Wherein people throughout the ages know eating acorns doesn’t always mean you eat like a pig.
Have you ever wondered if the squirrels might be onto something,” The Farmer’s Almanac asks. I’ve never wondered if they’re on to something, but by gosh I’ve wondered if they’re up to something. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed…I just know they’re a furry little illuminati plotting to overturn a bird feeder or an election. If you’ve ever said some politicians are “a little squirrelly,” then you, my friend, are on to something.
Actually, looking at The Farmer’s Almanac again, I realize they’re just talking about the benefits of eating acorns. So forget what I just said…and maybe burn it, because you can’t trust those devious little squirrels…
Little Piggies Got Nuts, People Don’t
These headings (based on a long-running series of commercials for Almond Joy and Mounds candy bars; if you’re a Boomer or Gen X-er the song is now going through your head, and I’m not sorry) aren’t entirely accurate: people do in fact eat acorns, although primarily in times of famine (an exception would be dotorimuk or Korean acorn jelly). Numerous cultures have made flour from acorns, Lithuanians and others have used them for coffee, and the nuts can even be roasted and eaten on their own. The reason they have often been eaten during times of need, though, is that they require work to be edible: acorns need to be soaked and aged to remove the bitter and mildly toxic tannins before humans can consume them without disgust (and possible liver damage).
Interestingly, the Greek historian Herodutus (5th century BCE) relates a tale where the oracle at Delphi warned the Spartans that they would be unable to defeat the “men in Arcadia, eaters of acorns.” I like to think of the Arcadians as proto-Popeyes, pounding acorns down their gullets like the sailor gulping spinach before rushing into battle.
Acorns are primarily eaten, however, as fodder by animals (including, of course, those diabolical squirrels). In addition to the wildlife eating them in the forest—which is generally believed to be how humans realized the nuts could be consumed—acorns have long been considered an particularly important food for swine. Vincenzo Tanara said in the 17th century that acorns generano miglior carne (“make better meat”), and the nuts continue to be the primary source of food for the swine from which we get the prized Spanish jamón ibérico de bellota.
I have been studying philosophy, where Aristotle uses the example of an oak tree growing an acorn, which itself then grows into another oak, as an example of a potential substance being preceded by an actual substance—and what’s more, the process philosophy I’m studying argues against substances. And I’m studying this for enjoyment! This tells us little about acorns, but the fact that I’m reading this stuff for fun demonstrates irrefutably that there is far more wrong with me than warning of a global squirrel takeover.
Image: Diet of acorns (Source).