Elephants & Birds & Bulls, Oh My!
I've been hanging on to a newspaper clipping, waiting for an opportunity to use it. It's about a very expensive coffee that is brewed from beans that have passed through (and out of) an elephant's gut. (Which more accurately describes your reaction to this: "yuck" or "ewww"?) More on this in a minute, but now I have a companion piece for this bit of trivia. It is a more recent article about a fancy facial that uses bird poop in its ingredients.
Yes, I am straying into humorist Dave Barry's territory here and as he would say, I'm not making this up. First, about the elephants: they live on a plantation in northern Thailand and are fed their usual vegetarian diet plus coffee beans. Apparently the elephants don't digest the coffee beans well and so the excreted beans are easy to find in the animals' dung. Then the recovered beans are cleaned and processed. The guts of the elephants act as sort of slow cookers for the coffee beans, imparting a special taste that is especially smooth and not bitter (so they say). They also say that the elephants don't absorb much caffeine. The thought of a herd of these massive beasts with coffee nerves is pretty scary.
Let us offer a word of sympathy to the poor local women (the wives of the elephant mahouts, or handlers) who have to pick through the end product to find the beans. I'm sure you can think of a vulgar adjective to describe this job. We can only wonder what these women think, though we probably have a pretty good idea. I suppose it is better than working in a garment factory hellhole in an overcrowded city slum.
The man behind (no pun intended) "Black Ivory" coffee is a Canadian named Blake Dinkins, who developed and is marketing the special brew. I like coffee and I like elephants, but I would rather stick with coffee from Dunkin' rather than Dinkins'. For one thing his exclusive coffee is ridiculously expensive, like $50 a serving, due to the expense of maintaining the elephants. Are there that many novelty-seeking wealthy people willing to keep this operation in business for long? And we complain about Starbucks!
Now for the facials mentioned above: the secret ingredient is extracted (and sterilized) from the poop of a certain species of Japanese nightingale. Not just any bird will do (I am looking out the window at the disgusting robin poop on my car.) The news article makes a few cracks about how city pigeons need not apply. This facial costs $180 at an upscale Manhattan salon off Fifth Avenue, though it goes for $129 in trendy Santa Fe. The sanitized bird excrement is mixed with toasted rice bran and applied to the face for five minutes, then removed with a gentle cleanser. Though new to American women, this beauty routine is apparently popular in Japan. One New York dermatologist was not that impressed and said you could get the same effect using an inexpensive apricot facial scrub from the drugstore.
One has to ask, whoever thought of putting bird poop on your face in the first place? Or, whoever first noticed a few coffee beans in elephant dung and said, "Say, let's wash these beans off and roast them and see what it tastes like."
My third entry (not quite so gross) in odd news from the animal kingdom is that you will now be able to run with bulls not just in Spain but in similar events in the US, including Atlanta, and Houston, and Petersburg, VA. (You might think that the words "Bull Run" would have a different meaning for people in Virginia, but then they called that Civil War battle Manasses.) Fees range from $40 to $75 and thousands have already signed up for the single-day events.
According to the publicity for it ("Grab Life by the Horns"), these offshoots of the controversial running of the bulls in Pamplona are supposed to be somewhat safer than the original. A couple of people were tossed and gored by bulls this summer in Spain, and 15 people have been killed during the traditional Pamplona event over the past century. It's a high-risk endeavor.
The bulls to be used in the US are not as aggressive as the Spanish ones, which are bred for bullfighting, and the courses are designed so that runners can more easily get out of the way of the bulls. The running of the bulls will be followed by the always popular food fight, Tomato Royale. No thanks. Didn't your mother ever tell you not to play with your food?
Running with bulls -- not my thing, even if I were young, which I'm not. Meandering with mutts is more in my line, though it's not so exciting. So if you want to spend a large sum of money to drink elephant-dung coffee, put bird poop on your face, and/or run down the street while being chased by a bull, be my guest, but count me out. I guess I'm just no fun any more.