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Is there such a thing as cow tipping? I have two friends, both sons of farmers. One says it can be done and is great sport. The other says no way. Do cows sleep standing up? Can they be tipped? I suppose this will take some late-night research.

--Robert Schreur, Baltimore

Not on your life, ace. Fortunately for the cause of science, there are many goofs eager to rush in where Cecil would just as soon not tread. I'm told there really is a rural pastime called cow tipping, which is favored by likkered-up country kiddies with nothing better to do on a Saturday night. (One presumes all the sheep were busy.) The cow is easy prey for pranksters since it's one of a number of critters (the horse is another) that sleeps standing up with its knees locked.

I recently discussed the fine points of cow tipping with a reformed tipper named Robin, who had done it (once) as a student. Robin attended Albion College in Michigan, a school so snooty it's said the students read The Preppie Handbook without realizing it was satirical. Despite their pretensions, however, Albionians were mad for cow tipping.

The usual modus operandi, Robin told me, was to get tanked at some frat party and then drive out with a half dozen of your most brainless friends to some nearby farmer's field. While the rest of the group watched from a safe distance, the two most daring lunatics took off their shoes, climbed over the fence, snuck up on a dozing cow, pushed, and then ran like hell.

Watching a cow tip over apparently is the sort of Zen experience that only those with higher consciousness or a couple six-packs under their belts can properly appreciate. Remember that film snippet from the TV show Laugh-In where the guy riding the tiny tricycle suddenly falls over? Same deal. Once down, the cow awakened, got pissed, scrambled up, ran around, and usually rousted out the rest of the herd, resulting in pandemonium. Sounds like a hoot.

Farmers, of course, aren't crazy about cow tipping because the cow might get hurt. On the bright side, there's also a chance one of the idiot students might get killed, which has to be a comfort. Happily for the cows, tipping is the sort of thing even the most desperate only feel compelled to do once, and most people never feel compelled to do at all. Obviously the dairy industry's public education program ("Please, No Tipping") has finally paid off.

I saw a chemist's demonstration where a bowl of Total cereal was soaked in hot water (to dissolve the cereal). Then a white magnet was placed in the solution. Upon removal, the magnet was covered with tiny specks of metal, apparently iron. A white magnet placed into a packet of "iron fortified" instant oatmeal and shaken around will also come out covered with tiny iron filings. Are these filings actually nutritious, or is this some terrible joke so these products can claim to be "iron fortified"? --William B. Stockton, Washington, D.C.

You thought when they said "iron added" they were kidding? Different iron compounds may be used in different products and the particles may be of different sizes, all of which affects how "biologically available" the stuff is. But yes, when a product says "iron fortified," that often means they put iron filings into it--tiny ones, let me hasten to add, on the order of a few dozen microns in diameter. The particles can range from straight powdered iron ("reduced iron") to compounds such as ferrous sulfate and ferric phosphate. The stuff is "harmless and assimilable," it says here, and your body definitely needs it. Iron deficiency is very common in the U.S., and at one time the Food and Drug Administration even considered asking that higher levels of iron be added to more foods. (The plan died because of fears that more iron might trigger certain rare diseases.) Just don't try walking through an airport metal detector after eating your cornflakes. For more information on iron and other food additives, read The Complete Eater's Digest and Nutrition Scoreboard by Michael Jacobson (1985).

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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