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Eating Snow

It's been an unusual winter here in Washington, D.C., with dozens inches of snow so far in a region that usually escapes with a mere dusting. I grew up in Vermont, so waking up to white-washed views still makes me smile (at least, until I remember that I no longer live in the shadow of a ski resort...

It's been an unusual winter here in Washington, D.C., with dozens inches of snow so far in a region that usually escapes with a mere dusting. I grew up in Vermont, so waking up to white-washed views still makes me smile (at least, until I remember that I no longer live in the shadow of a ski resort), but I'm clearly in the minority. With another significant storm forecast for the weekend, local news reports are full of man-on-the-street quotes along the lines of, "I'm so sick of snow!"

Snow cream, courtesy Flickr user Chris Breeze

Which, tangentially, reminds me of a rumor I've often heard: eating snow makes you sick. Is that really true? I often put snow and icicles in my mouth while playing outside as a kid, and don't recall any ill effects. And although snow is more like a plate than an ingredient in my favorite winter treat, sugar on snow, I always end up eating some of it in the process.

According to this 2008 Associated Press article, yes, snow does contain bacteria. In fact, bacteria form the foundation of some snowflakes! But hey, life is full of bacteria; they're not all harmful. The AP article notes that studies have not examined how humans are affected by consuming snow-borne bacteria. It offers a quote from a pediatrician who is "not aware of any clinical reports of children becoming ill from eating snow," but cautions against "a meal of snow."

Googling "eat snow" turns up all sorts of fluff. There's an "eating snow" fan page on Facebook, at least two tongue-in-cheek YouTube videos about cooking with snow, and several snow-related recipes. Snow cream, a mixture of snow, sugar, milk and vanilla, sounds pretty good!

There are also snowy drink ideas: one food writer recommends a "snow julep;" another likes a "snow margarita." And hey, speaking of putting weird things in coffee...okay, yeah, that would probably just make for cold, watery coffee. But you could make coffee using snow, like this guy did.

In other words, there's no consensus on resolving this deep matter. Eat snow at your own risk. Just make sure it's white.
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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