Tune In, Turn On, Make Lunch

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This has nothing to do with music, really, but just go with it.

It all started sometime in 1969 with scattered stories in local newspapers, but it didn’t become national news until late that summer, after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce held a series of workshops on urban issues. In a report on the link between organized crime and narcotics, the following sentence appeared, without context or elaboration: “In Chattanooga, it was learned that due to the high cost of narcotics, young people are using as mainline injections Kool Aid and peanut butter mixed with mayonnaise.”

In October 1969, the Senate Appropriations Committee held hearings on the  federal budget. Dr. Stanley Yolles, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, was being quizzed about NIMH’s anti-drug programs when Hawaii Republican Hiram Fong asked, pretty much out of the blue: “When you find out that a person gets a big kick out of injecting peanut butter in his veins, what do you do?” Yolles reponded, “I think the only kick they get out of peanut butter is the final kick. It is a very dangerous practice to say the least; it causes death if injected in any large quantity.”

Fong then asks what NIMH does when that happens. Yolles says (and we can imagine his patient tone, but also perhaps the internal eye-rolling) that the agency doesn’t involve itself in individual cases, but instead tries to educate people about the dangers of doing such things through “straight factual information, because we have had experience over the years with misinformation deliberately set out to scare people about using various substances and this has not worked. . . .”

The feds may have wanted to counter misinformation about substance abuse, but at least some of it was coming from inside the house.

That same month, the American Academy of Pediatrics met in Chicago. Guest speakers included Ernest A. Carabillo, Jr., described by the Associated Press as “a lawyer/pharmacist in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics,” and Frank Gulich, “a narcotics bureau official stationed in Chicago. ” They spoke to reporters, and an AP story appeared in papers around the country in which Carabillo told about “an underground recipe book purporting to outline ‘culinary escapes from reality.'” Gulich said that the books “usually sell for about $1 and often give the formulas for preparing drugs such as LSD.”

But the AP story did not focus on how kids were using their chemistry sets to become little neighborhood Owsleys. Instead, it focused on the use of peanut butter, mayonnaise, and other substitutes for narcotics. Carabillo said that users “confused the bizarre and toxic reactions with the so-called ‘high’ provided by heroin or marijuana. He cited the smoking of dried banana skins, a fad of a couple of years ago, as an example.” He said that kids were also using cleaning fluid, paregoric [an anti-diarrheal derived from morphine], ethyl chloride [a cooling spray used for pain relief], and freon from aerosol cans to get high. It seems obvious to us that any of the latter would get you off better than peanut butter or mayonnaise, but Mr. and Mrs. Middle America focused on the sandwich spreads.

In December 1969, President Nixon hosted a conference of state governors to address the drug problem. Nixon would try to have it both ways in the drug fight, warning that drug abuse was a threat to American civilization and firing Yolles in 1970 for criticizing stiff marijuana sentences, but also arguing for education over incarceration, at least for some users. (A cynic might suspect it was because middle-class white kids, the sons and daughters of the Silent Majority, were getting thrown in jail.) The conference also gave the peanut-butter-and-mayonnaise phenomenon a publicity boost when TV personality Art Linkletter, whose daughter had committed suicide in October while tripping on LSD, addressed the governors. He repeated the canard and added a new one: that young people were smoking crushed aspirin to get high.

It may not surprise you to learn that there were no solid sources for any of this. The titles of those underground cookbooks went unrecorded. Linkletter’s gravitas on the issue exempted his claims from close scrutiny. News stories about the practice were entirely hearsay. No one really knew if the peanut butter-and-mayonnaise thing was something kids legitimately believed would get them high, or if it was merely a few stoners pranking The Man.

Whatever the case, by the end of 1970, nobody was talking about it anymore.

8 thoughts on “Tune In, Turn On, Make Lunch

  1. mikehagerty

    As someone who entered high school in September of 1969, I can attest that this was the time the grownups lost their damn minds. You couldn’t dismantle a 19 cent clear BIC pen to shoot spitballs without a parent or teacher grilling you as to whether it was a drug delivery device.

    This, in a town of 3,000 people, 270 miles from Los Angeles, where the drug of choice when I graduated four years later was Colt 45 Malt Liquor in tall cans.

    It went on for the better part of a year and Art Linkletter was a tanker truck of gasoline poured on that fire. There were endless drug lectures at assembly, drug films (everything this side of “Reefer Madness”) in classes having nothing to do with social studies or health and personal appearances by detectives of the Bishop, California Police Department, who helpfully burned a piece of rope in the classroom to show us what marijuana smelled like (because they literally didn’t have any marijuana in the evidence locker and I’m betting were as clueless about the real thing as we were).

    The FCC, as usual, was late to the party, and made a big show of cracking down on “drug references in rock lyrics” just as I was getting into the business in 1971. So, one of my first interactions with management was explaining to the GM of KIBS that Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You” had nothing to do with marijuana, and yes, that went for Petula Clark’s “The Other Man’s Grass Is Always Greener”, too.


      1. mikehagerty

        Thanks for the link, JB. That was before I discovered THJKOC, and was (unsurprisingly) a terrific read.

  2. There was a shameful period in my very-youth when I actually enjoyed peanut butter and mayonnaise sammiches.
    At last I have an excuse for this period: I didn’t have horrible taste, I was just after wild, shameless kicks. Chasing the dragon, as it were.
    (OK, I wasn’t injecting it — I guess that’s the crucial difference. I guess Wonder Bread blunted the psychotropic impact.)

    This is the some of the goofiest nonsense (in the truest meaning of the word — “non-sense”) that I have ever read, and I would understand if no one who was a teenager in 1970 ever trusted their parents’ generation ever again.

  3. Brian L Rostron

    Man, the death of Art Linkletter’s daughter must have made a big impact on Middle American types. My elderly 3rd grade teacher mentioned it as part of our “drug education” in the early ’80s even though none of us had any idea who he or LSD was.

    1. mikehagerty

      Brian, it was a three-channel TV universe in those days, Moms largely stayed at home and” Art Linkletter’s House Party” ran for half an hour, five days a week at 2:30 in the afternoon on CBS from 1953-1968. Perfect for a cup of coffee between morning chores and the kids getting home from school.

      It’s hard to imagine a media personality like Art Linkletter today. Decades on the air, multiple TV and radio projects overlapping and a wholesome image with zero tabloid-style scandal. If HE could have a daughter who died because of LSD, anyone could (which was true, but the overreaction in Middle America was off-the-charts).

  4. Pingback: Work Ethic of a Hobo – The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

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