Eating Packing Peanuts is the Patriotic Thing to Do
Heap your gastrointestinal health on the pyre of commerce
I have some ideas about how to fix the supply chain.
I’m not talking about the root causes—the backed up ports, the fed up truckers, the pent up demand. I can’t do jack about any of that. But shipping efficiency? I have some notes. Every cubic inch of shipping real estate is precious right now, and we’re squandering millions of those inches on Styrofoam and bubble wrap.
What if we could transform that deadweight loss into a cut-rate win? What if we could make filler filling through a synergy of starch? What if we could send our loved ones a new pair of slippers and a snack?
Welcome to the world of edible packing peanuts.
I first learned about edible, starch-based packing peanuts when my friend Liz (no relation) suggested I use them to jury-rig a Cheeto. It was the height of the Frito-Lay strike, and Americans needed ethical alternatives.
Most of the companies that manufacture these peanuts would prefer I use a different descriptor than “edible”—“biodegradable,” perhaps, or “compostable.” But I believe in calling a spade a spade, and then using that spade to bury some packing peanuts in my backyard.
I ordered the smallest bag of packnuts I could find online, which was roughly the size of a beanbag chair, and began Googling things like “CORNSTARCH OVERDOSE.” The peanuts I had selected were from a brand called RENATURE®, which had drawn me in with this incredible promotional video in which a woman demonstrates increasingly implausible uses for the product. She plays ping pong with a puffy white peanut. She lounges in an inflatable pool filled with the ‘nuts, tossing them onto her face in a vaguely porn-y display. A title card blinks onto the screen: “THE PERFECT GIFT FOR ANY OCCASION.”
Yes, I thought. They will be.
Turning them into Cheat-Os was harder than I expected. Frito-Lay doesn’t sell the Official Cheese Dust1 (and I was trying to avoid throwing money at them, anyway), so I bought an industrial-sized tub of Hoosier Hill Farm Premium Cheddar Cheese Powder (Natural) instead. For my first attempt, I just threw some of the packing peanuts into a bowl, spritzed ‘em with cooking spray for Flavor Adhesion, then sprinkled on a house blend of dairy dust, salt, and smoked paprika (for that trademark spray-tan color).
The texture was all wrong. Half of the peanut pasted itself to the roof of my mouth like a communion wafer, while the other half withered on my tongue like cotton candy. There was no crunch. (The cheese powder, it must be said, was delicious.)
I needed a radical texture change. I dumped the remaining peanuts onto a wire rack set in a half sheet pan and turned my oven on to the convection setting, hoping the air circulation would dry them out a bit.
While the oven preheated, I Googled “What happens when you bake a packing peanut?” I didn’t find answers. I did, however, find this Substack post from deranged genius Dennis Lee, who had attempted to pan-fry packing peanuts to make Cheetos five years before I had even considered the possibility
I whispered “fuck” into the powdered cheese tub and screwed the lid back on. I should have known Dennis had beaten me to the punch.2 But I had come too far to turn back now. The cost was sunk.
I baked the peanuts.
When you try break a raw starch peanut in half, it squishes and tears like, well, Styrofoam. When you bake that same peanut in the oven for 30 minutes at 250° Fahrenheit, it snaps. The Cheat-Os were almost perfect—puffy, crispy, light—but the cheese powder had developed an unpleasant scorched flavor in the oven. So I started a new batch—nude, this time—and coated them in the powder after they were crisp. I also took a cue from Dennis’s recipe and added MSG to my cheese powder mix.3
Without hyperbole: these were delicious. I would have eaten the entire bowl if I hadn’t needed to save room for my second course.
You see, I had actually purchased two kinds of edible packing peanuts. I couldn’t resist the festive allure of these FunPak® novelty peanuts shaped, I presume, like Christmas trees.
Was I moderately concerned about starch poisoning? Sure. Was I going to change my behavior to avoid it? You already know the answer. My body is less temple than “cursed ziggurat” at this point, and I can think of few things more dangerous than what’s already inside.
I followed the same baking procedure as the Cheat-os, but swapped the cheese out for dry ranch powder. You can descend into the Hidden Valley, as I did, or celebrate the high holy days with this product recommended by a Haterade subscriber.4 Either way, they’re adorable—the perfect hostess gift for your next holiday party.
Flavor Verdict: inferior to the cheese, if I’m honest. After I had eaten a few, I also noticed my ranch powder was teeming with pantry moths. I suspect I, too, am now teeming with pantry moths.
I’ve got a couple cubic feet of assorted p’nuts to work through, so I’m going to be experimenting with these for a while. I’m happy to spread the wealth. It’s Christmastide, after all.
Maybe you’re shipping gifts across the country this year. Maybe you’re sending your mother-in-law a New Year’s Ham. Whatever the occasion, don’t waste precious cargo room. Give the people hors d’oeuvres for their orders. Snackable packables are the future of logistics—the zenith of DIY sustainability—the deranged civilian’s Victory Garden.
Help the supply chain. It’s the patriotic thing to do.
If you would like to support the Haterade Rehabilitation Center for Unrepentant Goons, share, subscribe, or donate via Venmo: @lizcookkc | CashApp: $lizcookkc | or PayPal: email@example.com. Send your address with your donation if you would like to receive a limited edition Haterade koozie! I’m almost out of the purple flavor, but have several left in black.
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Do the kids these days even know about mids? The pace of innovation takes my breath away.