Today, going against my basic nature, I must stand up in defense of a politician who’s been the target of some recent ridicule.
Mitt Romney turned 72 on March 12. Belated happy birthday. Dude looks good. Romney is a politician. At any given moment in American history, I lose track of whether he’s in office or out of office or running for office or even what state he lives in. I think he’s now mayor of Butte, Montana, or something like that. He ran for president (I think of the United States) several times, but I don’t believe he won. You should be able to look that up.
On his recent birthday, Romney shared a video of himself with a birthday cake on Twitter. But not just any birthday cake. A special birthday cake. A Romney birthday cake.
“My team surprised me with a cake made out of my favorite snack — twinkies! Looking forward to all this year has in store,” he wrote in the tweet.
A couple of things here. First, how did a guy who professes his allegiance to Twinkies not get elected president? (I'll pause while you amuse yourself with a little joke about our current president’s nutrition regimen.) Second, it’s Twinkies, not twinkies, because it’s a registered trademark of Hostess Brands for its popular golden sponge cake with creamy filling. How important are Twinkies to Hostess? The company’s NASDAQ symbol is TWNK, that’s how important.
(As some sage sometime so sagely saged, it's scientifically solid that the three things best equipped to survive when all else is gone from God's good green earth are Twinkies, armadillos and Cher.)
“Look at that!” Romney says on the video as he internalizes the full glory of a cake constructed of 24 Twinkies, each festooned with a birthday candle. “Holy cow!”
FYI, “Holy cow!” is what people like Romney involuntarily exclaim when overwhelmed by the combined forces of excitement, ecstasy and the real-life, rapturelike realization of their wildest dreams.
And then he blew out the candles. But not the way most Americans do. He pulled each one individually from the cake and extinguished it with focused exhalation. So, yes, he blew out his birthday candles. But, no, he didn’t utilize the generally accepted protocol of blowing them out in unison while they were on the cake.
For this nontraditional effort, Romney drew the full snark of the world.
“This is the most bizarre technique for blowing out birthday candles that I’ve ever witnessed,” tweeted journalist Bradford Pearson. “Mitt Romney is a deeply weird dude.”
From the New York Times’ Julie Davis: “Just think if this had surfaced during the 2012 election. ‘New video of Republican presidential nominee extinguishing birthday candles by removing them 1 by 1 from his cake and blowing on them individually has raised new questions. …’”
At this point, I have a question for you: OK if I blow on your lunch before you eat it?
Thank you, Sioux City Councilman (or whatever and wherever you are now) Romney. Thank you for opening my eyes to the weirdness of eating a piece of birthday cake after somebody else (perhaps a germ-hosting 6-year-old) blew on it.
Ick. And retroactive ick for all those birthday parties I’ve attended at which I ate blown-on birthday cake. I’m lucky to be alive. And so are you, if you’ve ever eaten birthday cake after somebody else blew on it.
“The Journal of Food Research reported that blowing out candles on a birthday cake increases the amount of bacteria on frosting by 1,400 percent,” according to NBC in 2017.
From the abstract atop the Journal of Food Research’s 2017 study: “Preliminary tests of blowing on nutrient agar indicated that bioaerosols in human breath expelled from the mouth may be a source of bacteria transferred to cake surfaces. To test aerosol transfer to cake, icing was spread evenly over foil, then birthday candles were placed through the foil into a Styrofoam base. After consuming pizza, test subjects were asked to extinguish the candles by blowing."
(We must assume the pizza was introduced to fully simulate a kid's birthday party. There also might have been a pony ride.)
“Icing samples were sterilely recovered then surface plated to determine the level of bacterial contamination. Blowing out the candles over the icing surface resulted in 1,400 percent more bacteria compared to icing not blown on. Due to the transfer of oral bacteria to icing by blowing out birthday candles, the transfer of bacteria and other microorganisms from the respiratory tract of a person blowing out candles to food consumed by others is likely.”
You know what that means, don’t you? Me neither, but it doesn’t sound good. And 1,400 percent sounds like a lot.
From the results section of the study: "Birthday celebrations routinely include the ceremonial blowing out of candles on top of a cake. Some food safety concern exists in light of previous research on bioaerosols generated by breathing, coughing and speaking supported by the results of the present study finding that bacterial levels averaged 15 times higher in icing due to blowing out candles."
You should know that the report also includes these words: "staphylococcus," "streptococcus," "corynebacterium," "haemophilus" and "neisseria."
This is why we must be thankful for inventor Michael Tropeano, who applied in 2008 for a patent for his “sanitary birthday covering and candle system for use with a birthday cake, having a sanitary cover, a plurality of candles and a serving tray.”
From his application: "After you blow out the candles, and pull the candles out of the cake, divots are left that ruin the cake's appearance. But, that's not the most important problem. The blowing out of the candles presents an even bigger dilemma because when someone blows out the candles they inevitably blow out saliva, food spat and thousands of germs. Who wants to eat a cake with live bacteria and germs sprayed thereon? In addition, everyone who has been to a child's birthday party knows that there is always the curious finger or two dipped into the frosting. The current invention seeks to eliminate these problems entirely.”
And that’s why, to this very day, you see Tropeano's invention, the one for which he won a Nobel Prize, on most birthday cakes. In fact, it's mandatory in California.
OK, so it didn’t catch on (not even in California) and no Nobel (but he should get a NoGerm). But now, maybe with Romney doing the infomercials, perhaps its day has come.
Romney’s right. The lambasters should retract their lambastes and apologize forthwith. And, when it comes to birthday cakes, we should all do as Romney does.
"I have a bit of a cold," he told TMZ, "and I didn't want to spray my germs all over the Twinkies for everybody else to eat."
A grateful nation gives its thanks.
Oh, and I probably should mention that several medical experts quoted in the NBC story said there’s little to no health hazard in eating birthday cake after somebody blew on it.
Who are you going to follow? Some lab-coated, petri-dished scientists who’ve spent their professional lives studying this stuff, or a guy who’s the Sioux Falls sheriff or something?