Decades ago it was commonly understood that ulcers came from stress. Where parasites or other nasties were suspect in ailments of the lower gut, it was obvious that nothing could live in the toxic soup of human stomach acid. In the early 1980’s, however, it was discovered that a specific bacterium was alive and well in the stomachs of many people suffering from ulcers:
Although stress and spicy foods were once thought to be the main causes of peptic ulcers, doctors now know that the cause of most ulcers is the corkscrew-shaped bacterium Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori).
More recently, the conventional wisdom that human beings need to drink eight glasses of water each day in order to be healthy was also challenged. Having heard this advice most of my life, and having generally ignored it except during an epic mid-July crossing of the Mojave Desert in a non-air-conditioned vehicle, and having known of no human being who did follow that advice, I often wondered about its basis in fact.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Physician Heinz Valtin,…
…a kidney specialist and author of two widely used textbooks on the kidney and water balance, sought to find the origin of this dictum and to examine the scientific evidence, if any, that might support it.
In 2002 he released his finding that there was no evidence to support said dictum. In 2008 a follow-up study reached a similar conclusion:
“There is no clear evidence of benefit from drinking increased amounts of water.”
So where did this belief come from? Valtin believes it may have have….
…originated from a misunderstanding. In 1945 the Food and Nutrition Board, now part of the National Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Medicine, suggested that a person consume one milliliter of water (about one fifth of a teaspoon) for each calorie of food. The math is pretty simple: A daily diet of around 1,900 calories would dictate the consumption of 1,900 milliliters of water, an amount remarkably close to 64 ounces. But many dieticians and other people failed to notice a critical point: namely, that much of the daily need for water could be met by the water content found in food.
And what about the vaunted appendix? Hasn’t it been proven beyond any doubt that the appendix does absolutely nothing? That it is, in fact, an evolutionary remnant of some long-lost bodily function?
Well, no. Recent research indicates the appendix may actually be doing the job it was designed for: repopulating the gut with critical bacteria after a riotous bout of Montezuma’s Revenge:
William Parker, Randy Bollinger, and colleagues at Duke University proposed that the appendix serves as a haven for useful bacteria when illness flushes those bacteria from the rest of the intestines. This proposal is based on a new understanding of how the immune system supports the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria, in combination with many well-known features of the appendix, including its architecture and its association with copious amounts of immune tissue.
Okay: so what does all of this have to do with storytelling in the digital age? Well, I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I want to talk about chicken washing. No, not that kind of chicken washing. The kind you do when you’re about to cook chicken.
I’ve been cooking for a lot of years. I’m not sure how many chickens I’ve cooked in that time, but it’s quite a few. And each time I cook a chicken, or pieces thereof, I wash the chicken in the sink.
Why do I do this? I don’t know. Or rather, I do know. It’s because I was taught to cook chicken that way.
Still, every time I wash a chicken, or parts thereof, I’m frustrated by what seem to be myriad contradictions. I have all the other chicken-cooking steps down pat, but no matter how often or carefully I wash chicken in my sink I can’t keep from showering the surrounding area with splatter from the chicken I’m supposed to be cleaning. To whatever extent the chicken itself is cleaner when I’m done, everything else has been completely contaminated. All of which makes me wonder why I’m washing the chicken at all.
What is it I’m supposed to be removing from the chicken by holding it under running water? I’m not scrubbing, I’m not using bleach, and I’m not making sure all the cavities and crannies are getting a good dousing. Doesn’t it stand to reason that the stuff I’d probably most want to remove is the stuff most likely to be there when I’m done? Has anybody studied this in detail, with Petri dishes and temperature variations and control groups? Is there data on this or not?
More to the point, given that I cook chicken at 375 degrees (indicated) for an hour at least, what is it that’s going to survive in that environment that I’m able to defeat at room temperature with running water? What is it that I need to worry about? The dreaded fecal matter? Obviously incinerated fecal matter doesn’t sound very tasty, but would it hurt me?
More to the point, whatever the health risk from ingesting incinerated fecal matter, wouldn’t incinerated fecal matter still be less of a health concern than any uncooked fecal matter I splattered all over my kitchen? And how is it that I need to clean up the chicken splatter with EPA-grade chemicals, but I only need to wash the chicken in cold water? If that works for the chicken, and the heat of the oven isn’t killing whatever I’m supposed to be worried about, why can’t I rinse raw chicken splatter from my sink with cold water and be done with it?
Now, as regular readers know, I tend to be meticulous about everything, except perhaps proofreading my posts. (Actually, I’m meticulous at proofreading, but often maddeningly blind while doing so.) It will come as no surprise then, that over the years I’ve tried adjusting every chicken-washing variable I could think of in order to decrease the amount of raw-chicken spray I was casting around the kitchen.
I’ve adjusted the flow rate of water from drip to flood. I’ve adjusted the temperature of the water. I’ve changed the angle at which the water hits the chicken. I’ve varied the elevation of the chicken from the bottom of the sink to close to the tap. I’ve even tried all of these variables using one-hand and two-hand techniques.
Having exhausted all available variables, and still finding myself casting off contaminated splatter, I recently reached the conclusion that conventional wisdom about chicken washing is wrong, or I’m missing something. So I decided to find the answer.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s confused. Here’s BiscuitBoy wrestling with the same dilemma:
When working with chicken, do you rinse it before prep? I can see arguments with both methods….How do you all feel?
Read through the replies and you’ll find conventional wisdom galore, but nothing authoritative. And that’s the way my search went, link after link, until I found this, from — seriously — GoodHousekeeping.com:
…until about five years ago, our chicken recipes started with rinsing. Then research showed that washing poultry can increase the risk of cross-contaminating something else in your kitchen (as the water splashes, it hits sponges, utensils, etc.). Plus, any bacteria in the bird will be destroyed by heat anyway (cook bone-in chicken to 170° F.).
So there you go. You don’t need to wash your chicken. (Granted, I didn’t actually track down the research, but I’m not the kind of person who would doubt a bespectacled Good Housekeeping food director — particularly when they reached the same conclusion I did.) One wrinkle I did find in a subsequent link is that washing the inside of a whole chicken may still be a good idea, and I think I’m down with that.
Okay: problem solved. But what does this have to do with storytelling in the digital age?
Well, as you know — or will know after you read through the last year’s worth of posts on this site — publishing is going through a violent metamorphosis. Old habits are dying hard, in the street, in pools of crimson. At the same time, seers and prognosticators are springing up like weeds, feeding on the bodies of the fallen. In place of all the old conventional wisdom (if not actual business knowledge), these visionaries are laying down a silky carpet of infinite potential fueled by innovation and new conventional wisdom.
Which is to say that nobody has any idea how things are going to turn out, or what the odds are of any particular eventuality. If medicine can overlook the cause of ulcers for decades — if not hundreds of years — then I think the people who are divining the future in publishing have even less of a chance of curing that industry’s ills.
If you’re a creator, ignore the people who are trading in hype and uncertainty, because they’re the ones who are telling you to wash your chicken. Focus on what you do or want to do and do it to the best of your ability. If you’re not sure of something, think it through yourself — like I did with chicken washing — and talk with other creators.
Remember: the four examples I gave above are all medical or science-based examples. Everything critical to understanding ulcers and hydration and the appendix and chicken washing can be quantified, and yet until recently all of the conventional wisdom about these things was wrong. And not a little wrong — not off by percentages — but flatly, categorically wrong.
If conventional wisdom can be that wrong in the sciences, it seems to me there’s almost no point in relying on conventional wisdom in an rapidly evolving medium.
Go to the source. To the work, and to you. That’s the oven.
— Mark Barrett