“How does it taste, Pops?” Emmy asked, “Delicious?”
I was eating a bowl of cereal, the kind with clumps of dried vanilla yogurt in it. “Wouldn’t go that far.”
“But you like it, right? You love it.” Emmy was 13. She was in 7th grade at her crunchy San Francisco school.
“Its okay,” I said.
“But you bought it and you decided to have it for breakfast today? No one made you, right?’
“Where is this going?’
“I just want to make clear that my father likes to eat beaver butt.”
“Excuse me,” I said, “beaver butt?”
“That is what I said. Beaver butt. I am glad you find it so tasty. So scrumptious.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your cereal is made from beaver butt. Actually it is made from the anus of a beaver. That is the scientific term.”
“What are you talking about?”
Emmy whipped out her iPhone and began to thumb and scroll furiously. She arrived at the place she wanted. “Here we go…” She began to read: “Castoreum – An extract made from dried, ground-up sacs located by the anal glands of beavers. It can be added to foods (especially as vanilla flavoring…)”
“And you are saying that there is Case…, what did you call it?”
“…Castoreum, in my cereal?”
“How do you know that?”
“I read the label.”
“Let me see.” I grabbed the box. I was having something called “Honey Bunch of Oats” with the subheading of “Greek Honey Crunch” and the further explication “Greek Yogurt + Whole Grain”.
“Wow, I said, “the type on the label is tiny. Can you actually read this?”
“I am not old.”
“Neither am I.”
“Hah!” she snorted.
I squinted at the label. I used the tip of my spoon as a pointer and slowly made my way through the tiny print. “Hah!” I snorted, completely out-snorting the indignity of her snort, “There is no mention of Castoreum.”
“Where? Show me.”
“Here.” She used her spoon to point to the label.
“That doesn’t say castoreum. It says ‘natural flavors’.
“That’s not the same thing. Natural means wholesome and delicious and good for you. And expensive.”
“Nope. ” She resorted again to her iPhone:
“these glands produce potent secretions that help the animals mark their territory in the wild. In the food industry, however, 1,000 pounds of the unsavory ingredient are used annually to imbue foods—usually vanilla or raspberry flavored—with a distinctive, musky flavor. You’ll find it in: Potentially any food containing “natural ingredients”
“Damn.” I said. “Where’d you find out about this?”
“We studied it in science class. You really need to know what you eat, Pops.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
“Happy to help.”
Jay Duret is a San Francisco based writer and illustrator who blogs at www.jayduret.com. Second Wind published his YA novel Nine Digits in December. See the book trailer here. Kirkus Reviews said, “A quote on the novel’s back cover compares it to Norton Juster’s 1961 classic The Phantom Tollbooth, and… Duret’s book really does begin to approach the witty, imaginative, and accessible brilliance of that genre-busting work.”