Gum is an evil we don’t need

Cassie Dickman, cdickman@lmcexperience.com

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If I were an evil dictator, the first thing to go would be gum. Everything from making it, distributing it, purchasing it and chewing it would be illegal. Thus creating my own version of prohibition – only more logical and beneficial to society – and those found violating the restrictions would face dire, if not brutal, consequences. Even a guy like Al Capone wouldn’t step to my strong arm of the law.

The realization that the world would be a better place without the diabolical chewing rubber came on slowly. This intolerance has a debatable starting point, but a case could be made for a few years ago when a woman sat behind me at a gymnastics center chewing – if that’s what you could call it. Now, normally gum smacking is associated with the inexperienced youngster trying to get the hang of controlling it or a rebellious teenager symbolically using their mouth to flip off their parents or society without uttering a single syllable. That is irritating enough, but she was a grown woman in her sixties.

Smack, smack, chomp, chomp, she went on with no remorse. My reaction was reminiscent of what happens when a child continually pokes you to get attention. At first you ignore the light sensation, because you are trying to pay a bill over the phone and you have finally got a real person on the line after about an hour of fighting with the automated system created by bureaucrats to steal your sense of hope. But then something changes; the once-innocent tapping starts to cause your arm to twitch under the repetitive assaults by tiny fingers. It starts to feel as if an imminent threat is being launched against the long-overdue payment plan you are trying to set up. Then it happens – you snap. The child runs from the room crying in fear and the arrogant lady on the other end of the telephone line hangs up, and all you are left with is the destruction and your shutoff cell phone – coincidentally, the same effects of a massive natural disaster. Now, I didn’t actually yell or have a grown-person tantrum – because I have been socially conditioned against such behavior – but the looks I shot this lady were fierce and my angry sighs telling.

Although my eardrums still quake at the memory and this is most likely when my views of chewing gum took a dark and irreversible turn, the person responsible for gum in the first place seems the more appropriate place to lay the blame. So, I did what any rational person does to discover the unknown answer to a question that angers them: I Googled it.

Articles from websites such as Simthsonian.com, Wrigley.com and, Chewinggumfacts.com — yes, there is a site dedicated to information pertaining solely to gum — spewed facts about history, statistics and origins. It turns out some form of the substance has been around for at least 9,000 years — scientists have discovered three samples in Europe they believe were chewed by “a caveman teenager.” Although its original form wasn’t the sugar-filled elastic substance we know today, traces of gum’s ancestors have been found in the ancient, as well as modern, societies of Native Americans, Mayans, Aztecs, Swiss, Greeks, Turks and Scandinavians. Each country or people at some point derived chewy substances from plants or trees to quench thirst, deter hunger, clean teeth or freshen breath.

This long history of chewing isn’t a problem. The issue I have is with the man who had the bright idea to take gum from the level of local practicality to mainstream nuisance.

His name was John Bacon Curtis and in the 1840s he developed the first commercial spruce tree gum and in the 1850s built the first chewing gum factory in Portland, Maine. Although this original product wasn’t great — it tasted bad and its texture didn’t hold up in the chewing process — like most inventions, others came afterward improving upon the original design and recipe. Unfortunately, all this innovation led to a modern industry worth about $19 billion with 115 chewing gum factories worldwide – 30 of which reside in the U.S. – producing 1.74 trillion sticks of gum each year. It is estimated on average 280 sticks of that lump sum are consumed per person. Do you know what all this means? Every person you encounter in a year has 280 chances to pop and smack their way to wreaking havoc on your sanity.

So, let’s all give a big thanks to Mr. Curtis for creating the gateway into this madness. But hope for a better future might not be out of reach just yet. All we have to do is remind the gum enthusiasts out there, about to pop their flavored rubber in their mouths, that there is a future dictator waiting in the shadows for the chance to bring back the stocks.

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