Author: Lucy Mayblin
Type: Undergraduate coursework, University of Birmingham, UK.
Availability: in full, below.
Page reference: Mayblin, L. (2004) Chewing gum. followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/chewinggum.shtml last accessed <insert date here>)
I really enjoy the walk into Uni. Striding out, breathing in the morning air. Just me, my socks, my shoes and the pavement working in perfect harmony, like a well-oiled machine. We’re out on our own in the urban wilderness doing what we do best, what we came together to do. S#*t. Trod in some chewing gum. Can’t walk properly, the gum is sticking shoe and pavement together, interrupting the flow of the system. I hate chewing gum, never chew it. Yet here it is, invading my life. The chewer must have only dropped it a minute ago. Their DNA, now stuck to the bottom of my shoe, could tell me all kinds of intimate details about their life, a life which has intruded upon my own and stuck to me like a parasite.
The story that brought this gum to my shoe is mind-bogglingly complex. A little research – starting with the information printed on a pack of gum.¹ – brings stories of factory workers in Plymouth (the only UK Wrigley ² factory), the fact that E903 (a.k.a. carnauba wax) is also the main ingredient of car polish (see Anon 2004a, 2006c), and allegations of the carcinogenic effects of Acesulfame K (a.k.a. acetoacetamide: see Anon 2004c) … I could go on. For ever. It seems. Through more surprising connections. Like the one made shortly after the 9/11 attacks between the ‘gum arabic’ trade and the ‘war on terror’:
‘Early this morning I was listening to the news. One of the commentators said that Osama Bin Laden owns a HUGE amount of stock in the company that makes Gum Arabic. Gum Arabic is known to be in some Soft drinks and many other food items. Check your cupboards and refrigerators, if you have products that use Gum Arabic get rid of them and do not buy products with the Gum Arabic additive. If we continue to use these products that contain Gum Arabic we are in essence supporting this man’s terrorist attacks against OUR FELLOW AMERICANS! One thing that the US helps Osama Bin Laden is, he owns the COMPANY that makes GUM ARABIC mostly used in pop “MOUNTAIN DEW” IS ONE OF THEM, and other things. GUM ARABIC keeps things from settling in bottles and cans. STOP BUYING ANYTHING WITH GUM ARABIC IN ITS CONTENTS. THE MONEY Goes to Bin Laden company. PLEASE SEND THIS TO EVERYONE. This was on the news today’ (Mikkelson 2001 np: see Anon 2001, Bentham 2001).
So, that anonymous chewer wasn’t just littering that street (and my shoe), but was also helping to fund international terrorism. I feel better. I never chew gum. So I’m not responsible for any of this. What a relief!
But wait. Hold on a sec. The whitening agent in chewing gum is the same chemical that makes my acrylic paint white. Gum Arabic is used in all kinds of sweeteners for foods and drinks, not to mention pill capsules and makeup (Anon 2004a). I put many of those things into or onto my body. Every day. I couldn’t be myself without many of them. My trainers wouldn’t work the way they do without elastomers, the ingredient that gives gum its rubbery texture and cushions my feet. Chewing gum shares properties with car tyres, shock absorbers and glues. So, a stick of gum could be produced from my body and its attachments. I am a walking stick of chewing gum. Its/my ingredients. Related. Blimey.
¹ A box next to the barcode on the back of the packet said: “The Wrigley Company Ltd., Plymouth, Devon, PL6 7PR, England. 10 Pieces. Sugarfree coated chewing gum with Sweetners. Ingredients: Sweetners (Maltitol, Sorbitol, Mannitol, Aspartame, Acesulfame K), Gum Base, Thickener Gum Arabic, Flavourings Humectant Glycerine (Non-Animal), Colour (E171), Glazing Agent (E903), Antioxidant (E320). Contains a Source of Phenylalanine, Excessive Consumption May Produce Laxative Effects.”
² This was most likely to be Wrigley’s, as they account for 86% of chewing gum sales in the UK (Anon 2003). The nature of this gum (white, minty) increases the chances of it belonging to the Wrigley brand as the remaining 14% of market share includes coloured bubble gums.
A rolled up piece of A4 paper placed in a shoe, with chewing gum on sole, stuck to desk when submitted.
Anon (2001) The Bin Laden/Gum Arabic Connection. About: urban legends and folklore(http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/blgum-arabic.htm last accessed 1 October 2004)
Anon (2004a) Carnauba wax. Encyclopedia Britannica (www.britannica.com/eb/article-9020399/carnauba-wax last accessed 1 October 2004)
Anon (2006c) Carnauba wax. wikipedia.org (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnauba_wax last accessed 3 January 2007)
Anon (2004c) Aspartame kills. aspartamekills.com (www.aspartamekills.com last accessed 29 September 2004)
Barbara Mikkelson (2001) Stop Osama Bin Laden, Don’t Eat Gum Arabic Products! snopes.com(www.snopes.com/rumors/arabic.htm last accessed 20 September 2004)
Cook, I., Evans, J., Griffiths, H., Mayblin, L., Payne, R. & Roberts, D. (2007). ‘Made In… ?’ Appreciating the Everyday Geographies of Connected Lives? Teaching Geography (Summer), p.80-83 (www.youngpeoplesgeographies.co.uk/download/YPG_TGSum07Cook.pdf last accessed 16 January 2011)
Posted by Ian Cook et al (last updated 16 January 2011). Page created as coursework for the ‘Geographies of material culture’ module at Birmingham University. Reproduced with permission of the author.