Corn Nuts, a well-known brand, essentially offer fried and salted corn. While this snack isn’t particularly novel, as variations exist worldwide, its marketing suggests a significant influence on American culture. It’s almost a given that any rural gas station will stock bad coffee and Corn Nuts, highlighting widespread popularity of the snack. However, what’s intriguing is how a single American brand came to dominate such a simple and common food without any real explanation.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Initially, the brand originated in Oakland, California, where a man named Olin Huntington invoked the well-known “Brown Jug” drinking song that had surfaced in 1869, shortly after the Civil War.
My wife and I lived all alone,
In a little log hut we called our own;
She loved gin and I loved rum,
I tell you we had lots of fun.
Chorus: Ha! Ha! Ha! you and me,
Little Brown Jug don’t I love thee!
‘Tis you who makes my friends and foes,
‘Tis you who makes me wear old clothes,
Here you are so near my nose,
So tip her up and down she goes.
When I go toiling to my farm
I take little brown jug under my arm,
Place him under a shady tree,
Little brown jug, ’tis you and me.
If I’d a cow that gave such milk,
I’d clothe her in the finest silk
I’d feed her on the choicest hay,
And milk her forty times a day.
The rose is red, my nose is too
The violet’s blue and so are you;
And yet I guess, before I stop
I’d better take another drop.
Went for a walk on the railroad track,
Little brown jug on my back.
Stubbed my toe, and down I fell,
And broke that little jug I loved so well.
Isn’t it catchy? It’s worth noting how famous the Brown Jug still was by the 1930s, when Olin’s particular version of salted fried corn started appearing for free in Oakland bars.
Moreover, again considering the Civil War influence on American culture, Olin’s recipe perhaps resembled a snack known very well by soldiers, as described by Serious Eats:
…regular dry corn, which tended to be stolen from local fields and was used to make [pinole] (parched corn ground to a fine powder, seasoned with salt or sugar and eaten dry)
It seems at the very least that Confederate soldiers were familiar with a food preservation technique that meant roasting or parching stolen corn kernels. This method likely provided pro-slavery militants with a comfort food during long and desperate retreats renowned for drunken looting and pillaging.
How and why did toasted corn also migrate West? Some could argue Americans on the California Trail through the late 1800s needed a convenient, light and durable food option that could withstand rigors of travel and provide much-needed energy. Others rightly might argue those are the exact same reasons that pinole had long been a common staple of native Americans and other long hunters. In other words, was any food in the 1930s (after prohibition) more comforting than a drink with some familiar corn on the side?
While Olin’s Brown Jug Toasted Corn might sound like an odd brand to someone today, in 1936 that combination of words probably sounded more like someone saying water is wet. It was brilliant marketing for his day.
Thus the Oakland bars serving toasted corn rapidly grew the snack’s popularity until they ran directly into fierce political headwinds. A huge influx of hungry immigrants to California generated intense resentment towards “Okies” seeking a better life during the Dust Bowl. Free food? Suddenly a Brown Jug Toasted Corn model of handing out bar snacks was basically regulated out of business.
A man named Olin Huntington created a toasted corn product called Brown Jug and sold it to bars, which handed it out to patrons for free. The toasted corn was legendarily so popular, especially with children, that kids were often caught dashing into taverns to grab handfuls.
But shortly thereafter, California passed a law making it illegal to give away food at bars, spelling disaster for Brown Jug’s business model.
An ages old concept of using corn to feed starving Americans on long journeys became very popular with starving kids during the Dust Bowl? You don’t say.
The new laws were apparently too much for Olin, so he threw in the towel and sold his company. The transfer of Olin Manufacturing and their Brown Jug Toasted Corn business to a new entrepreneur (Albert Holloway) included a huge marketing reversal. Not only did the product now distance itself from an association to drinking, it added a 5 cent charge. The new focus shifted to selling small bags into schools as wholesome snacks for children… if they could pay ($1.50 in today’s terms).
The product was renamed based on what bar patrons, and possibly children, reportedly called out when they didn’t want salted peanuts: “hey bartender, how about some more of those corn nuts”.
Lastly, after all that history being said, the appeal of Corn Nuts lies in what reporters called a “pure and simple” concept. Something that seems very well-known around the world – oily corn with salt is delicious, and sustaining on long journeys. No wonder it’s in every gas station.
The perplexing part of the story is how a single brand with a single product came to dominate the American market to such an extent, given such obvious potential for numerous producers of salted fried corn to emerge.
However, dominance might be linked to the obscure politics of its origin story. It benefited from a hard turn away from the common snack associated with drinking and starving, into a conveniently packaged snack for kids… if they could pay.
By distancing from America’s controversial yet widely recognized Civil War, Brown Jug and Dust Bowl history (let’s face it, who today knows those lyrics), Corn Nuts successfully fabricated a strangely abrupt “pure and simple” origin story to build a dominant position in the convenience snack market.
Interestingly, this mirrors an abrupt and controversial racist origin to Doritos corn chips.
It begs a question of how and where the mostly forgotten Olin Huntington came upon his recipe that was then purchased and repurposed into a Corn Nuts empire. So far, I’ve found no evidence of Olin’s major influences, perhaps by design. It’s almost impossible to find any mention of Olin himself.
Cancha is the word used in Peru and Ecuador for corn that has been soaked and then toasted in a pan with oil and salt. There tend to be different sizes, textures and regional variations.
Cancha Chulpi is harvested young and tender, then toasted with seasoning and salt until it pops, emphasizing crunch.
Cancha Pescorunto is a smaller corn often toasted with seasoning and salt until it pops, again emphasizing crunch.
Cancha Serrana, or Andean corn, is found in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. Very large kernels are known for more of a starchy texture, frequently found in soups, stews, and side dishes. Like Cancha Chulpi and Pescorunto it can be toasted with salt.
It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city. When a child or a servant buys something in a shop—or even the mayor or the governor, for aught I know—he finishes the operation by saying—
‘Give me something for lagniappe.’
The shopman always responds; gives the child a bit of licorice-root, gives the servant a cheap cigar or a spool of thread, gives the governor—I don’t know what he gives the governor; support, likely. When you are invited to drink, and this does occur now and then in New Orleans—and you say, ‘What, again?—no, I’ve had enough;’ the other party says, ‘But just this one time more—this is for lagniappe.’
Twain tells us that “give me something” was like the servant saying I’m stuck in the middle, where’s my cut. And the person confronted was expected to prop up that poor servant and always respond.
Such power-structure and framing is very important to consider fully.
In today’s context, it’s commonly assumed that people wouldn’t outright demand a little extra, a lagniappe, as it may seem audacious or impolite. The image of someone extending their hand and saying, “give me something,” is met with disbelief. However, the reality contradicts this assumption. There’s a prevailing expectation for additional compensation or gratuity, and not meeting this expectation is viewed as the mistreatment of service providers (ignoring systemic mistreatment that invokes unsustainable practices of gratuities).
It’s bizarre, because from a historical perspective the idea of doling out small gratuities instead of meaningful change often suggests a system of gross injustices (e.g. here’s a drop of sugar to make being a slave easier to swallow).
Although some presidents, like Thomas Jefferson, provided their enslaved workers with a small “gratuity,” this did not change the fact that they were legal property, owned by some of the most powerful men in American history.
Now, let’s bring it back to the contemporary context. Imagine buying a couch or a new car and expecting a little extra, a lagniappe, as part of the deal. It’s not just about the tangible benefit; the demand for gifts represents a subtle negotiation of power dynamics in relationships. Whether it’s a discounted price or a set of nice seat covers, there’s an unspoken expectation of symbolic reciprocity. This intertwining of historical precedent and modern consumer interactions highlights the nuanced representation of power in various relationships.
All gifts, no matter how small, carry with them a responsibility and an obligation. And while we may try to mitigate those responsibilities and obligations with social codes of our own devising, we can’t truly escape them.
The people who hold power, typically use methods to get more.
We see in Twain’s written memoir of New Orleans how a child/servant is rewarded using token value to those who are doing the service for someone else. The child/servant getting a lagniappe isn’t buying anything as a customer of a shop any more than a waiter getting a tip would be eating the food they are meant to be serving.
That reveals the strong connection with a very racist practice we all know and are sadly expected to engage in even today: tipping.
To be fair, the lagniappe often is called a little “extra” given to a customer by a server, whereas the tip gets called a little “extra” given to a server by a customer. At the surface, they are inverted versions of gratuity. That’s the kind of thinking where most people would stop and assume the two must always diverge.
However there are far too many collisions in the words to ignore. For example, just like tipping, when a servant protests and shows self-respect to refuse an unwanted lagniappe pushed upon them, they are refusing “good” will of someone pressed upon them. How rude? Would anyone really refuse a tip? Indeed. Would someone refuse a lagniappe? Of course it happens. Here’s a 1774 court case about a slave who died after accepting a lagniappe for the work he had done.
Should the recipient have refused? He would have survived, presumably. The lawsuit accused the person giving a lagniappe as culpable for death of the recipient. If a lagniappe issued to the service worker were plain money it could have had lower liability than something other than money.
In any case, whether a man fell drunk into a bayou or he was murdered and his lagniappe stolen from him, the idea of giving a small gratuity for work provided is very logically the same practice as tipping.
People most often tip in settings where the workers are less happy than the customers. The Freudian Ernest Dichter once described the compulsion as “the need to pay, psychologically, for the guilt involved in the unequal relationship.”
Furthermore, an 1884 book called Creoles of Louisiana, George Washington Cable wrote a definition on lagniappe offering the word as petty gratuity (la ñapa — something added, bonus) that had been coined by French-speaking Blacks during Spanish rule.
…the pleasant institution of ñapa — the petty gratuity added, by the retailer, to anything bought — grew the pleasanter, drawn out into the Gallicized lagniappe.
Twain in 1889 thus anecdotally strains a meaning of this term almost beyond recognition when he briefly alleges:
If the waiter in the restaurant stumbles and spills a gill of coffee down the back of your neck, he says ‘For lagniappe, sah,’ and gets you another cup without extra charge.
Perhaps Twain is not to be taken literally at his word.
Replacing a thing that was lost, or restitution is hardly the same as a petty gratuity. How is replacing a hot tea spilled down your back any kind of bonus? Seems that would barely put a boiling mad customer back to where they started.
Consider the historical context of the mid-19th century in New Orleans, where, for instance, as a white patron of a restaurant with tea spilled on them, it would be absurd and reprehensible to resort to violence if a Black slave said lagniappe and presented a gesture of goodwill. But it surely happened anyway, when the angry customer demanded more (because they could, as illustrated recently in the first episode of Blue Eyed Samurai).
This scenario might be challenging to fathom in today’s more enlightened reality, acknowledging the discomfort it may evoke.
Alternatively, consider the contemporary injustice embedded in “tipping” culture. If you were a Black individual born into centuries of systemic racism and violent mistreatment by America, it would be unreasonable to expect you to passively accept an unbalanced situation where, for merely serving a burger and fries, your oppressor tosses a token lagniappe without addressing the broader inequities at play. Do you take the self-defeating bonus, or refuse on grounds of self-respect and demand a fair wage (e.g. education, healthcare)?
And now for why this obscure Louisiana term mostly died out…
After the Civil War the rapid economic growth and concentration of wealth in New Orleans (second only to NYC before the war) had completely collapsed rendering their ways of life and terms of business inhumanely unworkable.
New Orleans, which had been the economic and military powerhouse of American human trafficking, fell into sharp regression and collapse after losing their war to expand slavery. Meanwhile, NYC residents and visitors continued to dramatically gain prosperity, as emancipated Americans moved outside the still horribly racist southern states for a better life. Lamar White passionately explained what it really means to grow up in Louisiana:
12 Years a Slave isn’t just the greatest film ever made about American slavery; it is, in many respects, the only film ever made about American slavery. It’s an actual bona fide masterpiece. It’s staggering, blood-curdling, and perfectly, jarringly honest in its depiction of the greatest institutionalized atrocity and criminal conspiracy in our nation’s history. […] There is no dignity in this. And as much as we may try to gloss it all over, to convince ourselves that we’re justified in presenting and marketing and incentivizing a simulacrum of plantation life, there is also no escaping it: These are concentration camps. We either preserve all of the story or we demolish all of it.
As such, NYC was a boom town even greater than ever, rapidly building diversity into widespread prosperity and talking openly about the horrible legacy of “itching palm” economics and the un-democratic and un-American concept of a worker being given a gratuity, a bonus, or “tipped” (e.g. a lagniappe if they still were in New Orleans instead of NYC).
Nobody says brottus anymore, it’s hard to even find evidence of it, and for the likely same reasons they also shouldn’t say lagniappe. New Orleans’ practices of systemic racism lasted longer, ostensibly, so their lagniappe has lasted alongside it as well.
Here’s further exploration of what the 1889 letter writer is talking about, to clarify for everyone what Mark Twain’s casual pre-Civil War observations meant to Americans reading it at the time.
Emancipated Blacks moving into NYC predominantly were hired as waiters and related servant roles. Perhaps you were wondering why tipping originally was targeted almost entirely at waiters and hotel staff instead of dentists, teachers or plumbers? Those jobs had few or no emancipated slaves for whites to exploit. Now you know.
Perhaps no entity did more to spread the practice than the Pullman Company. George Pullman preferred hiring formerly enslaved Black men as railroad porters. He paid them as little as possible, and used tips as a subsidy. […] Across Europe, minimum-wage standards were raised, and tipping largely disappeared there.
This issue was used instrumentally as a mandate to target those groups they already saw as enemies of white Protestant nationalism: immigrants, Catholics and African Americans. … Prohibition didn’t ‘purify’ the nation by [incarcerating non-whites en-masse on the pretext of drinking]. What it did do was foster a nationwide climate of turmoil, and this was great for organizations that benefited from people’s fears and anxieties–like the Klan. McGirr argues that the politics of Prohibition paved the way for today’s far-right nationalist movements…
Constitutional amendment. A war on immigrants, meaning non-whites, meaning Blacks (and Catholics). So yeah, the KKK quickly were able to shift the political landscape (President Wilson removed all Blacks from public office) and repealed all the anti-tipping laws being written to protect Blacks from exploitation.
The result intended was easily predictable. Poverty rates of tipped workers are nearly double other workers and three times more likely to be on food stamps. The WYNC explains that in America tipping practices have by design always targeted and undermined Black prosperity, thus reducing democratic representation.
The data show very clearly that African Americans receive less in tips than whites, and so there is a legal argument to be made that as a protected class, African American servers are getting less for doing the same work. And therefore, the institution of tipping is inherently unfair.
Tips effectively facilitate wage discrimination. Black cabdrivers have historically earned less than white ones. In 2018, Eater found that white servers and bartenders nationwide earned a median pay of $7.06 an hour in tips. The median for Asian workers was $4.77. Michael Lynn, of Cornell, has contended that using tips as a means of compensating employees may violate the Civil Rights Act.
And where does money really go from those who think they individually could pay the “tipped” class into a better life? Graft, fraud and biased theft by management takes over.
In New York, restaurants get sued all the time for mismanaging, or dipping into, their employees’ tips. Mario Batali once settled a case for $5.25 million. Nobu has paid $2.5 million. Jean-Georges Vongerichten has paid $1.75 million. …“waiters had to slip the manager a twenty, or else you’d get the worst section of the restaurant, where they put European people.” …“Latino workers are especially abused.”
The Europeans don’t tip because they believe in an accountable, fair wage. Notably, nobody tips the lawyer.
Such “Test of Democracy” concepts long ago were encoded into innocent-sounding “gifting” terms to confuse those impacted by them most. In other words toxic and false aristocratic gratuity habits have for a very long time been wrapped in regional and even national terminology, but they don’t fool everyone.
Specific slavery-related terms of power and politics maybe should not be too easily confused with a phrase that was used by Mark Twain to help his readers relate to local customs: baker’s dozen.
…bakers would throw an extra loaf into orders of a dozen to avoid a flogging…
Bakers were “not trusted”, and their “extra” was seen as a form of advance restitution. Let me dive into these confusing waters even further by trying to tease apart differences between the baker who gives an extra loaf versus one who gifts an extra loaf.
They may give in terms of time, attention, advice or even objects with no specific value, where it doesn’t even have to involve a specific event. Gifting, however, is something of value (tangible or symbolic) they give related to a particular event or expectation, with consideration of the effects.
Power, control, oppression… there’s a lot more to the “extra” loaf than people talk about, know what I mean?
It’s now been over 100 years past the time that tipping should be abolished. Brottus, lagniappe, or bakers paying a tax to avoid a flogging… just call it all relative to the highly controversial economics of tipping. I mean call such troubling exchange acts what you want, it’s the history and anthropology of gifting that really helps us see why and when to stop.
…gifts are also symbolic representations of power and relationships. All gifts, no matter how small, carry with them a responsibility and an obligation. And while we may try to mitigate those responsibilities and obligations with social codes of our own devising, we can’t truly escape them.
Tipping, as well as its lesser-known counterparts like lagniappe or brottus, are forms of systemic racism where you drip something extra in a transaction as a small gesture to placate the weak, as a political act to sidestep the much larger and more meaningful obligation to be anti-racist. If I told you that when you throw a measly dollar bill, or even a thousand, at a stranger that you are undermining systems of health, education or welfare in society, would you do it?
A study back in 2015 apparently proved that color-vision prey (birds and reptiles) survive more easily when their predators wear bright colors (e.g. putting a large vivid safety color collar on a cat).
A second study then confirmed the findings about avian color perception.
The concept of prey safety through color vision has an intriguing twist: predators struggle to learn and implement effective countermeasures. While a cat is known to overcome and bypass a jingle bell, it is currently believed that cats have not yet figured out this particular challenge of being made more visible.
Such reliability makes me think how avian (and lizard) vision research could help a subtle shift in communication dynamics, reminiscent of the impact from infrared vision technology advancements. Drawing inspiration from birds (and lizards), goggles could bring humans into light spectrums we usually miss.
Think of signals using patterns and colors visible only with avian (and lizard) lenses. With potential applications in many forms of observation, such lenses could subtly alter communications. Embracing nuances of avian (and lizard) perception, this technology offers a neutral, practical approach to broad ranges of signaling including threat differentiation, opening up possibilities for those tuned into the secrets of the natural world.
Cloud services should not be considered “agentless” when they involve the deployment of instances or agents that manage, monitor, or perform tasks inside the cloud infrastructure.
The term “agentless” in the context of cloud computing is used to refer to the deployment and management of services without installing additional software to run locally on each target system or virtual machine, operating remotely instead through APIs and network protocols. However, they are still agents in a distributed architecture of compute, and they are still on the “inside” of a notable data boundary.
Despite using a different term, the cloud instances serve functions similar to agents by executing tasks within the compute environment. While similar, the main distinction lies in the fact that instances are generally more centralized and standardized within the cloud framework. This is far more about performance and cost reasons (one large agent with remote capabilities doing the work of many agents) than any safety or security ones.
Many years ago I worked on a version of this at VMware, where we engineered anti-virus out of every individual virtual machine (reducing redundant waste) and to a single shared instance/agent with remote access to all the machines. The same safety issues remained before and after the transition from many dedicated agents to a centrally shared one.
This is like saying an NSA project migrated to one agent who setup a tap on the whole neighborhood backbone for all the house phone calls, because it allowed them to stop hiring many agents who setup a tap on every house listening to phone calls. One agent instead of many agents, even one agent deployed into a central office miles away, still is not agentless. Much efficiency is achieved, but cloud users must beware and not assume inherent security.
An agent that walks and talks like an agent… is an agent.
Let me give a quick example of the kind of semantic games I hear. Some call cloud a “dynamic” environment where “resources spin up rapidly” and they point out “ephemeral workloads”.
All of this is relative, and all of it is meaningless to the foundational principles of an agent. Agents, like anything else, can spin up quickly with dynamic settings and disappear quickly. In fact, those attributes are practically the definition of a good agent.
Ok, ok, I’ll admit reading logs, scanning networks and doing analysis of storage can reduce load to a single big agent, which is smaller and easier to query than a sum of many deployed ones. Maintenance and management cost is lowered. Again, much efficiency is achieved, but cloud users must beware and not assume inherent security.
Who can forget the NSA agent who basically lived inside the San Francisco phone exchange? It seems wrong to say all those houses in San Francisco were truly agentless, given an agent remotely listening to all the kitchen phone lines instead of sitting in any one kitchen eating all the toast. It’s a physical, an architectural, distinction that obscures an agent is still present.
An agent that walks and talks like an agent… still an agent.
Perhaps it helps to point out that the people often pitching agentless architecture either are trying to explain efficiencies, or they’re trying to hide the fact they still run an agent under a different name. If all you care about is performance and cost, the former is fine and you’re relocating the agent. More toast for you and yours. However, if you care about safety and security, watch out for the latter. You might be the toast.