Bad Olive Oil Poisoned 1980s Spain
Forgery doesn't have to be of money. If the demand is right, unscrupulous individuals will even paint expired olives to look fresh. We've covered the far-reaching history of food fakery before, but never what happened to the people who ate such "food." At least a three-dollar bill never made an entire country sick.
In 1981, people across Spain were struck down with a bizarre illness that left them nauseous, short of breath, and in some cases suffering from heinous neurological disorders. However, the scariest part was that no one knew what was causing it. It was targeting men, women, children, and the elderly, all over the country, seemingly at random. It was only after the afflicted had their homes searched that the culprit was found: counterfeit olive oil. As it turns out, near 40 merchants across the country had been selling industrial rapeseed oil dosed with herbicide as olive oil, because they figured putting "poison rapeseed oil" on the label isn't great marketing.
Of course, as a grand gesture to the public, merchants sold this toxic goop at a very competitive rate, resulting in tons of families picking it up at market thinking they'd scored themselves a bargain -- which they did, but it was the kind you typically sign in blood and kills you in an ironic twist. By the time the crisis was halted, the illness known as "toxic oil syndrome" had killed over 700 people and hospitalized a further 20,000. The effects of the mass poisoning are still felt today. Survivors live with a variety of conditions, including muscular atrophy, bone deformities, and even paralysis.
On the plus side, justice prevailed, right? Nope, Spanish judges dismissed the murder charges, letting the merchants walk away from their massacre with only a hefty fine to pay. But at least we know how to cure it the next time it reappears, right? Nope, the illness is impossible to recreate in a lab setting, so we're totally unprepared for the next time some businesspeople want to make a quick buck by selling us fatally cheap cooking oil. Oh well, there's always butter.
Travelers On The Silk Road Spread Deadly Diseases By Wiping Their Butts With Sticks
Before it became synonymous with kids buying drugs with Bitcoin, the Silk Road was a 4,000-mile-long network of trading routes stretching across Asia. It was on this road that travelers shared the four C's of medieval journeys: companionship, culture, commodities, and contagious ass diseases.
In the days of yore, portable ass-wiping technology wasn't exactly in the forefront of human endeavor. When traveling, your options were to either do nothing and buy a new pair of underwear when you reached Greece or use a stick wrapped in fabric to Q-Tip your butthole. For a long time, archaeologists ignored these poo-sticks when found in one of their digs -- what use is petrified merchant diarrhea to our understanding of the past? But when archaeologists excavating a Silk Road relay station in the barren Taklamakan Desert looked at these sticks, they found a whole host of critters that shouldn't exist anywhere in a thousand-mile radius. It was, sadly for them, the highlight of their careers.
What they found were larvae from multiple species of parasite -- namely roundworm, whipworm, tapeworm, and the liver fluke. The latter is a particularly nasty bugger which induces fever, diarrhea, jaundice, liver abscesses, fatigue, and cancer. More importantly, the liver fluke only lives in marshlands, and therefore couldn't have originated in the Taklamakan without hitching a ride on someone's brown bus. Imagine traveling over a thousand miles with a cancer bug up your butt just to trade some cloth and learn a few letters of another alphabet. That's how our world prospered.
This discovery also suggests that the Silk Road wasn't just proving a highway for parasites -- it could have also provided a route for anything from the bubonic plague and anthrax and leprosy to rare diseases that set your blood on fire. So we guess it was a lot more similar to today's Silk Road than we're comfortable with.
Adam Wears is on Twitter and Facebook, and has a newsletter about depressing history that you can go right ahead and subscribe to. It's really good, honest.
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