2008.01.30 Rats and I like peanuts

Written by David Green.


I have found great joy in a bag of peanuts. Great joy and a little trepidation.

My wife bought a 20 oz. bag of Hampton Farms salted and roasted peanuts in the shell. “Goodness grows in North Carolina,” says the state agriculture slogan.

“Remember: small children can choke on peanuts.” No mention that this product may contain peanuts.

It must have been a long time since we had a bag of salted, roasted peanuts because they tasted so darn good. Colleen didn’t want to eat the darker ones for some reason, so I got all of those, too.

It’s been a good week, despite the rubbing of salt in wounds. I get these weird little slits on my right thumb and index finger in the winter—apparently something I inherited from my mother—and it really hurts to crack open those salted shells.

It’s such an odd thing about peanuts that they aren’t nuts. Think soybeans, alfalfa, locust trees. Think legumes—woody, indehiscent legumes. Peanuts are goober peas.

The allergy issue is a serious one for many people. I’ve read that one whiff of peanut dust can cause a fatal reaction. Fortunately, peanut dust doesn’t blow around here. It’s down in Alabama where nearly half of the U.S. crop is grown.

For me, an allergic reaction is not an issue. I have other fears about peanuts and about peanut butter.

The oldest peanut butter manufacturer in the nation, the Krema Nut Company of Columbus, began selling its product exactly 100 years ago. The owner had a catchy slogan: “I refuse to sell outside of Ohio.”

It’s comforting to know that U.S.D.A. standards allow only about 30 insect fragments per 100 grams of peanut butter. That’s probably only about six legs per sandwich, but maybe that’s part of what makes it taste so good. Or maybe it’s rodent hair or feces, but the likelihood of encountering that stuff is only about one in five sandwiches. This sounds rather disgusting, but it’s unavoidable. That and more is in a lot of food.

It’s not the rat poop in peanut butter that worries me, it’s the choking hazard. So many times I’ve quickly packed a peanut butter sandwich when driving off to attend some event or another and I’ve almost gotten a mouthful stuck in my throat.

When it happens, various scenarios run through my mind. Speeding into someone’s driveway, knocking on the door, pantomiming the need for water. Or quickly stopping and melting snow in my hands or lapping up water from a puddle.

With peanuts—like that wonderful bag we ate our way through last week—it’s the rotten peanut that worries me. Remember the song?

“Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut last night.

Last night I found a peanut, found a peanut last night.”

So far, so good.

“Cracked it open, cracked it open, cracked it open last night.

Last night I cracked it open, cracked it open last night.”

Now is when it gets a little troublesome.

“It was rotten, it was rotten, it was rotten last night.

Last night it was rotten, it was rotten last night.”

My mother taught me this song in my preschool years. It made quite an impact. It frightened me. I worried about dying.

Now where were we? Found a peanut, cracked it open, it was rotten.

“Ate it anyway, ate it anyway, ate it anyway last night.

Last night I ate it anyway, ate it anyway last night.

Got sick, got sick, got sick last night.

Last night I got sick, I got sick last night.”

I’m not sure what happens after that. I know there are many variations to the song and I can’t remember just how our family version went.

Called the doctor.

Didn’t answer.

Called the hospital.

Cut me open.

Took the peanut out.

Sewed me up again.

Died anyway.

Now what a thing to be telling a preschool kid. Eat some food you know is bad and end up dead.

You see? There’s much worse in this world than a simple rat’s whisker.

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