Not so very long ago, I was wandering about at random with my children, when we happened upon a small market (or equivalent) selling a wide variety of spicy sauces, spicy condiments, spicy salsas, and, as far as I could tell, not much else. In a boldly calculated move to entice customers, the retail establishment had set out some corn chips with a selection of relishes and seasonings. At least in the case of my offspring, this marketing technique was overwhelmingly successful. From the way they ate, you would think my progeny had been stranded in a lifeboat for two weeks with only bananas to eat. (Actually, they had a supply of doughnuts in the lifeboat, as well as both oranges and bananas.) And in my case too, the commercial strategy succeeded at least somewhat: I bought a bottle of spicy sauce only because I would have felt sheepish not to have purchased anything when accompanied by such voracious children.
The result of this shopping expedition was that I found myself with a bottle of their spiciest hot sauce. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I started eating the sauce on my daily doughnut, and I discovered that, whatever the intentions of the shop—I can only assume their motives were benevolent, although I have my private qualms—eating the stuff was painful. The immediate effects included (but were not limited to) a burning sensation on the tongue, a biting feeling on the lips, a blistering tingle around the base of the nose, and tears of pain in the eyes.
So I fell to wondering: how does a store manage to keep itself in business selling a product whose only effects are pain and suffering? Why do people pay money to eat spicy food? Really, I am altogether unable to answer this question However, I do have two plausible theories:
- There is a spice muscle which is strengthened by exercise. So, just as the pain of lifting weights makes your biceps, or something like that, stronger—I do not speak from personal experience here, but I gather that this is the theory—the pain of eating spicy condiments makes your spice muscles stronger. Although, while I can understand (although not sympathize with) the desire to have stronger biceps, I have no idea why anyone would want stronger spice muscles.
- Eating spicy food makes you thirsty, which makes drinking beer more enjoyable.
- Aliens from the fourth or fifth dimension are conducting experiments on human beings for purposes which we cannot begin to guess at.
Whether these theories have any truth in them is an entirely open question. What is certain, and what I hope to have shown by means of these reflections, is that, if you have been at sea in a lifeboat with hungry children, you should stay clear of shops specializing in spicy condiments.
“En Masse Dried Spicy Red Peppers,” by Pink Sherbet Photography from USA. CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.