Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Botulism at the Iron Rod

On Sunday the youth speaker brought a can of beans up on the stand with him, specifically black-eyed peas. I wasn't sure what he was going to speak about per se, but when he held up the can and said, "I just have a can of black-eyed peas here," and set it down beside the microphone, assuring the congregation that "those are for later," I figured that...maybe he was going to talk about New Year's Day. Setting goals, welcoming new opportunities, things like that. 

After all, down in the south, eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day is said to bring good luck. The speaker himself was raised in the south, but his parents were/are Mexican immigrants, though, so I wasn't sure if he would have grown up with the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. My own children are of non-southern heritage themselves and we haven't adopted the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day. Many in our congregation are transplants to the south. But maybe there's, like, a Mexican New Year's tradition surrounding black-eyed peas...or beans in's possible.

I spent quite a lot of time speculating about those beans, but everything I hypothesized was way off.

He spoke about the Vision of the Tree of Life and the importance of holding to the iron rod, which, in Lehi's vision, symbolizes the word of God.

"So imagine this Book of Mormon is the iron rod," he said, placing one hand on the book and lifting the can high into the air with his other hand. "And this can of beans represents temptations and things. But if I just hold fast to the iron rod..."

And with that he brought that can of beans down onto his hand. *BAM!*

It was...shocking.

"I'm just fine," he said. "But the can, you can see, is dented. Actually, my pinky hurts a little bit. But, like, only a little bit. It's fine, really. My hand is fine. Because I was holding to iron rod, see?"

I mean...I don't think it's a sacrament talk that we'll soon forget...that's for sure and certain.

And when we got home we had to see whether, in fact, this was an actual thing that people can do to themselves and emerge unscathed. So we watched a few YouTube videos (like this one) and then we went through several cans of pears. 

But evidently it's a thing you can do (it's physics!); we all did it and lived to tell the tale (though evidently it's better to use one finger than it is to use all your fingers like we did).

Here's a video of Andrew and Rachel trying it:

We also used pears instead of beans and that didn't seem to change the outcome of this trick at all. We just knew we'd eat all the pears inside the cans we used, whereas it might take us some time to work through that many cans of beans. 


Alexander was a little hesitant to eat the pears he was served at dinner, however, even though he typically gobbles fruit up. 

"I just can't eat these!" he sniffed when we asked him to explain his out-of-sorts behaviour. "They came from a dented can. What if they're diseased?!!? Like, Mom was telling us about that disease that comes from cans. Like, if you bought them something. You bought them. And they were diseased because they were dented and you bought them. And I don't want to eat food that is diseased!! You bought them diseased! You bought...them."

It took me a little while to untangle his thoughts, but I finally started picking up what he was putting down.

"Sweetie, are you worried about botulism?

"Yes! Botulism! That's it! It comes from dented cans!"

We had not discussed botulism that particular day, but a few weeks ago I went to get some canned fruit from the basement (tell me it's winter without telling me it's winter, am I right?) and one of the cans I found had a can that popped when I pressed on the top of it. So we had a little food safety teaching moment and I showed the kids how one can was firm when they pressed the top (so we could safely open and eat that can) and how the other bounced up and down and made a popping sound (so we would be discarding that can due to the risk of contamination). We talked a bit more about canned-goods and food safety and apparently Alexander absorbed that conversation. 

"Oh, buddy, it takes time for botulism to develop," I explained. "These pears are just fine because the cans were in perfect condition...before we slammed them onto our fingers in the music room a few minutes ago..."

Like normal people. 

"There was no time for botulism to occur. The issue arises if a can is dented and you don't notice it and put it in your pantry and leave it there for a few weeks...or months...or years. Then botulism becomes an issue. But if you know that you just barely damaged a can, you can still eat the contents of the can without even worrying about botulism at all."

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"I'm positive. Look—I'm eating a pear right now. That's how sure I am!"

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