas chromatography to pin down several compounds known as S-methyl thioesters as the culprits. Other researchers have blamed various "sulfur-containing compounds" and, simply, "metabolites."

More recently, a study demonstrated that asparagusic acid taken orally by subjects known to produce stinky asparagus pee produced odorous urine, which contained the same volatile compounds found in their asparagus-induced odorous urine. Other subjects, who normally didn't experience asparagus-induced odorous urine, likewise were spared stinky pee after taking asparagusic acid.

The researchers concluded that asparagusic acid and its derivatives are the precursors of urinary odor (compared, in different scientific papers, to the smell of "rotten cabbage," "boiling cabbage" and "vegetable soup"). The various compounds that contribute to the distinct smell—and were sometimes blamed as the sole cause in the past—are metabolized from asparagusic acid.

Exactly how these compounds are produced as we digest asparagus remains unclear, so let's turn to an equally compelling, but more answerable question:

WHY DOESN'T ASPARAGUS MAKE YOUR PEE SMELL FUNNY?

Remember when I said that some people don't produce stinky asparagus pee? Several studies have shown that only some of us experience stinky pee (ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the subjects taking part in the study, depending on which paper you read), while the majority have never had the pleasure.

For a while, the world was divided into those whose pee stank after eating asparagus and those whose didn't. Then in 1980, a study complicated matters: Subjects whose pee stank sniffed the urine of subjects whose pee didn't. Guess what? The pee stank. It turns out we're not only divided by the ability to produce odorous asparagus pee, but the ability to smell it.

An anosmia—an inability to perceive a smell—keeps certain people from smelling the compounds that make up even the most offensive asparagus pee, and like the stinky pee non-producers, they're in the majority.

Producing and perceiving asparagus pee don't go hand-in-hand, either. The 1980 study found that some people who don't produce stinky pee could detect the rotten cabbage smell in another person's urine. On the flip side, some stink producers aren't able to pick up the scent in their own urine or the urine of others.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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