October 31, 2010

The Rules of Grossness

Dude, that jacket
is very gross indeed
Coming up with the Gross Numbers got me thinking about what CAN and CAN'T be gross. Non-living things that were never alive (like mountains or math teachers) CAN'T be gross. So a jacket can’t be disgusting, unless it's made of Harris tweed. That’s a kind of wool that’s dyed with fungus and algae and then soaked in human urine. (Pee is good for “fixing” dyes into fabrics.) 

(To read more, click Read more” below.)
Plants are rarely gross. After all, no sane person has ever looked at a redwood tree and said, “Dis-gusting!” Sure, the algae in the fish tank can be slimy, but that’s not the kind of thing that sends you running and screaming, is it? 

But we can make an exception for rotting fruits and vegetables. Sticking your hand in a compost pile can be pretty gross. (But I think that a rotting zucchini is way less disgusting than a pile of dog poop.)

This brings us to animals, and here’s where it gets tricky. All dead animals are gross. And animal poop is bad, but it’s less disgusting. Herbivore feces (like horse poop!) isn’t half as bad as carnivore poop (like Kitty’s Tootsie Rolls). In fact, carnivore poop is so foul, it even has its own name: Scat!

So why is carnivore poop so gross? Well, because it’s made of dead animals, and dead animals are gross!

Of course, most humans eat dead animals, and so there is a whole world of rules and grossness that applies to that. These “gross rules” have to do with the special way we think about eating meat. If you think about religions that have food rules, almost ALL of those rules have to do with eating meat, NOT plants.  

For example, if a Jew wants to keep kosher, then shellfish is forbidden, but shallots are perfectly fine. Likewise, pork is out but pole-beans are perfectly okay. (And non-religious groups—like vegetarians—also have rules about meat. They don’t eat it!)

Religious people and vegetarians aside, the rest of all people also have a lot of rules about eating meat, and what kinds of meat are disgusting. I mean, think about it: Not that many animals are actually poisonous. So almost every animal can be eaten by humans. But even though we eat BILLIONS of animals every year, we stick to a few species (like pigs, chickens, and cows). Anything else seems gross.

Humans almost never eat carnivores. I’ve been told that coyotes and alligators don’t taste good, but I don’t really know that it’s true. I think we don’t want to eat another animal that eats meat! I mean, sure, it makes sense to eat the biggest and least dangerous animals around. So while an elephant might actually taste pretty good, the idea of getting trampled by one means that a cow is about the biggest thing I'll ever eat.

I think that’s because the whole idea of butchering an animal actually spooks a lot of us. Why else do they sell “pork” and “beef” at the market? If people didn't think it was gross, they would just say, Give me a pound of pig and two pounds of cow.

Anyway, I’m glad that we had this little talk!

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