I have never understood chickens’ reproductive system, even though I have been curious about it for years and I always had access to a library. However, I have finally rectified the situation by the magic of the internet, and I learnt some fascinating facts. Did you know that avian sperm remains viable at body temperature? That is why a cock has no, well, you understand. The papilla, which is sometimes called a penis though it is not one, dispenses but does not penetrate. The testes are internal, as well. Moreover, the hen has sperm host glands that can keep sperm for two weeks. I thought only insects had such abilities. I also discovered that the “blood spots” that you sometimes find on yolks have nothing to do with the developing chicken. Rather, when the yolk leaves the ovary, it sometimes takes some of the blood vessels that surround the yolk with it. I also read that the hen mobilizes half of her body’s calcium from her bones to make egg shells, though I am not sure what that means. I surmise that a hen has a certain amount of calcium in her bloodstream that can be used in the shell making process, but perhaps she supplements this with calcium from her bones that she can replenish during periods of rest. That seems like a bad idea, but I am neither God nor a biologist. I suppose that it is an efficient use of resources.
I always suspected that chicken sex was cool. If you are similarly curious, the University of Kentucky has instructive sheets for the female reproductive system and the male reproductive system.
Last month, my vegetarian brother and his vegetarian girlfriend informed me about shellac. Apparently, the coat on most shiny candy is due to shellac, a resin secreted by the female lac bug, Kerria lacca. Shellac is often listed as confectioner’s glaze, which I sadly found on the ingredients list of Ferrara Pan’s Boston Baked Beans. Adam told me that shellac is used to make Jelly Belly jellybeans smooth and pretty. I looked them up online, and the company uses shellac and beeswax in their candy making. Am I to give up beautiful candy? Candy corn, can I forsake thee?
I have mixed feelings. I do not object to beeswax or honey because I do not have a problem with consuming animal products that do not necessarily result in critter killing. Of course, the practice of beekeeping invariably kills some bees—some of those workers will not get out of the way when one is working with the hive’s frames. Yet, that killing is accidental. Avoiding honey for such a reason would be like refusing to drink wine because occasionally vineyard workers may die of heatstroke. Is shellac, then, like honey?
Not quite. The lac bugs form shellac as protective barriers and corridors along the trees whose sap they eat. When men harvest the shellac, they invariably kill many of the lac bugs. In a way, shellac is like honey and beeswax, but the collateral damage is practically much higher.
On the other hand, lac bugs are scale insects. If you have never battled scales on your houseplants, then perhaps you do not realize the genocidal hatred that they may induce. I hate scales that colonize my poor, defenseless scheffleras. Their resin secretions cause fits of anger and battles of horticultural oil. I know that I should not hold the whole family of scales responsible, but I am tempted to hate lacs conveniently. Maybe, I should munch a few handfuls of Whoppers before I carry out my periodic massacres just to add insult to
Aside from my fiendish dislike of scales, the hypocrisy of my lacto-ovo vegetarianism tempers my willingness to give up shellac. Ideally, I can eat unfertilized chicken eggs and enjoy milk and other dairy products without such nourishment’s requiring any death. As a matter of fact, though, the egg and dairy industries involve the untimely deaths of chickens and cattle—almost all males and then the older, less productive females. For such reasons, I often consider becoming a vegan. I periodically go months on a vegan diet without much trouble, but I would worry about the long term effects of continual veganism. And I love cheese. A lot.
I have not decided what to do about shellac. I am still working my way through the Boston Baked Beans that I received in my Easter basket. After that, I shall probably avoid shellac candy but not fanatically abstain . . . somewhat like an American Jew’s form of keeping kosher.
Last week, I read one of those “heartwarming” stories for which I am a total sucker. Vicky Thornley from Christchurch had not been able to return to her office for four and a half months because the damage from the February earthquake was so extensive. Safety workers were finally able to escort the woman to her office in the damaged district around High Street at the beginning of July. There, to everyone’s amazement, they found two of the office goldfish alive in the reception area aquarium. The fish had outlasted an earthquake, building damage, and one hundred thirty-four days without food or the electricity that ran the filter: “New Zealand goldfish survive 134 days without food.” The fish lived on the tank’s plant life and possibly threw a Donner Party. The survivors, Shaggy and Daphne, have since joined Thornley’s son’s aquarium.