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Did Americans Really Call French Fries "Freedom Fries"?

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Taylor writes: I'm a high school student and my history teacher just told us about how the United States once called French fries "freedom fries" to spite France. Please tell me he's joking.

Yes, there was a time when some Americans decided to call French fries "freedom fries"—embarrassingly, a number of those people happened to be elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives.

In early 2003, the United States was in the midst of a (rather unsuccessful) attempt to drum up worldwide support for a potential war with Iraq. While cobbling together a "coalition of the willing," many historical allies of the U.S. said, "Nope." One notable dissenter was France, whose officials had been vocally opposed to the imminent conflict. "As we’ve said from the outset," French Foreign affairs Minister Dominique de Villepin said in January 2003, "we will not join in military intervention that did not have international support... We believe that military intervention would be the worst solution."

By March, the course had been set. The UN couldn't find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the United States made it clear that invasion was inevitable. War fever grew, and "with us or against us" found its way to the U.S. House of Representatives cafeteria. Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican who was chairman of the House Administration Committee and therefore in charge of operations for the Capitol complex, ordered that the word "French" be removed from all affiliated menus. French fries would become "freedom fries," French toast "freedom toast." According to the New York Times, "The action was unilateral."

Barely a week before U.S. forces (along with troops from the U.K., Australia, and Poland) officially invaded Iraq, a sign was placed in the Longworth House Office Building food court that read, ''Update: Now serving in all House office buildings. Freedom fries.''

"This action today is a small, but symbolic effort to show the strong displeasure of many on Capitol Hill with the actions of our so-called ally, France," Rep. Ney said at the time.

The idea for the change came from North Carolina Representative Walter B. Jones, who was inspired by Cubbie's, a restaurant in his home state that had earned a little bit of press after deciding to rename their fries. Jones passed the suggestion on to Rep. Ney, who instituted the change.

When reached for a statement by the Times, a French Embassy spokeswoman said, ''I wonder if it's worth a comment. Honestly. We are working these days on very, very serious issues of war and peace, life or death. We are not working on potatoes.'' She also noted that French fries are, in fact, Belgian.

This wasn't the first wartime name-switch in U.S. history. In the late '50s, the Cincinnati Reds became the "Redlegs" in light of the McCarthy era and the Red Scare. During WWI, German measles were dubbed "Liberty Measles."

Neal Rowland, the owner of Cubbie's, said his decision to update the menu was inspired after learning about some of these decades-old name-switches. He is pictured above, outside of Cubbie's. According to Yelp, his Beaufort, N.C. eatery no longer exists.

Rep. Bob Ney resigned from Congress in 2006 for his role in the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal. (Ney was eventually sentenced to 30 months in jail.) Upon leaving his post as chairman of the House Administration Committee, all the menus in the Capitol and connected buildings were changed, and French fries were finally served again.

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Big Questions
What Do Morticians Do With the Blood They Take Out of Dead Bodies?
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Zoe-Anne Barcellos:

The blood goes down the sink drain, into the sewer system.

I am not a mortician, but I work for a medical examiner/coroner. During an autopsy, most blood is drained from the decedent. This is not on purpose, but a result of gravity. Later a mortician may or may not embalm, depending on the wishes of the family.

Autopsies are done on a table that has a drain at one end; this drain is placed over a sink—a regular sink, with a garbage disposal in it. The blood and bodily fluids just drain down the table, into the sink, and down the drain. This goes into the sewer, like every other sink and toilet, and (usually) goes to a water treatment plant.

You may be thinking that this is biohazardous waste and needs to be treated differently. [If] we can’t put oil, or chemicals (like formalin) down the drains due to regulations, why is blood not treated similarly? I would assume because it is effectively handled by the water treatment plants. If it wasn’t, I am sure the regulations would be changed.

Now any items that are soiled with blood—those cannot be thrown away in the regular trash. Most clothing worn by the decedent is either retained for evidence or released with the decedent to the funeral home—even if they were bloody.

But any gauze, medical tubing, papers, etc. that have blood or bodily fluids on them must be thrown away into a biohazardous trash. These are lined with bright red trash liners, and these are placed in a specially marked box and taped closed. These boxes are stacked up in the garage until they are picked up by a specialty garbage company. I am not sure, but I am pretty sure they are incinerated.

Additionally anything sharp or pointy—like needles, scalpels, etc.—must go into a rigid “sharps” container. When they are 2/3 full we just toss these into one of the biotrash containers.

The biotrash is treated differently, as, if it went to a landfill, then the blood (and therefore the bloodborne pathogens like Hepatitis and HIV) could be exposed to people or animals. Rain could wash it into untreated water systems.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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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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