Why I will never discover the next artificial sweetener

My fifth grade teacher Mr. Carlson was rigorous about the scientific method, or as rigorous as you can be in a classroom full of ten-year-olds. One of the rules he made a point of emphasizing was the importance of not putting experiment materials in one’s mouth. This is generally a good guideline to follow, though if I’d known more at the time I could have brought up the discovery of saccharin in my defense.

I did not know more.

One day I was dared to swallow some of the blue food coloring we were working with, straight. I forget which of my friends or classmates egged me on; alliances changed swiftly in those days. I ignored the remnants of my rapidly-fading “teacher’s pet” inner voice and accepted the challenge, downing all of three drops.

A few moments later, I started to panic. Some sixteen years later, I can’t possibly begin to untangle the thought processes that led to this conclusion, but I was now asking myself if food coloring was toxic. Why would I assume that something that is, by its very nature, used to dye edible things would poison me? A question for the ages.

Heart racing, I rushed up to Mr. Carlson to ask him for clarification on this life-or-death issue. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to tell him what actually happened if I didn’t want a stern lecture, but a hypothetical question couldn’t hurt, right?

“Mr. Carlson, would food coloring poison you if you just ate it?”

“No.”

(beat)

“Why is your tongue blue?”

I froze.

My friend Amanda (again, I think) was quicker on the draw than I was, explaining it away as the doing of a rogue Fruit by the Foot. I don’t know if Mr. Carlson believed her or if he took pity on my idiocy, but either way, I escaped the reprimand.

—–

These are the things that haunt me when I wake up at 4 am and can’t get back to sleep.

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