If I ask you to recall a catchphrase – a word or statement you heard repeatedly and probably won’t forget – you could come up with several examples. Movie quotes, for instance. (“I’m the king of the world!”) Song lyrics. (“I get by with a little help from my friends.”) And television commercials; where the product or “jingle” yields a branded catchphrase. Just this week I learned a new one: bindle stiff, which describes a homeless person through the bag of personal items (bindle) on the end of his/her stick. I’m no hobo, but Euell Gibbons once was. And Gibbons once uttered one of the most famous catchphrases ever.
Who the heck is Euell Gibbons? Any American kid growing up in the 1970’s would know. Gibbons was the spokesperson for Post Grape-Nuts cereal, made instantly famous by a single television commercial where he uttered, “Ever eat a pine tree? Many parts are edible.” That statement was so bizarre – and laugh-out-loud to us kids – it spread like wildfire (and sold a ton of Grape-Nuts cereal). But it was only recently I learned Gibbons wasn’t just a hired bindle stiff, but a man ahead of his time. He had a lifelong interest in foods foraged from “nutritious-but-oft-neglected plants” (surely learned from an impoverished and transient childhood). He wrote several successful whole-foods cookbooks, including “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” (1964) and “A Wild Way to Eat” (1967). In his later years, Gibbons and his wife joined a community of Quakers in Philadelphia, where he cooked the daily shared breakfast (of course he did).
I love Grape-Nuts cereal, back to when I was a kid. I’m not sure if Gibbons gets the credit, or because Grape-Nuts just tastes good (“…reminds me of wild hickory nuts…”, as Gibbons also said). Admittedly, Grape-Nuts was a little off the beaten path of children’s cereals. Very low in fat and sugar, Grape-Nuts looked and crunched like a bowl of light brown gravel. Add in milk as a softener and sugar as a sweetener however, and something about the cereal just clicked with me. After college I forced myself to give up Grape-Nuts, because I developed jaw pain from too many hard foods. Maybe that’s why Post developed Grape-Nuts “Flakes” cereal, or Grape-Nuts “Trail Mix Crunch Cranberry Vanilla”.
Speaking of trail mix (convenient segue), Euell Gibbons comes back to the conversation. Trail mix was introduced about the time Gibbons was born (1910), as a combination of dried fruit and nuts. Trail mix was lightweight and therefore easy to carry on long hikes. The carbs and fat created a quick energy source and an ideal snack food, and the mix became immensely popular to outdoors-people, especially sugared up with a few M&M’s or yogurt coverings (which Gibbons never would’ve approved of). Yet it wasn’t always called “trail mix”. In another word familiar to 1970’s kids, Gibbons coined the acronym GORP, which either meant “good ol’-fashioned raisins and peanuts”, or “granola, oats, raisins, and peanuts”. Yep, I ate a lot of GORP in my childhood. Might’ve even had my first taste at Hadley Fruit Orchards, a place in the California desert my parents like to frequent. Hadley – alongside others – claims to be the “inventor” of trail mix.
As if “Euell Gibbons” is not unique enough for an American, his middle name was “Theophilus”. The only Theophilus I’m aware of lived in biblical times, when Luke wrote his Gospel (and the book of Acts) as letters to an individual by the same name. Perhaps Gibbons should’ve lived in biblical times. As God’s people sought the Holy Land he could’ve helped them with his foraging skills. Or at least introduced them to Grape-Nuts.
Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.