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Vinyl in chewing gum?!! July 27, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Mercy on us. Silence Dogood here. Chewing gum is not something that makes an appearance here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. We both have too many fillings to risk pulling one out with gum, and besides, we don’t really want to go around looking like a couple of cows chewing their cuds. We’re not tempted even when we read health reports suggesting that gum containing xylitol chewed after meals or snacks can help prevent tooth decay. We’re especially not tempted when we see someone snapping her gum at a funeral or popping his brilliant blue gum while waiting on customers. Eeeewwww!!! What are they thinking?!

However, even our general gum aversion didn’t prepare us for an article in the Wall Street Journal that had nothing to do with gum but mentioned in passing that an ingredient in some cooling jacket, vinyl acetate, was regularly used in chewing gum. 

Say what?!! Unfortunately, it’s true. “A substance used to make chewing gum could soon be declared toxic by the federal government after an international agency found that it might cause cancer in lab rats,” a Canadian news release noted way back in May 2008. The substance? Vinyl acetate, “also used in the production of perfumes, deodorizers and paints and sealants, among other things,” according to the report. Furious lobbying by the chewing gum industry caused the Canadian government to drop the proposed ban on vinyl acetate in gum in 2009. 

Even if you love the thought of chomping on the equivalent of vinyl siding, you might think about the effect it has on the environment: Like the siding itself, “The modern chew[ing gum] is non-biodegradable,” an article in The Ecologist noted in 2010. And it can contribute to everything from diarrhea to cancer, ADD, epileptic seizures, and even brain damage, thanks to its “alphabet soup of potentially toxic ingredients.” Gum manufacturers who’ve tried to eliminate the effect of its permanence in our environment have unfortunately replaced the vinyl with phthalates, which have been shown to cause birth defects. God have pity.

The article in The Economist pointed out that chewing gum isn’t a 20th-century phenomenon, as I’d always assumed, but a human habit going back thousands of years, in which humans chewed on the naturally produced gums of various trees, presumably to curb the ever-present hunger that dogged most of humanity and to keep the saliva flowing and thus ward off dehydration during long, hot, dry travels, typically on foot over hostile terrain. Another classic example of humans using their inherent ingenuity to solve a problem that threatened their survival.

Today, though, chewing gum may have outlived its usefulness. Gulping a sports drink, or just regularly drinking some water, will keep us hydrated as we go about our day. And we’re far less likely to imbibe bizarre toxins or look like morons while we’re doing it. Certainly, we won’t be threatening our dental work. And maybe, just maybe, instead of using our mouths as a mindless receptacle for trash, we could redirect them to a better use: communicating, reaching out, expressing our ideas and thoughts, our hopes and dreams. Using our mouths to express what ultimately makes us human, and what makes being human such a wonderful thing.

              ‘Til next time,