Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Shelling out the big bucks

Published:Saturday | February 7, 2015 | 12:00 AM

I saw a cartoon many years ago that was extremely funny, especially as it put a completely different spin on the age-old question, "What came first, the chicken or the egg?"

In the drawing, a chicken and an egg are lying in bed. The chicken is stretched back, smoking a cigarette with a very satisfied smile across his face. The egg is frowning and looking extremely frustrated. The egg says, "Guess we answered that question."

The question that remains unanswered, and in fact, will never ever be solved, even in as unsatisfactory a manner as the chicken-and-egg parable, is who is the ancient cave dweller who made the decision to eat an egg despite what part of the dinosaur it emerged from.

To me, that unknown, unsung hero had to be either the most adventurous and bravest man alive or blind as an icaronycterus. While I do eat eggs, I sometimes wonder why, and also give the shell an extra wash just to make sure that no trace of its origin or passage remains. I am extremely squeamish about bits of eggshell remaining in my fried eggs or omelette.

I eat eggs at most once a fortnight. This is because I like my eggs hard-fried with lots of black pepper and no salt, mainly because of my tendency to high blood pressure. The problem is hard-fried egg with crispy whites is not a state arrived at by stinting on the oil.

I acquired the taste when young - my mother would put my egg into a smoking frying pan and brown both sides, put it in my 'hops' or 'salt bread' and I took it to school for lunch. Sometimes it was embellished by fried ripe plantain, and at other times, either the plantain or the egg was elevated by the addition of salt fish, also fried to a crisp.

absolute boredom

It is not something I would or can eat every day. Now, I eat my plantain grilled, my salt fish without salt and my egg rarely, not rare. I look at my 75-year-old friends eating egg fried in butter and bacon microwaved to a crisp and envy them. Especially when I ask for a well-toasted bagel with a tad of jelly spread thinly over the burnt offerings and crunch my way to absolute boredom.

How totally ungrateful I am and yet how lucky for avoiding eggs. Here I am blaming my youth and my genes for not being able to eat my hard-frieds and totally unaware that it is not just my health I am protecting, but what passes for wealth.

Given how soft-hearted I am already, if I ate eggs everyday, I would be totally bankrupt and not able to afford even one egg, especially at today's prices where you have to shell out a lot of money for eggs that in my youth cost a penny a dozen.

Now, psychologists from Leiden University in the Netherlands say that a compound found in eggs can increase generosity. In their study, the compound tryptophan made volunteers donate more money. Tryptophan, which eggs are rich in, is an amino acid that is converted in the body into the feel-good chemical serotonin. The substance is also marketed as a food supplement called TRP.

As the Daily Mail put it, "If you are looking for a loan, serving your bank manager breakfast might just do the trick." In experiments, the researchers found that consuming a small portion of tryptophan - the equivalent of that found in three eggs - doubled the sum volunteers gave to charity.

The authors carried out an experiment on 32 men and women, in which half were given a powder containing 0.8g of TRP, and the others were given a harmless placebo powder. Each participant was given £7.50 (US$11.25) for taking part in the research and asked whether they were willing to donate part of their financial reward to charity.

oxytocin

Four boxes for UNICEF, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and World Wildlife Fund were left on a table. When the psychologists counted the takings, they found that those given the TRP powder donated an average of 75p (US$1.15), while those who received the placebo donated half as much.

The scientists believe that oxytocin, known as the 'cuddle' or 'feel-good' hormone, might be responsible and point to the closeness of the areas of the brain associated with serotonin and oxytocin. They wrote, "It may be likely that the willingness to donate money to a charity is modulated by the effect that serotonin exerts on oxytocin levels."

Oxytocin is released in response to physical touch and is associated with maternal nurturing, social attachments, childbirth and sex. It is essential for healthy muscle maintenance and repair. The hormone is injected to induce labour and a new study claims it could one day be used to slow down muscle wasting in the elderly.

Psychology Today says, "Oxytocin is a powerful hormone. When we hug or kiss a loved one, oxytocin levels drive up. It also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. In fact, the hormone plays a huge role in pair bonding. Prairie voles, one of nature's most monogamous species, produce oxytocin in spades. This hormone is also greatly stimulated during sex, birth, breastfeeding - the list goes on."

The research also helps to prove we are what we eat, and with lots of oxytocin in their system, egg eaters will take generous helpings of almost anything that is in front of them.

n Tony Deyal was last seen saying if any egg causes him to give away his money, he will beat the heck out of it.