Jim Bishop: Quick on the draw(l) with a flavor straw

Some may accuse me of grasping at straws by reflecting on these everyday “labor-saving devices,” but ever stop and think how handy these ubiquitous little suckers are?

While starting this treatise, I’m sipping a cold, refreshing iced tea with lemon from a large paper cup through a wonderfully over-sized plastic straw. The straw passes through a lid on the container help prevent the drink from spilling onto the keyboard should I accidentally knock it over.

Why can’t all straws be that practical and durable, I ask? Too many places dispense straws that aren’t much larger than those plastic coffee stirrers. Or they’re so flimsy that if you draw on them the least bit hard, they collapse. Now that’s the last straw.

For the record, straws have been around a long time. According to the examiner.com web site, Marvin C. Stone of Washington, D.C., invented the modern drinking straw in 1888, but he only improved upon it. Historians found Egyptians were the first to use drinking straws for sipping beer. Legend says that the straws helped them from drinking the sediment that was prevalent at the time, no evidence has been found to corroborate this. According to a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet, ancient Sumarians sipped a communal drink through a reed straw.

Stone’s first straw was created by winding strips of paper around a pencil. After removing the pencil, he glued the strips of paper together. He later refined his design and used paraffin-coated paper which kept the straws from getting soggy.

American inventor Joseph B. Friedman (1900-1982) of Cleveland, Ohio, is credited with the creation of the flexible drinking straw in 1937. According to a Wikipedia article, he came up with the idea after observing his young daughter struggling to drink out of a straight straw. He developed and manufactured his own straws, starting in 1939, mostly to hospitals at first, as the Flex-Straw Company. The corporation sold its patents, trademarks and licensing agreements to the Maryland Cup Corporation and dissolved in 1969.

Straws have uses beyond serving as a conduit for one’s favorite drink. I’ve heard of drawing straws to decide who gets tossed overboard to keep the lifeboat from sinking in the storm or, on a less serious note, to determine which side – or position – one plays on in a back lot softball game.

In my youth, I thought that using two straws at once was incredibly cool. I could imbibe my beverage of choice – Kool-Aid, soft drinks, Nestle’s Quik, ice cream floats – twice as fast so I could quickly return to the ‘fridge for seconds or resume hassling my siblings.

Anyone remember Flavor Straws? I can’t remember exactly when they were popular or who first made them, but I sure imbibed my fair share of milk this way. The straw had a fiber-like insert near the top that was infused with a particular flavor – vanilla and chocolate at first, then additional flavors came along. The taste usually “gave out” before all the milk was consumed, leaving a sickly colored residue – especially strawberry, that tasted somewhat like Pepto-Bismo. Wonder if the USDA shut down this enterprise before someone figured out exactly what toxic ingredients were embedded in the cylinder?

Most straws are simply inadequate for sucking up nearly frozen concoctions such as a thick milkshake, a Wendy’s Frosty© or root beer float. I find myself using the straw to help beat the soluble liquid into submission. Then there’s the “problem” with the larger, more durable straws that I prefer of having lemon seeds drawn up the inside and getting stuck there.

Are there times when use of a straw is deemed, er, tasteless?

I recall the scene in “The Muppet Movie” when Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are about to savor a romantic dining experience. The waiter, Steve Martin, brings two martinis and asks Kermit, “Do you want straws?” “Yes,” please,” Kermit replies. “I knew you would,” Martin sneers.

It’s a shame that in most cases, having served their noble purpose, straws wind up in the trash, along with their paper or plastic wrappers. My good wife frequently puts our heavy-duty flexible straws in the dishwasher for reuse another day.

Without sucking up to anybody, here’s a tip: take a sip from your lip and slip an appreciative quip to the developers and manufacturers of this under-appreciated commodity, the drinking straw, for the ability they provide to slip a nip of liquid refreshment.

But, heaven forbid that I’ll ever feel compelled to write a second philosophical discourse on this topic.

Now that would be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
 
 

Jim Bishop is public information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at bishopj@emu.edu.

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