Deez Nuts*

5 Min read

Nuts

Nonsense

Homage to a classic film

Wordnerd alert

Contronym

AVAILABLE ON PODCAST

Spotify

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One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day.

Anne Lamott

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I was organizing the pantry shelf where I keep the nuts and baking supplies. It’s a sad and messy corner of misfit morsels and add-ins.

The photo is taken after the purge. Farewell open bags, rock-hard brown sugar, and expired bits. Far from Pinterest-worthy, this small step towards order and away from chaos gives me comfort.

Oh the little things.

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Nuts and nonsense are items of interest in the TreeHouse, where I write on everything that matters and just as much that doesn’t.

I was curious about the modifiers on the labels.

On August 18, 1981, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) published Standards for Grades of Mixed Nuts in the Shell which include: (1) U.S. Extra Fancy. (2) U.S. Fancy. (3) U.S. Commercial or U.S. Select.

The definition for fancy as an adjective — of particular excellence or highest grade — fits well here. (Merriam webster)

But these grades describe nuts in the shell.

Readers of a certain age may remember the party bowl of nuts with metal cracker, right next to the glass ashtray. If you don’t, check out the eggnog scene with cousin Eddie.

It’s a modern classic, with moose cups for eggnog and tinsel strands on the tree.

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Caption to video clip visible on site: Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) catch up by the tree.

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Peanuts are not technically a nut, but a legume, like a bean. They are the cheapest nut in comparison to tree nuts. Here’s a pricing chart I put together.

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What about modern nut mixes, like my Kirkland kernels? The Extra Fancy Mixed Nuts in my pantry has tree nuts only, written in large font on the label: cashews, almonds, pecans, Brazil Nuts, Macadamia Nuts. They are listed in order of weight. No peanuts or filberts.

On pricing, the 2.5 pound Kirkland (Costco) package is a deal at $15.99, averaging $6.40 per pound of mixed nuts with the lowest priced nut, the almond, going for $5.13 per pound at retail; the others in the mix go for $7.75 to $14.03. And, the nuts are sourced from farmers in California and Turkey based on quality.

Filbert is a hazelnut. The name conjures up an image of an elderly man in slippers, on the sofa, surrounded by the sweet smell of pipe tobacco, as he snacks on nuts and dispenses advice.

Speaking of filberts, Andy Rooney decided to ‘put to good use’ some extra time he had for a 60 Minute show* on Mixed Nuts in 1997 during the holidays. And, this morning I listened to a podcast on mixed nuts.*

Turns out the standards for identity, weight, and composition were an issue. Packing a mix with cheaper nuts such as peanuts and, say, only a few of the expensive nuts may be more than nonsense to discerning customers.

Profit and greed figure into the history of Mixed Nuts. In the U.S. versus 25 Bags of Nuts case–I kid you not–in 1913, U.S. Attorney for the Northern Disrict of West Virginia, acting upon a report from the Secretary of Agriculture, filed a libel suit for the seizure and condemnation of 25 Bags of Nuts, charging Adulteration and Misbranding of “Fancy Mixed Nuts” in violation of the Food and Drugs Act.*

Just hullabaloo? Not true.

Mixed Nuts are a serious matter, from the court case to a 1964 Consumer Reports investigation on 124 cans of mixed nuts. Turns out there are many court cases on nuts over the years. Finally, the FDA publishes regulations in 1968. Andy Rooney does the 60-Minutes show in 1997. And, most recently UnderUnderstood published a podcast.

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Nuts-so-fast

What’s the current state of Mixed Nuts? To label a product as Mixed Nuts, it must meet standards of identity and weight and number. This amounts to a lot of fine print and compliance in the name of consumer protection, going back to the sixties and seventies.

“First of all, mixed nuts have to have at least four different nut varieties. And each variety must be more than 2% of the total weight, but not more than 80% of the total weight.” And, extensive guidelines exist for packaging labels and the threshold for allowable amounts of rancid nuts and insect-infested nuts, to name a couple. (UnderUnderstood podcast, Oct 20, 2020)*

If companies are going to top out mixes with cheap peanuts, they must state certain percentages on the label. I have nothing against the humble peanut. In fact I’ve developed a taste for Virginia peanuts.

As it turns out, modifiers fancy and extra fancy don’t carry any legal meaning for mixed nuts. My guess is that Kirkland and other companies are riffing off USDA grades for in-the-shell varieties to help with sales.*

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The word shelled is a contronym–a single word with two meanings that are opposite each other. An example is buckle which means to connect AND to collapse.

If shelled nuts have been taken out of the shell, what then does one call something in its shell? Shelled means to have a shell AND to not have a shell. Various shelled tortoise species or shelled animals are examples of having a shell.

And here’s a kernel of truth, the nut you’ve been reading for. An upside of all this nuttiness was learning about a new film, one the producer describes as a homage of sorts to National Lampoon’s classic, with a cast reunion of those funny fellows.

And there you have it, from shelf to nuts.

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Filming in Utica Begins

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FOOTNOTES

*The title Deez Nuts “is an expression used to deliberately interrupt or divert a conversation. It is not a literal reference to testicles; rather it is used figuratively to disrupt and show disrespect to whatever discussion is currently occurring. . . The first known usage of deez nuts comes from the Chronic, a 1992 album by Dr. Dre (the actual track is spelled “Deeez Nuuuts”). Source: Dictionary.com Slang

**THL (TreeHouseLetter) interrupts your day with Deez Mixed Nuts to divert you from the mundane, to help you rise above the tedium, and to learn with a bit of fun.

*Confusables, Contronyms, and Jane’s Potato Salad, 2 min read, 9-5-23

*Andy Rooney’s, 60-Minutes Overtime, Mixed Nuts, 12-27-97.

*UnderUnderstood Podcast, FDA Gets Salty: May Contain Up to 60% Peanuts, 10-10-2020. If you’re a concerned consumer of nuts this is well worth your time, a witty repartee and history.

*USDA Standards for Grades of Mixed Nuts in the Shell, effective August 18, 1981. Reprinted 1997. Page 2.

*Case Number 4329 abstract with sitelink. Date issued: August 8, 1916.

Mar 26, 2024

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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