"Exploding Birds and other Amusements" by Troy H. Cheek on Jul 23, 2007
So, the other day I was watching a video file for a review I was writing. In spite of the many good points about the video, I had reached a section where I wasn't at all interested in what was going on. That's why God gave us the fast forward button. Hitting that a few times dropped me down in the middle of a wedding. Then I got upset.
Now, I was not upset because they put a wedding in the middle of my action movie. I was not upset because the two characters getting married were ones that I had no interest in. I was not upset that almost no characters I actually was interested in were in the wedding party. I was not even upset that two guys were getting married, though if there was going to be a same sex marriage, I would have rather seen two particular women from the cast kissing and pawing each other at the end. (Hey, contrary to what some of you seem to think, I'm a guy.)
No, I was upset that I saw soap bubbles floating around in the background.
Why would that upset me? Well, there's an urban legend that's been floating around for at least 20 years. I know it's been at least that long because that's when I heard about it. The legend is that throwing rice at weddings is bad for the birds. The birds eat the uncooked rice which absorbs fluids in the digestive system and swells up, just like when you cook it on the stove. Eventually, the birds explode.
Yes, explode. Some versions say the birds just die from bowel blockages, but the version where they explode is what I hear most often. I've even been told that if you hang around at the reception long enough, you can find them littering the parking lot on the way to your car.
I first heard this from a young lady friend who discussed wedding plans with me. Hint to guys: just because a girl is sleeping with you, says you're the only man she'd ever love, and starts discussing wedding plans, don't assume that she's planning to marry you next June. Apparently, there's a subset of "engaged" that includes the option of having other boyfriends right up until the ceremonies.
Anyway, my young lady friend physically recoiled in horror from me when I mentioned something about throwing rice at the wedding. No birds were going to explode at her wedding! She dug through her closet and came up with a box full of tiny bottles of bubble soap with tiny little bubble wands. She demonstrated how her wedding guests would blow bubbles at the event.
She got me right in the eye with a glob of soap.
"See! Much safer! No birds will die!" she declared.
"And I suppose that's better than blinding your guests?" I asked back.
The argument went on for an hour. During that time, I was also informed that I was killing countless squirrels and chipmunks by feeding them popcorn. "There are unpopped kernels in those bags! Once they get in the squirrels' stomachs, the acid dissolves the husks and they pop, just like in the microwave! The poor little things just explode!"
I tried my best to explain how popcorn pops. I told her about the tiny drop of water inside every kernel, how the heat from the oil or microwave causes the water to boil, the pressure of which forces open the kernel and the heat of which cooks the popcorn. However, I could not convince her that popcorn was not under pressure inside the hull and that breaching the hull with stomach acid would not cause the popcorn to pop.
Her roommate showed up about then, but she was no help. She was convinced that both unpopped popcorn and uncooked rice were completely indigestible and killed animals by clogging their intestines.
Reading a few websites on weddings, I see that my young lady friend has a lot of company.
Pay attention the next time you cook a rice dish. Does the rice swell up all on its own? No. You have to give it at least a few minutes in boiling water. If you want to try a science experiment, soak some rice in body temperature water and tell me how long it takes to swell up. While you're at it, cut open a few grains of popcorn and see if white fluffy stuff shoots out under pressure.
Rice isn't something created in a lab and grown in special tanks. Rice is a natural plant which grows wild all around the world. Birds eat rice. Migrating ducks and geese fatten up on rice. Birds divebomb people during harvest time trying to scare them away from all the loose rice. I am told that there are birds who have evolved to feed primarily on rice.
If uncooked rice caused birds to explode, there'd be bird parts scattered all over Asia.
I grew up in a rural area, so school and church activities often took place outside or had something to do with woodlands or wildlife. A common project to keep kids busy was to have them make a bird feeder. This would involve taking a pine cone or corn cob, smearing it with peanut butter, then rolling it in trays of nuts, seeds, grains, unpopped popcorn, rice, and other things we were told were good for the birds. Then we would hang them outside the window to watch the birds eat them.
Actually, the peanut butter get all soft and runny in the summer heat and we'd watch the nuts et al fall off the pine cone and into the grass.
The point being that pretty much everything I used to put in a bird feeder project, I was later told by one person or another would kill the birds. Peanut butter gums up their mouths, rice causes them to explode, nuts are too salty, grains are too tough, popcorn explodes, and I forget what else.
It makes me wonder if these people have ever owned birds as a pet.
One person even went so far as to ask me this: "If rice is so good for birds, and it's so cheap, why don't bird seed manufacturers put it in their feed mix?"
Good question. To answer it, I went to the nearest pet store and grabbed three bags of bird feed off the shelf. Two of the three listed some kind of rice as part of the mix.
So, back to the video. There were bubbles floating around in the background of one of the wedding scenes. There was no evidence of rice throwing. Even people making movies apparently believe this nonsense about rice causing birds to explode.
Or so I assumed. During an email exchange with one of the people involved in the production of the video, he mentioned that he suspected (was not the one who actually made the decision, so he didn't know for sure) that the use of soap bubbles and not rice had more to do with cleaning up the rice between takes and afterwards than any concern for the birds.
He was actually quite reasonable about it.