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Volume XVII, Issue 13 - March 26 - April 1, 2009
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At my age, I can say, If it hasn’t killed me by now, it never will.

The Trouble with Peanut Butter

Find something you like, and soon you’ll find its faults

Water, water everywhere
and not a drop to drink.
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I know that feeling of thirst. In the new Chepachet Grammar School of 1935, the pupils had running water on demand, which many of us didn’t have at the old primitive Cherry Valley School, grades first through fourth. More than a few of us didn’t have running water at home, where water came from long handled pump or crank-up bucket in a well.

Running water was on tap in the boys and girls bathrooms, but for drinking water we had to depend on bubblers, the term of the time for water fountains. It would take all of five minutes to draw sufficient water from the ceramic wells in the hallway of the one-story brick schoolhouse to wash down a mouthful-size glob of peanut butter. Which brings us to today’s subject.

Sticky’s Not the Worst of It

The nutty spread of nearly 75 years ago was more coarse ’n’ sticky. Equally disappointing, the chunky variety wasn’t available, at least not in the village First National Store or Brown & Hopkins. But in the midst of the Great Depression, peanut butter was the cheapest spread for school sandwiches. So that’s what we got most often.

On occasion, we enjoyed jam sandwiches, but seldom a mix of peanut butter ’n’ jelly on the bread. That was high class. Some kids whose parents were unemployed had to settle for sandwiches of bread, butter and sugar, or catsup, maybe mayonnaise, even a banana sliced lengthwise — anything that would fit and stay between two slices of bread.

The flavor of peanut butter has always been to my liking. But back then it stuck to the roof of the mouth like epoxy, which was okay at home, where I could pour a big glass of water to wash it down. But in school the water was straight from the trickling bubbler or nothing (and the results were practically the same). Disposable cups of plastic weren’t even heard of back then, and I guess none of us ever thought of bringing a real glass from home. So lunchtime could be thirsty.

Reading of late concerning the health and safety woes associated with peanut butter, I ponder whether the powers that be in those relatively primitive times were trying to tell us something about the wisdom of eating peanut butter.

The latest salmonella outbreaks have worried consumers to the extent that many are shunning peanuts, whether from the jar, packaged between crackers or even in peanut butter-chocolate ice cream. The Wall Street Journal
tells us that Americans bought 13 percent less of the spread in February of this year than in the corresponding month in ’08.

That’s quite a dip, but not enough to worry me sufficiently to give it up. You see, I’m addicted to peanut butter, anyway it comes.

The Ubiquitous Peanut

On packaged crackers, it is my snack when afield. It’s also a quick, nutritious, tasty and easy meal on the road or boat. Just buy a small jar, some of the packaged pre-cooked bacon and a half-loaf of bread, and you can make a few instant sandwiches. Accompanying liquid is still suggested. Soda pop, which wasn’t available in my school days, will handle the dry spread and bacon.

My Uncle Jack of New Jersey, a retired chemical engineer, always carried jars of peanut butter when traveling to work in countries where food safety was a concern. It’s people like us that made Jimmy and Billy Carter and so many other Georgians rich.

The peanut from which the butter is ground is a fascinating legume. It isn’t plucked from a tree or bush as with traditional nuts. Ripe peanuts are dug like potatoes. Native to South America, Mexico and Central America, peanuts are also known as earthnuts, pandas, jack nuts and Manila nuts. They were the goobers and goober peas many Confederate soldiers subsisted on during the Civil War.

Of the 34,856 million tons grown on this earth annually, China is the biggest producer with 13 million to its credit. The U.S. is fourth with 1,696,728 tons. In this country, the large-seeded Virginia peanuts — grown in Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Georgia — are increasingly popular, especially for salting, confections and roasting in shells.

Still More Troubles

Despite their nutrition, taste and popularity, peanuts get an undeserved bad rap in the allergy department according to Time magazine’s Alice Park, who wrote the number of people in the U.S. who die annually from all food allergies — 15 to 20 a year — is small. More people die from bee stings.

The current salmonella problem is associated with careless storage, processing, mold and poor monitoring. Peanuts can also be contaminated with the mold Aspergillus flavus, which produces a carcinogenic substance called aflatoxin that causes liver cancer in rats. Humans appear far more resistant.

Isn’t that always the way? Find something you like to eat, drink or do, and soon you will find it’s fattening or otherwise unhealthy. I’ll take my chances on peanut butter, certainly a more healthy choice than a fat-filled hamburger at a fast food joint. At my age, I can say If it hasn’t killed me by now, it never will. Enough said


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