Culture

Pat Sajak Loses Appetite Thanks to California Grocery Store Warning About Pie

Image by Bernadette Wurzinger from Pixabay

Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak went to the grocery store, and the trip was so bad it drove him to Twitter.

Take a look at that second warning. It’s hard to blame the long-time game show titan for losing his appetite. Pie, breads, and cookies are among the best things in life during the holidays, and, well most other days. But here’s California posting a stern warning that all that tasty goodness may give you cancer and kill you dead or hurt your children.

Yipes!

What’s with the warning? Will pecan pie really give me cancer?

The warning stems from one of California’s peculiarities, the referendum. Back in 1986 the state’s voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 65. That prop requires the state to issue all sorts of cancer warnings. The chemical in the warning Sajak captured, concerning acrylamide, was not part of the original proposition. It was added in 1990 during one of our nation’s many cancer scares.

Before the great pandemic, scientists would periodically come out and try to scare us all about something other than the climate. Acrylamide was one of those things. It forms in the brown crust on pies, breads, cookies and the like.

In late-1980s science, there was a result or two indicating it had caused cancer and defects in lab rats somewhere in Denmark (where there’s generally something rotten).

1990 was a long time ago. I know because I was there. Pat Sajak was already host of Wheel of Fortune. Vanna White was already his co-host.

There’s been a lot of science since 1990, when that year’s cancer scare landed acrylamide on California’s hit list. Should it have ever really been there, and should it still be there?

Harvard says probably not.

Health scares often flit across our radar screens, only to disappear, but acrylamide was alarming, partly because it wasn’t, in the usual sense, a contaminant. It’s the natural byproduct of reactions between certain amino acids (primarily asparagine) and certain sugars when food is cooked at temperatures of 248˚ F and above. For many of us, the really bad news is that most of it forms in the final stages of cooking as a food’s moisture content falls and its surface temperature increases — in other words, right when things get brown and crispy and delicious.

“But that’s the best part!” I just shouted, making my cat jump straight up in the air. Because it is.

There is some good news. The dozen or so study results that have been reported since the Swedish bombshell argue against acrylamide causing cancer in humans, at least in the amounts that most people consume. Researchers have rummaged through diet and cancer data, looking for an association with bladder, colorectal, esophageal, gastric, pancreatic, and prostate cancer, and have emerged empty-handed. Harvard researchers didn’t find a connection to premenopausal breast cancer. A Danish group did, but it was only among smokers, and the exposure to acrylamide from tobacco smoke dwarfs the intake from diet.

But there’s the warning anyway, in grocery stores and bakeries from Bakersfield to Bear Valley and everywhere else in the Sunshine Killjoy State.

California will go on warning its citizens against the joys of pie…forever.

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