Friday, July 11, 2008

Why I Hate Mr. Peanut

Only bad guys have a monocle. Who else but an evil villain could put on such a fake plastered smile? And who puts their pinky up in the air while holding a dandy top hat with their name emblazoned across the front of it. Only the worst of the worst could wear such an air of impunity.

That is right!!!! The evil legume feared by peanut allergic families near and far - MR. PEANUT!!!. Just the very site of his yellowish tinge and spindly little arms makes me quake in my boots and shiver in terror. Just a tiny bite of his evil poison has the ability to kill young and old alike (assuming they have a peanut allergy of course).

(just as a fascinating and disturbing side note, the above picture is actually an advertisement on a bottle of peanut flavored liquor called Peanut Lolita that apparently had a history with the Washington elite:

"The logo and fonts on the label suggest the early 1960s, but according to what little research exists, Peanut Lolita was still around in the mid-1970s, when infamous presidential brother Billy Carter “often made drunken appearances” with the liqueur’s spokes model, according to an essay by Christopher S. Kelley in “Life in the White House: A Social History of the First Family and the President’s House” (SUNY Press, 2004).)

So, in order to try and defeat my evil arch nemesis, I decided to look at his past to take him down in the present. In order to do this, I consulted my secret weapon Wikipedia.

"Mr. Peanut is the dandy advertising logo and mascot of Planters, an American snack-food company and division of Kraft Foods. He consists of a drawing of an anthropomorphic peanut in its shell dressed in the formal clothing of an old-fashioned gentleman: a top hat, monocle, white gloves, spats, and a cane.
Mr. Peanut is based on a drawing by a
Virginia schoolboy, Antonio Gentile, an Italian-American who won a $5 prize in a 1916 contest for his "little peanut person." The mascot made its debut in 1918 in The Saturday Evening Post.
According to the company, Mr. Peanut's hat, shoes, cane, and
monocle symbolize fresh taste. The gloves do not symbolize anything; Mr. Peanut simply likes them.
Since his conception, Mr. Peanut has appeared in many
TV commercials as an animated cartoon character. More recent commercials have shown him computer animated in a real-world setting. His appearances are often accompanied by an elegant accented narrator, and throughout his extensive television life, Mr. Peanut has rarely spoken.
In 2006, Planters conducted an online poll to determine whether to add a
bow tie, cuff links, or a pocket watch to Mr. Peanut. The public voted for no change."

First off, why in the world did Planters feel that dressing a peanut up in a top hat, gloves and a monocle would be an appealing advertising symbol. But, unbenonst to me and my infinite wisdom, Mr. Peanut has been an advertising success since his initial appearance in 1918. There are web sites devoted to Mr. Peanut, such as 4 Mr. Peanut( where you can join the Mr. Peanut fan club and become a "Mr. Peanut Pal" The Peanut Pal club boasts over 900 members and hosts regional meetings and conventions to display merchandise and discuss history and value of Mr. Peanut items. They also publish a bimonthly newsletter. Oh my gosh, he has created conventions of followers

I think it is actually more of a cover. They made Mr. Peanut appear charming and dandy and dapper to hide his true identity.

I think Mr. Peanut really looks more like this poster from the 1940's. Captured behind the scenes thinking his image would never be captured, the evil legume reveals his true nature.

So, yes, I hate Mr. Peanut. I know I have not right to hate an advertising figure so much, but gosh darn it, I do!! And I am OK with the fact that I hate an imaginary figure of a peanut dressed up as a gentleman. (although apparently not always) I know his true nature. I know what he can do.

I hate that spindly legume with a passion. I would like to say that Mr. Peanut has not done anything to hurt me, but alas, he has. In October of 2006, my then 2 year old son Conor took a bite of a peanut butter cracker at his pre-school. I was not there, but I imagine that the packaging of that cracker contained a certain fake smile, top hat and pointy pinky. Drawn in by the evil legume Conor delved into Mr. Peanut's evil plan. Apparently immediately after taking a bite of a peanut butter cracker he had started coughing, clawing at his throat, and screaming. He was covered in hives, and his head was swelling up like a basketball.

Thankfully Conor ended up being ok, and we learned that Mr. Peanut was a very, very bad legume who had the power to kill. Again, I understand that he is merely a mascot for a food product, but for me, that is no excuse.

Ok, since no one is reading this anyways, I will admit here, but when I was young, I actually used to like Mr. Peanut. I thought he was cool and dapper and dandy. I grew up with him, and his top hat, and his monocle. I once even saved up some wrappers to send away for a stuffed version of that cool legume. It took months and months to finally receive, but when my Mr. Peanut came in the mail I was shelled. (yes a bad pun)

"People have grown up with Mr. Peanut," says John Barrows, director of corporate communication for Nabisco. "He is an enduring icon of our lives who never changes. Nostalgia is a powerful force in our culture, and symbols of our past are often symbols of what we think of as better times, simpler eras."
"There's something reassuring about Mr. Peanut's continued vitality that is quite compelling," Barrows continues. "And he's clearly one very cool customer."

I think one of the things that has upset me so much is that Mr. Peanut has turned on me. I used to trust him, and he reminds me of my childhood when I never had to worry what about the dangers of what I might eat. I thought he was my friend, and I trusted his toothy smile. It never never occurred to me that he could hurt someone I loved.

I think when we live in a world of life threatening food allergies, it is a bit of an altered universe where things that everyone around us takes for granted may not be what they appear. We live our day to day lives worried about what is in every food, where it was made and what it may have touched on the way to our plates. Most people can not comprehend how just a tiny piece of a food they or their children enjoy could possibly harm anyone. In our altered food allergy universe we must only trust what we know is safe for us, not for everyone else.

And of course most of the people I come in contact with don't really understand that it is possible that a single bite of a food they eat every day can harm someone so badly. Some are kind, and try to understand what our life is like on a day to day basis, trying to avoid any trace of commonplace substances that to us are poison. Some are nice, but happy not to have to venture out of their own non food allergy universes, Some think we are over reacting and roll their eyes when they think we can no longer see them. The worst are those who revel in their ignorance, and fight for their right to a Mr. Peanut party.

Most people see Mr. Peanut as a cool legume, and happy symbol from their childhood. To me, he represents the contradiction we deal with every day. How can something that is so good for everyone else be so bad for us. I sometimes even have trouble wrapping my mind around the concept that a peanut (or any food) really can kill. Sometimes I even find it hard to believe myself. For me, Mr. Peanut is not an enduring icon of things that never change, but a reminder of things that do. Even though I know it is ridiculous to blame an advertising icon for things so out of his (and my) control, it makes me feel better to make him the evil legume villain. I will shout it from the rooftops, and spread the message to the world:



Jenny said...

Hi, I found you on the Living with Food Allergies Blog Carnival.

This was a fascinating history of the "evil" :) Mr. Peanut!!!

I too, HATE Mr. Peanut. If I could wipe peanuts off the face of the earth, I would.

I blogged about this on my site under the title "The Peanut Avenger."

Jennifer said...


I am so glad to know someone else hates Mr. Peanut as much as I do.

I read your blog about The Peanut Avenger, and I love it. It got my creative little mind flowing,a and I have to say, there will be a blog addressing the great Peanut Avenger soon.