An Outlook

One of the advantages of writing a column for as many years as I have been writing one is that, when life becomes too complicated to meet a deadline, I can go into my archive of columns and find something to fill the void. The following was originally published 10 years ago when Andrew was five-years-old and Molly was 10. You will note that I haven’t changed too terribly much in the past 10 years.


Tonight (Sunday) at the dinner table, Molly was taking me to task for working on the Sunday crossword. When I commented that her suggestion had been noted on the official record but that I was going to continue working on my crossword puzzle she replied, “Fine. Then I’m just going to sit here and read the label on the dressing.”

Andrew, of course, wasn’t about to be left out of this conversation. He chimed in with “When Molly’s done I want to read the label.”

“Andrew,” I said calmly, “you can’t even read yet, so it would be a waste of time for you to ‘read’ the dressing label.”

“No,” Andrew replied, indignantly, “I read the words in my head.”

Since I had no real desire to start an argument, I acquiesced, saying, “Okay, when Molly’s done, she’ll let you ‘read’ the label. I can’t wait to see if you have the word ‘riboflavin’ floating around somewhere in your head.”

“What exactly is ‘riboflavin,’ Daddy,” asked Molly.

“You know, Hon’,” I replied, setting down my pen, and adopting my most thoughtful tone, “That’s a good question.”

When I looked across the table I noticed that Barb had taken on that “Here We Go Again” look, but I was undeterred. “Think about the packaged foods you pick up that, when you take the time to scan the ingredients list ‘riboflavin.’ How do they put riboflavin in the food? Do they have a big tub just sitting around filled with riboflavin and every time they’re making a fresh batch of whatever it is they’re making, they add a few scoops of riboflavin? Does some quality control specialist check to see if each batch has enough riboflavin or – tempting the Fates – too much riboflavin? Does riboflavin add anything to the taste of the foods? I wonder.”

Molly simply stared at me for a moment and then said, “Just eat your dinner, Dad.”

“Yeah,” Andrew chimed in, “you’re weird.”

Despite the lack of interest from the rest of my family, I continued to wonder. And so, when they were all finally in bed (including my wife), I decided it was time to do some research on the riboflavin issue, and where better to go (particularly when the hour is late) than the Internet.

I began my cyber-foray at my favorite search engine: Typing in riboflavin yielded 6,153 matches in 0.32 seconds. This was slightly more that I expected. Still, after perusing the first 30 listings I did find a site with some rather interesting information.

Many of you probably know that riboflavin is actually the vitamin B2. It is water-soluble and helps the body produce energy. It promotes growth, good vision, and healthy skin. The RDA (recommended daily allowance) is 1.3 mg for a woman or 1.6 mg for a pregnant woman [Note:  I didn’t find a precise number for men, but I think it is safe to assume that men would fall within this region, as well].

This wasn’t the interesting portion of the site, however. The best part of the site was where they listed “good food sources of riboflavin” (and no, ‘Cheerios and Frosted Flakes are not on the list).

Folks, clip this portion of the column, start revising your menus, and head to the grocery store. No one will eat this crap, but at least you’ll be able to say that you’ve been preparing healthy foods at home.

3 oz. beef liver:  3.5 mg

3 oz chicken liver:  1.5 mg

1 cup non-fat yogurt:  0.5 mg

3 oz skinless duck:  0.4 mg

3 oz pork spareribs:  0.3 mg

1/2 cup boiled soy beans:  0.3 mg

1/2 cup boiled mushrooms:  0.2 mg

1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese:  0.2 mg

There is one important note regarding the above list:  the site states that “Exposure to air can destroy riboflavin – so keep foods tightly sealed.” The site doesn’t say how to prepare foods in a vacuum.

This answered some of my questions, but others remained. So I decided to do one more search. I went to the and typed in “Where does Riboflavin come from?” Perhaps it was in my karma to find out about riboflavin on this Sunday night, because there before me lay the holy riboflavin grail link I had been questing for:  “Who invented riboflavin?” Taking a deep breath, I pointed and clicked.

And there he was, Max Tishler (born Oct. 30, 1906 – died March 18, 1989), holder of patent no. 2,261,608 for Alloxazines and Isoalloxazines and Processes for their Production and patent no. 2,404,199 for 2-Sulphanilamido-quinoxaline. Needless to say, Max was an organic chemist.

After graduating with a MA and Ph.D. from Harvard, Max went to work for Merck & Company, Inc. where his first assignment was to find a new process for the synthesis of riboflavin that would permit economical production of B2 on a large-scale. Not only did Max succeed, his method was subsequently used to mass produce an array of other vitamins.

Max wasn’t done, however. The second patent I listed above was for an antibiotic for the prevention and cure of the poultry disease coccidiosis. When introduced as a feed additive this antibiotic “permitted broad expansion of poultry production.”

So here’s what I garnered from all this information, folks:  remember the list of riboflavin rich foods above? It includes chicken livers and boneless duck. And the same man who invented riboflavin invented an antibiotic that allowed more poultry to be produced! Tishler may have been inducted into the Inventors’ Hall of Fame in 1982, but I’m betting that his name is anathema with the world’s poultry population.

And do you think it’s possible that mother hens scold their young hatchlings with admonitions like the following:  “Junior, get your tail feathers in this coop right now! Do you want Max Tishler to get you?”

I wonder.