Al gets locked in the canola factory

Topi antelope

Ever since Al and I visited the supermarket and saw all the bottles of vegetable oil, standing in neat row after neat row upon the shelves, we knew this was a commodity of great importance in the world of humans. It must have something to do with the heart, we surmised, because of the red hearts on the packaging labels. When we later learned that canola, corn, sunflower and other oils are bio-fuels, the mystery was solved: Clearly, vegetable oils power the human heart.

“Hippo,” said Al, “we need to visit a processing plant. With something of such importance, we need to see it for ourselves.”

“You can pose as an inspector,” said Al. “I’ll ride under your hat, as usual.

So, I obtained a white lab coat, some glasses, and a hard hat. I strode into the reception area with the bearing of someone who’s a big deal. “I’m here to inspect your facility,” I said.

The receptionist looked impressed and maybe even a little nervous. “I’ll get the manager,” he said.

“So far so good,” I thought.

Three men and a woman arrived quickly, another good sign.

And then one of them said, “Let’s see your ID.” A bad sign.

Next thing I knew Al started jumping around and my hat flew off. Cover completely blown, I rapidly backed out the door.  “Let’s get out of here, Al.”

I heard the door slam. “Al?  . . . Al? . . . Where are you, Al?” I bellowed.

Al was trapped inside the oil factory.

I pounded on the massive metal door. No one came.  I slammed my body against it over and over and over with all my hippo strength. It was all I could think to do. I was out of my mind. Al was gone.

Many hours later, as darkness fell, humans started coming out of the building. I hid behind a wall, waiting for my chance to sneak past them so I could rescue Al.

Suddenly, there he was, flying out the door, looking as plucky as ever. “Oh Al,” I cried. “You’re OK!”

“Of course, I’m OK,” said Al brusquely.

After all my anguish, not to mention missing my daily beauty sleep, I felt irritated by Al’s cavalier manner. “I was very worried about you, Al. I thought I might never see you again.”

Al landed on my head and gave me gentle peck. I forgave him. I’m a big softie, I know.

Al had seen huge piles of bags full of something called canola seeds.  The seeds were moved through crushing machines and cooking machines. Oil was separated and held in metal tanks. Degumming and deodorizing followed,” said Al, “but there was so much going on, I just couldn’t get it all.”

We located an article with a flow chart that shows how oil is processsed and, according to Al’s first-hoof hand foot experience, it seemed accurate. This one was for processing canola oil, but the processes are very similar for corn, soy, and other industrially processed oils.

Much to our dismay, we also learned that most of the oil seeds are genetically modified, grown in monocultures that require weed killers, insect killers, petroleum-based fertilizers, and other technologies which are contributing to the problems facing our friends on the savanna and creatures around the world.

“What are we going to do? I wailed. “Humans need these oils to keep their hearts going.”

Al insisted we go back to the supermarket and look again. “With those glasses you got for the inspector costume, maybe you’ll be able to catch something that we missed before.”

Sure enough, right on the bottles it says they are for marinades, salad dressings, baking and cooking – not heart fuel. “But what about that big red heart with the words ‘Heart Healthy’ on the label?” I wondered aloud.

Then, on the side of the bottle corn oil, in very small letters, I found this: “1Tbsp of corn oil daily may reduce the risk of heart disease . . . FDA concludes there is little evidence supporting this claim.”

“Wow!” I said. “Why would they say that without proof?

“They want something,” said Al. “I don’t know what they want, but they want something. That’s for sure. It reminds me of the male topi antelope back home who sound alarm signals to keep their potential sexual partners from losing interest. I think this is what Huck Finn would call a stretcher.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions, Al,” I said, remembering my previous critical thinking blunders. “There might be another explanation.”