The elves take their information from many many places. We read magazines, newspapers, books, journals, and, of course, the internet. One of our favourite sites is Snopes.com which looks at dubious claims from around the web and attempts to separate the myths and urban legends from the fact. Occasionally our output contradicts Snopes, and when it does it requires clarification: one such case concerns a certain make of baby food.
Stephen, in one of the first episodes of QI said the following:
"It's quite intriguing and bizarre. It's that they used the same packaging as they use in the United States and in Europe, which has a cute photo, like the one behind me, of a tiny baby on the jar. Unfortunately, in Africa most people are unable to read, and therefore, packaging, er, always represents what's inside the jar. The pictures always represent what's inside. So they assumed that the jars were of babies."
Firstly, it should be said that to say "Most people in Africa are unable to read" is incorrect. While a number of countries do have extremely low levels of literacy, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, Africa as a continent has a literacy rate of somewhere between 50 and 60 percent. Secondly, is the story of the baby food a slightly racist anti-African sentiment as claimed by Snopes?
Well the Snopes article's main arguments are that similar stories have been put across in the past, and that there is a lack of details in the story. Well we can at least amend the latter point, thanks to Gyles Brandreth who said the following:
"I can tell you, for a further point, who the white child was. She was called Ann Turner Cook, the photograph was taken in 1931, and up until the end of the Second World War, was the most prolific romantic novelist working in the United States of America. My great-great-grandfather, who was a man called Dr Benjamin Brandreth, was a friend of the original Dr Gerber. They were pioneers of advertising in the United States of America."
doesn't prove anything by itself, of course, but as much as we
respect Snopes as a website, we're not quite willing to fully retract
this one yet. We're still looking out for proof one way or another - if you have any further information, then please let us know!
In the meantime, we can add one further thing about that particular baby food company. It is not sold with that name in Quebec, since "gerber" means "to vomit" in French.