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Note #23: Nuts (2008.7.29)

I must confess that I have been troubled as of late—a dark specter of worry and anxiety haunts my steps. What better place to exorcize this demon of doubt than here? I will warn you, though: what follows is not for the queasy or faint of heart. Don’t blame me if you have nightmares about this later.

It all started innocently enough, with nuts. Not the kind that go with bolts, nor the dangling kind, but the kind that come in shells and go well with beer. You know, almonds, peanuts, and the like. At Costco they sell 2.5-pound jars of various nuts, and during our last visit we brought home a jar of cashews. Tasty, good for cooking—no downside, right? Wrong. Witness the horror.

(I suppose a little explanation is in order. The keen-eyed will have noticed that there are more than just cashews in that jar, and that’s because we put them there. We’ve found that we get better value for our money by mixing our own nuts than by buying the pre-mixed variety. This particular blend contains cashews, almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts. Costco doesn’t sell Brazil nuts, but I mentioned to my mother once that Hyunjin likes them, so she sent over a metric ton of Brazil nuts. We burned through a couple of kilograms by dropping them off the roof of the tallest building on campus, but that only gets you so far.)

This is not the point, though. Hyunjin likes to add nuts to her breakfast cereal, and many a morning have I spent staring at the label on this jar. From the very first glance the specter took hold, and I find myself drawn back to this label again and again. In case the type on the right is too small, let me reproduce the pertinent section for you here:

ALLERGY INFORMATION: Contains cashews.

Packed on equipment that also packages products that contain peanuts and/or other tree nuts.

Consumers with food allergies, please read the ingredient statement carefully.

The “ingredient statement” is to the right, and can’t be seen in the above photograph, but it says:


I post this in hopes that I might be finally freed from my anguish. What moron would buy a jar of cashews, take it home, read the allergy information, and then say, “What the heck?! This contains cashews?! I’m allergic to those!”? What sort of world do we live in that labeling laws have become so obscene, where common sense is trampled by hysteria and fear?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for accurate labels on food and other products. But how is the allergy information fine print going to be any more effective than the large white letters on the red background on the front? If it were a jar of mixed nuts, yeah, I could see the warning. But on a jar that contains only cashews?

It doesn’t end there, though. That’s the obvious problem here, but there are others—and they have tormented me as well. Take a look at the ingredient list again. Notice the second ingredient there? It is peanut oil. If the product itself contains peanut oil, is it really going to make that much of a difference that it was packed using equipment that also packages products which may or may not contain peanuts? This would be like making hamburgers from diseased cows and then fretting about whether or not the meat grinder was sterilized (OK, maybe not the best example, but it’s the best I can think of at the moment).

By this point the casual reader would be blinded to further problems, being already sufficiently perplexed by the first two. But, as I said, I have spent a long time staring at this label, and one day it hit me like a bolt of lightning: peanuts are tree nuts? It says it right there on the label: “peanuts and/or other tree nuts” (emphasis added). But peanuts do not grow on trees, they grow underground, and in some parts of the world (including Korea) they are even called “earthnuts.” Heck, peanuts aren’t even really nuts—they’re legumes (more specifically, grain legumes, like beans or peas). So calling them “tree nuts” is wrong on both counts!

Hmm. I thought that getting this off my chest here would somehow rid me of the demon, but I find myself more agitated than before. I can’t see it right now, but I know the jar is sitting there on top of the refrigerator, quietly mocking me with its affronts to common sense and logic. Will I never have rest? Will I never be free? I can only take comfort in the hope that now, somewhere out there, someone might be sharing in my suffering.

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