Reese Witherspoon’s recommendations (books! workout routines!) are usually welcome. But her latest suggestion has kicked off a chilly controversy.
Over the weekend, the “Big Little Lies” actor shared a video of an on-the-fly recipe for a concoction she dubbed a “snow salt chococinno.” The main ingredient was a mug full of snow scooped off what appeared to be a grill on the deck of her house, which was coated in a layer of the white stuff, thanks to the rare winter storm that had just blown through her hometown of Nashville. Witherspoon’s recipe called for drizzling the mug of fluffy snow with salted-caramel and chocolate syrups, then pouring in some cold brew coffee.
“Oh my gosh, that’s so good,” she said as she enjoyed a spoonful.
But it wasn’t long before the video, which has been viewed more than 4.9 million times on TikTok, attracted skeptics. “No no no. snow is not made to eat,” one wrote. “u can get seriously sick.”
Witherspoon posted three follow-up videos addressing her fans’ concerns. Following one viewer’s prompt, she collected a glass of snow and then microwaved it to show that it appeared uncontaminated, at least to the naked eye. “It’s clear,” she said. “Is this bad? Am I not supposed to eat snow?”
In her next videos, she shook off the naysayers. “So we’re sort of in the category of you only live once, and it snows maybe once a year here,” she said. “Also I want to say something: It was delicious!”
Witherspoon’s conclusion seems to be backed up by most scientific advice about eating snow: If you’re careful about how you collect it, it’s generally thought to be okay in small quantities. Most of us who enjoy snow cream (which is the more generic term for the seasonal dessert) do so on the occasional snow day – it’s unlikely that anyone is eating pounds of the stuff.
She went on to offer a fuller defense, noting that her generation (the 47-year-old is in Gen X) did not grow up drinking filtered water. In fact, many engaged in behaviors that might shock the sensibilities of younger people.
“We drank out of the tap water,” she said. “We actually put our mouths on the tap and then sometimes like in the summer, when it was hot, we drank out of the hose, like, we put our mouth on the hose, growing up.”
Witherspoon added jokingly, “Maybe that’s why I’m like this.”
But she made it clear that she wasn’t going to listen to the killjoys. “So what you’re saying to me is I have to filter the snow before I eat it? I just can’t. Filtered snow. I don’t know how to do that.”
While there may be contaminants in snow, including pesticides, soot, mercury and formaldehyde, most scientists agree that they exist at low enough levels to not pose a danger. In addition to common-sense guidelines about what kind of snow you should eat – that is, don’t eat the stuff that’s been plowed, and definitely don’t eat visibly dirty or yellow snow – there are other considerations about when to collect the purest snow. While you might think that would be a brand-new coat, “actually, because snow can soak up pollutants on the way down, the first hour or two of a snowfall acts like a scrub brush for the air,” according to a 2022 KidsPost story. “If you just wait a few hours and then chow down on the snow that piles up midway through a storm, you’ll have the best chance of eating nothing more than pure, frozen, sky water,” the story advised.
That story offered a recipe, too: Mix 2 cups milk, 1 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract and then add about a gallon “of the best snow you can find” a little at a time until you have a “thick, creamy texture.”
Another defender is Alexis Nikole Nelson, known as the Black Forager, who posts videos on identifying and preparing food in the wild. “Before you yell at me about eating snow, one, science has already proven that it’s safe,” she said in a 2022 TikTok video. “And two, if you’re so worried about pollution, go yell at the corporations responsible for it, not me!”
Her version was a little more grown up, incorporating homemade sweetened condensed milk and a drizzle of nocino, a walnut liquor. Sweetened condensed milk is a common ingredient in many online recipes. Other suggested mix-ins include cocoa powder, strawberry and lots of colorful sprinkles.
In Vermont, it’s common to pour the state’s signature product, maple syrup, on fresh snow to make a taffy-like candy.
None of which (of course) is health food. But to quote Witherspoon, you only live once.