Sprout Story

Terrible, just terrible.
Terrible, just terrible.

Sometimes a person can just look at a food and know he’s going to hate it. I’ve had this gift my entire life. It’s sort of a Picky Eater ESP.

Unfortunately, my mom had a blind spot when it came to my sixth sense. She could never wrap her brain around the idea that horrible foods can telegraph their horribleness without ever having to come in contact with my mouth.

“How do you know you hate it if you’ve never tried it?” Mom asked me time and time again.

“I just do.”

“Well I just don’t,” she fired back.

Then she’d say, “Michael. Eat. Now.”

Once Mom started talking in one-word sentences, the discussion was over — if I knew what was good for me.

So I’d grit my teeth and fill my fork with the squash or the asparagus or the green beans or whatever else. As soon as the juices hit my tongue, my throat would shut down and set up detour signs.

“Oh, ya want ta get that outta your mouth, do ya?” my throat would ask with the brassy indifference of a New York Transit Authority employee. “Well, it’s goin’ out the way it come in, pal.”

Then the rest of my body would start to fail me. My tongue would quiver. My head would spin. My ears would sweat. The dry heave machine would switch on.

Sometimes, by sheer force of will, I’d be able to push the morsel past the esophageal gatekeeper, but not always.

“Michael? Did you just spit your squash into a napkin?” Mom asked, her eyes narrowing.

I couldn’t answer her immediately for I was too busy gargling orange juice. When I finally did respond, I found myself hung up on Mom’s choice of pronoun.

“It’s not my squash. Not anymore.”

When my parents forced me to eat a pre-hated food, I was never pleasantly surprised. Never in my life did I say, “Oh! That tasted better than I thought!”

It always tasted exactly as bad as I thought — and if it wasn’t exactly as bad, then it was worse.

Fortunately, Mom did not belong to the Clean Your Plate Club. She was a member of the Eat Three Bites And You Don’t Have To Eat It Anymore Club, which is just about as good as I could have hoped for in that particular parenting era.

Eventually Mom ran out of new horrible foods I had to eat three bites of. As a consequence, the number of times I turned beet red at the dinner table dwindled to zero.

Once this happened, a little something in my older sister died. Gina just loved to watch me gag on food. So, a few years ago, when she took over Thanksgiving responsibilities, she seemed to make it her mission to come up with at least one bewildering, un-Thanksgiving-y side dish that would make me go “Ew.”

“Will you join us for the artichoke course?” She’d ask me with a wide smile. (Not only was Gina serving artichokes — a certified Mike Allegra gag food — she dedicated an entire course to eating them.)

Fortunately I am a grown up. So, in the giving spirit of the holiday, I could tell her where she could stick her artichokes. Then everyone would laugh – with no one laughing harder than Gina.

This year Gina outdid herself. As usual, she put out an amazing Thanksgiving spread. And, as usual, there was a curious new side dish. In fact, Gina so eagerly anticipated the debut of this side dish, she felt the need to call me up the week before Thanksgiving to tell me about it.

“I’m making Brussels sprouts!” she announced.

“You gotta be kidding me.”

I had never tasted Brussels sprouts — Mom wouldn’t have ever dreamed of serving them — but I knew I hated them. I knew I hated them more that anything else in the world. I could tell. They were evil. It was obvious.

“No, Michael, listen,” Gina went on. “I don’t like Brussels sprouts either, but a few months ago I made this new Brussels sprouts recipe with honey and cranberries and, I swear to God, Michael, we fought for the last serving.”

“That is something,” I said.

“I swear to God,” she replied. “We fought over it. Swear to God.”

“That is something,” I repeated.

“Promise me you’ll try it.”


“You gotta try it.”

“I don’t gotta.”

“You’re gonna love it.”

“I’m not gonna.”

Gina and I went back and forth like this for a little while longer before moving on to other, more pleasant, non-sprout-related matters.

After I hung up, I remained a bit unsettled by Gina’s call. This wasn’t Gina’s typical culinary abuse. This was a different Gina, one I hadn’t seen before. She really, sincerely, wanted me to give the sprouts a try. Not because she wanted to see me gag, but because she genuinely thought I might like them. I didn’t know what to make of this.

Gina crowed about the Brussels sprouts to other family members, too.

“Did you hear about the Brussels sprouts?” my Auntie Susie asked me a few days later when she called to wish me a happy birthday.

“Yeah,” I replied. “You gonna eat them?”

“I don’t like sprouts,” she said, “but I promised Gina I’d try them.”

“Well, I didn’t promise,” I said with smug defiance.

“She really swears by them. So who knows?” Auntie Susie always had a “Hey, why not?” quality to her, a trait both charming and — at times like these — irksome.

Gina had also persuaded my wife, Ellen, to give the sprouts a try. Ellen, unlike me, actually knew what Brussels sprouts tasted liked – and she hated them, so this was no small achievement. My parents also were willing to give the new side dish a go.

What is going on here? My brain bellowed. Why is the entire family thumbing their nose at common sense? When are these sheeple gonna wake up?

The night before Thanksgiving – and I swear I am not making this up – I dreamed about Brussels sprouts. I didn’t eat them in the dream, instead I dreamed that I refused to eat them. I sang my refusal to the melody of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

“But I stiiiiiiill will not eeeeeeeeat…

Your damn Brussells sprooooooouts…”

Clearly this sprout business had crept its way into my subconscious.

Thanksgiving arrived. Ellen, Alex and I watched the parade on TV and marveled at the ugliness of the Paddington Bear balloon.

“There should be a Sarah Hale balloon,” Alex announced with indignation.

I love my son.

Ellen made her famous corn casserole and baked brie and then, at the last possible moment, we all changed out of our jammies and drove off to Gina’s house. Gina knows how to throw a great dinner party — and this day was no exception. The choices were plentiful, the drink options vast, and even the white meat on the turkey was moist and in need of no gravy support system.

But, sitting there in the  center of the table, was the metaphorical 600-pound gorilla.  Peering up from their glossy cranberry glaze those infamous sprouts stared at me. It wasn’t long before a reluctant ladle dug into it. Auntie Susie was true to her word; she was going to try them.

Auntie Susie is one of the louder family members, so her surprised, delighted, “Ooh! This is really good!” attracted some serious attention.

“I know, right?” Gina exclaimed, matching Auntie Susie’s decibel level. “It’s amazing!”

This lively exchange encouraged more ladle activity. More plates welcomed sprouts, which led to more praise, which led to more ladling.

One by one the number of sprout converts was growing. I was beginning to feel like a heathen at a tent revival.

With each new wave of kudos, came a new round of pressure for me to give the sprouts a try.

“Mike, you have to try these!”

“They’re really good!”

“They’re wonderful.”

“You’re gonna love them!”

Ellen knows me well enough to realize that this type of peer pressure might make me uncomfortable, but it will never persuade me to try anything. She took a different tactic.

“Oh, just eat it, you baby.”

I turned to face her and found a way-too-large forkful of Brussels sprouts poised an inch from my mouth.


I sighed. And she shoved it in.

The normally raucous Thanksgiving table grew silent as the family watched me chew. There was not a person present at that table who was unaware of my picky eating habits. Everyone there had either seen or heard about the infamous Green Bean Incident of 1981, when Mom and Dad were convinced I was about to pass out.

I chewed and chewed and chewed some more.

Then I swallowed.

There was a long pause. The family awaited the verdict.

“Oh!” I said at last. “It tasted better than I thought.”

And the people around table did everything short of giving me a standing ovation.

And I have to be honest; for the first time in my life one of my pre-hated foods was better than I had thought. Because I thought I was going to die.

But, just to be safe, I am never, ever, ever taking my chances with another forkful.

Never. Ever. Ever.

112 Replies to “Sprout Story”

  1. My 7 year-old is also a Food Psychic, though she is so powerful that she can easily detect when a previously adored item (usually something we have just bought in quantity because she’ll eat it) has turned evil on her—just by touching it with her fork.

    When (not if) this happens, we make her count the pieces of the Hated Comestible Du Jour (or divide it into two equal piles, whichever’s easier) and eat half.

    I know perfectly well this won’t change her mind about loathing whatever it is, but it might teach her that math is her friend.

  2. I have introduced so many of my friends to the wonders of Brussels sprouts. But one sure-fire way to get people even interested in trying them is to go “Do you like cabbage? Because Brussels sprouts are literally mini-cabbages, so if you prepare them right, they’re delicious.”

    And just fyi, the tid-bit about them being mini-cabbages is actually true. The first Brussels sprouts were actually a naturally-occurring genetic mutation on a cabbage plant, and instead of producing one large head of cabbage, it produced a bunch of miniature ones.

    That cranberry Brussels sprouts recipe sounds intriguing. My favorite way to make Brussels sprouts so far is to take fresh ones, chop them into quarters, slather them with olive oil and sea salt and pepper, and then roast them in the oven until the outsides are starting to get brown and crispy. There are never any Brussels sprouts leftover.

    1. When I wrote this post, I knew some pro-sprouters would reveal themselves in the comments section. The fun was trying to figure out who they would be. I am pleased to report that I had you pegged. I don’t know why I sensed you’d like Brussels sprouts, but I knew.

      But don’t worry. I won’t hold it against you. You’re still my pal.

      1. I’m hardly ever the life of the party anyway. 😛

        But the crowd I’m hanging out with that night likes things like artichokes and olives (mmmm), so I’m hoping Brussels sprouts will slide right in smoothly.

  3. I have never met a brussel sprout that convinced me to eat it. So yes, share this magical recipe (although I am pretty sure the devil must be involved in this transmogrification).

  4. Kudos for eating the Brussel sprouts. I love them. I immediately trawled the internet for a couple recipes which call for honey and cranberries. My grandkids even like eating them. Can’t wait to try this new recipe on them.

    A hilarious post, though. Love your humor. You must have been a handful as a kid. 🙂 An entertaining and funny handful. 😀

      1. Yes! I stand by my adjective choice. I might even add “delicious” if we’re talking brussel sprouts roasted with olive oil, garlic and bacon.

  5. Great story, and bravo to you for trying them. Brussels sprouts are gross. I ate something I normally hate this Thanksgiving, too. Sweet potatoes. My sister-in-law made a dish with them where they were smothered in so much heavy cream and cheesy cheese that I couldn’t even taste the potatoes. Oh, so yummy. I don’t want to even think about the calorie count…

  6. I ate Brussels sprouts sometimes, and I survived. It helped to think of them as mutant broccoli.

    Remember: Cheese sauce and ketchup are your FRIENDS! Repeat as needed.

    I’d love to see this post get Freshly Pressed. Too funny!

      1. Especially if pizza was attached to the cheese. During the ’96 Olympics, I heard a story about an African team that tried pizza for dinner one evening. They found it so delicious that they had it again for breakfast the next day.

        And then there’s chocolate…..

  7. What a fabulous, delightful, and entertaining story! I so enjoyed reading it! And I’m even more glad that you survived the experience 🙂 I think I should send the link to my son, who is in the Picky Eating Club with you 🙂 I just have one word: spam. I had to eat spam when I was a kid. Oh, and canned beets. Talk about the gag reflex! And I just want to go on record as saying that I never once tried to make my kids eat spam or canned beets. Someone has to be brave enough to say ENOUGH! Stop the madness! 🙂

    1. I ate spam for the first time in the days after Hurricane Sandy — and I have to admit, I didn’t think it was that bad. The oddly uniform texture and the blindingly salty taste took some getting used to, but when it’s fried up with eggs, it’s officially OK-ish.

      Canned beets, on the other hand, are all kinds of nasty. By protecting your children from beets, you have proven yourself to be an excellent mother. Well done.

  8. Sheeple is classic!! I’m on speaking terms with most legumes but when it comes to eating liver….Hell will freeze over before I ingest it ever again. My mom used to serve it with bacon and onions, so the mere smell of bacon when I got home from school made me run to the neighbors. It took many years to not associate the smell of bacon with something that vile. Ironically, I cook my Brussel sprouts with bacon these days. 😉

      1. Bacon and I have an understanding…..it enjoys sharing some of its spotlight with random foods but it completely understands that it is the most important food in my life and shares its pedestal with nothing else!!

  9. Mike, you kill me. You and my son were born under the same gagging star. I’m going to show your post to him so he’ll know at least one adult who won’t try to shove some abhorrent food down his throat.

    My mother was not an adventurous cook. She never strayed far from tuna casserole (Fridays) or pot roast, gravy and cheesy potatoes (we even melted Velveeta in potato soup), and canned green beans with bacon, so I was never introduced to brussel sprouts until I was a grown-up. A restaurant served them roasted as a side to my entree, and I became a fan. Yum!

    My husband is on the opposite end of the spectrum from our son. He loves lots of different kinds of food but likes savory foods served with salt and pepper and sweet foods served for dessert. So he’s not a fan of sweet side dishes. In fact, he’s been known to eat sweet potatoes or applesauce for dessert. And he sometimes complains if I put too many cranberries or apples in a salad. This brussel sprouts recipe you’re talking about sounds good to me, but I’d have an uphill fight to get either my husband or son to eat them. Sigh….

    I love your family dynamics! Did you get to watch Gina’s Roomba eat any crumbs under the table? If you did, I hope you gave it a kick for me. 😀

    1. Like Rebekah (above) you were another blog pal whom I suspected would be pro-sprout. I could sense it.

      I also could sense that you son was a fine, fine fellow. I was right on that one, too. Stay sprout-free, young man! It is absolutely possible to grow up on scrambled eggs. I am living proof of this!

      But your husband, Jilanne — and I mean this in the kindest possible way — is a weirdo. Sweet potatoes for dessert? I don’t even know where to begin.

      1. Yeah, and I married him anyway. He has other redeeming qualities. As for my son, if I could get him to eat scrambled eggs, I’d be over the moon! They smell too much like sulphur. And I think he’s allergic to them, but we’ve never had him tested. One projectile vomiting incident was enough. Or is that TMI?

      2. No worries, my friend. We’re not a vomit-free zone here.

        So what is Liam’s staple food? Every picky eater needs at least one food that is a go-to menu item in most restaurants and/or can be prepared at home with relative ease.

      3. We’re talking the tan/white/orange food groups: bread, rice, pasta, cheese, pizza with black olives and pepperoni. Strangely enough, at home he will eat crunchy, raw red cabbage with vinegar and oil, or green cabbage only if it’s in my 1950s recipe sweet/sour salad dressing, the very tips of steamed broccoli florets if served in a red wine vinegar/olive oil and salt vinaigrette, homemade curried sweet potato/butternut squash soup that’s been pureed to within an inch of its life, and curried potato cauliflower soup (also pureed until any individual components are unidentifiable). Oh, and beef chili if there are no recognizable tomato skins/celery or onions. But he likes spice, so he will eat chili with Tabasco or add Siracha to Vietnamese chicken and rice noodle soup. He thinks cooked onions are slimy and very gag-worthy. He’s also a salami and cheese sandwich/well done cheeseburger kind of guy. I’m trying to insert some fruit into his menu. That’s the real challenge. He finds the texture of most fruits repulsive and very gag-worthy. Can you tell this is a sore point in our family and that I spend a lot time pureeing foods? We hope he will grow out of it. But after reading your post, I’ve lost all hope. 😀

      4. Sheesh, I don’t plan to cook for the kid! I was just wondering! 😉

        That’s a pretty varied and healthy assortment of foodstuffs — so you’re pretty lucky, actually.

        But Liam clearly needs to be introduced to the idea of Broccoli and cheese.

  10. Michael, this brought me to TEARS!!!! LMAO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, man, that is hilarious! The Green Bean Incident of 1981! Oh, dear Lord…SO funny! Thanks for that lol I, unlike you, love most vegetables IF seasoned and cooked properly 😀

      1. The imagery this conjures is quite disgusting, I must admit. Green EVERYwhere! But there’s no getting around it, my friend—this is TOO funny not to share, which I did, by the way, on Twitter and my blog (in a comment). You simply MUST get on Twitter, man!

      2. I thank you for your support, my friend. Perhaps you should be my agent.

        As for Twitter, I’m not gonna do it. I barely have enough time to manage this blog without having to also Tweet my mental musings.

  11. Now I better understand my daughter’s affliction:)
    Also, there is a genetic marker for brussel sprouts- they either taste sour in your mouth or not. Ta da! An excuse supported by science.

  12. We all have to be true to our mouths. The only vegetable I’ve sworn off is turnip, but I’ve got this blood thing that leaves me pretty much a pain in the ass dinner guest. I think we all just have to learn to as Rodney King said, “get along.”

      1. It means I only wear it as clothes, purses, shoes, and alas lips, so dear to my view of self, but somehow retreat from full acknowledgment of its power by avoiding it as flesh. Yes, red is a color not fully understood, as any other color. Take the green of sprouts. What does it mean? Earth? Calmness? Money? Trickery to children sitting at dinner tables? Our palette understanding is so limited.

  13. typical mother-child converation, i can relate big time! i hate those sprouds, they dont even look edible. Let alone the smell….

    very new to your blog but i seem to like it. will come over more often now 🙂

      1. Haha, definetely! What a horrible invention 😀
        once my blog has grown a little and i’ve found my pace and pattern, i’d love to invite you! Hopefully i can bring up the endurance you have.

  14. Wow that is one interesting sprout story! Bravo! I wouldn’t eat sprouts until I went for dinner a long long way away at my auntie’s and she persuaded me remarkably quickly to try them. There was no yummy cranberry sauce with them and I still enjoyed them. Loved them ever since actually. So nice with bacon!

      1. OOh normal bacon. I have a great idea for a blog post using your sprout post. Now I can include trumped up bacon as well bonus!

    I also feel sorry for you.
    Your wife is very smart and clever.
    I used to hate Brussels Sprouts, but then my mom made them in a certain way, and I think they’re OK now (haven’t had them plain yet, though. Too scared).

    1. My wife is indeed smart and clever, but as this story indicates, she also has a touch of cruelty in her.

      As for your like of Brussels sprouts, let me just say that I’m disappointed in you, Erik. Very, very disappointed.

      1. Oh, spare me! lol I can see your pouty/squirmy expression from here! 😉

        Actually, I know it all too well—my boyfriend doesn’t eat ANY vegetables—at ALL! Of course, he has all kinds of digestive problems, too, to say the least *sigh* But any time I even TRY to suggest he TRY something, his reaction is always the same. Grrrr… Oh, you VEGGIE-HATERS! Thank God at least my son and daughter-in-law eat them so my grandchildren have a fighting chance! 😀 😀 😀

        Seriously, though—no veggies=no phytonutrients. I hope you get them in some other way. I also take a great supplement to be sure I get enough 🙂

  16. I was tracking right with your description of eating foods you hate. We had a student once who would eat no fruit or vegetables and lived off of string cheese and cheese pizza. He was pasty white and would get these horrible skin rashes. We were concerned for his health and with his parents consent we tried coaching him to try to eat new foods, starting with a piece of strawberry. His gag reflex kicked in and we were certain he was going to vomit after eating a teeny tiny bite. Obviously he didn’t like it and we discontinued the project. Oddly, he grew up to be a very handsome teen…go figure.

    Seeing as I came from the land of fruit and nuts, I love most things green though Brussels sprouts are one of my least favorite and they reek something terrible when being cooked. You and Rick have a similar palate…if it’s green or grows in dirt…it’s poison, with very few exceptions….and bacon is his favorite food! 😀

  17. You and I are on the same page in many matters; however, I must admit that I am disappointed we are not at the same table. At my dining room table, I serve brussels sprouts at least twice a week and it is known as a delicacy. To make you gag even worse, no Thanksgiving is a true Thanksgiving at my table without my mashed turnips.
    Therefore, I suggest that we share many a page together, but never share the same table.
    (unless you become a brussels sprout convert even without the cranberries)

  18. A rebooted classic just for you:
    “Will you eat them on this plate?”
    “Will you eat them while we skate?”
    “Will you eat them on a bus that’s late?”
    “I will not eat them on this plate. I will not eat them if we skate. Wait–everyone is eating them? Fiiiiiiine, eat them? Maybe, might I, if I must.”

  19. Haha, I loved this. Great job. It was really well written. 😀
    Mom still can’t make me eat raw tomatoes, but I do love brussel sprouts. Glad you made a discovery (and love the humor about Macy’s parade 😀 my grandma used to read Paddington Bear stories to me, thank you very much! 😀 :D) !

    1. Welcome, Biz! It’s a pleasure to meet you — even if you are a sprout person.

      I loved Paddington Bear stories. But the updated character looks awful, doesn’t it? Why would anyone mess with the adorable, charming design of the original?

  20. Thanks Mike – this had me laughing out loud several times! Just BRILLIANT! I loved the pre-thanksgiving dream:-) And, err, I have a confession…I genuinely love Brussels sprouts:-) Dad does them with chestnuts, in lots of butter. Hmmm this is making me hungry. And by the way, I recently ordered and since received and read your beautiful book! I love it! Wow, she really was quite a woman hey. Hugs and blessings, H xxx

    1. I had a feeling you were a sprout person. But that’s OK. I still like you.

      And thank you for buying Sarah Gives Thanks! It’s not a book that invites overseas sales, so I am most grateful. I’m delighted to hear that you enjoyed it.

  21. Hi Mike, I think your site’s got beautiful design and such interesting pieces, so I’m following! 🙂
    I really enjoy your posts and look forward to your next.
    Feel free to check out my writing about publishing: publishinginsights.org

  22. As always, phenomenal story! You had me hanging onto the edge of my seat, all to reveal that you ate freaking Brussels sprouts…LOL! My husband roasts them in the oven with olive oil and herbs. You’re gonna think I’m crazy, but they taste like candy. 🙂

  23. You certainly have the sibling banter down pat. I actually got nostalgic about arguing with my little sister. I happen to really enjoy brussel sprouts. We use to call them baby cabbages and ate a lot of them.

  24. I have to say I am with you on the Brussels sprouts. I just do not like them. And I HAVE tried them several ways. Each time (always with accolades from someone) I taste them and so far declare..”Nope! I still don’t like them!” Although I haven’t tried them with cranberry anything. With me it’s mostly a texture thing. I will try most things within reason but only after someone I trust tells me it’s really good. After 28 years my hubby has learned my taste buds and he will eat things I do not care for. There are times when he has eaten something and said… “No, don’t bother, you will not like it at all!” So I don’t. But he has gotten me to try things that are really awesome and I would have never thought I would eat. I’m so grateful I have tried things like Sushi because I would have missed out on some yummy stuff!
    There is a standing rule in my house…If you have never had it before then you have to try one bite. If you don’t like it, that’s fine, you don’t have to eat it! YES…even adults! LOL! I have gotten people to try things they would swear they hated and loved it! And I don’t do weird stuff….
    Now aren’t you glad you made your sister happy?? (ya big baby) LOL!! 😉

      1. Gah! I overlooked your comment! So sorry, Courtney. I pride myself on answering every commenter. This is especially true if the commenter is in the anti-sprout camp, as you so clearly are.

        I, like you, have similar problems with the texture of sprouts. When I first chomped down on my sister’s concoction, it was okay because of the honey and cranberry stuff. But then, when I got down to the act of chewing it up… That didn’t go so well.

        And to answer your question: Yes, I am glad I made my sister happy. But I would’ve been gladder if the meal was sprout free.

        Happy holidays, my friend!

      2. No worries… I didn’t think you did it on purpose! That is why I just put a smiley face on my comment. I figured it was just an oversight. 🙂
        It was still a good brother thing to do to try her Cranberry/sprout thingy! I’m proud of you! 😉

  25. I finally made it to this post – yay! It was worth it too. I’ve read a few comments on my way down to here, but not all, so I don’t know whether anyone else mentioned this, but you may or may not be aware that brussels sprouts are one of those things, like cilantro, that has something in them which reacts differently in some people and makes them taste really strongly bitter to some, that’s why they very much divide people. I’m on the side of really liking them though! (Unlike cilantro of course). I wonder if the cranberry and honey neutralises the bitterness or something which is why it seems even the sprout haters liked it. (Don’t you enjoy science explanations in the comments section of humorous posts?). Also, thanks so much for the Christmas photo card, arrived safely yesterday, Merry Christmas to you and yours!

    1. I can comfortably assert that the cranberry and honey didn’t neutralized a ding-dang thing. (But I was clearly held the minority view.)

      And I do very much enjoy your science-based explanations. They’re interesting AND they class up the joint.

      Have a joyous Christmas!

  26. Love it. My husband is just like you…and he’s sixty! I will have to amuse him at dinner tonight and tell him he has horrible food ESP. He’ll like that…and probably use it in the future. 🙂 Blessings!

  27. hahaha this is hilarious! I was a very picky eater as a kid and it drove my mother nuts. The biggest wars used to be over milk, used to make me gag back then. and while your mom confined herself to three-bite rules, my mother till this day obsessively wants us to eat double servings of everything!

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