No Jif For BuckleyTuesday, January 13, 2015
|William F.Buckley Jr. - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
Those differences were clearer in the past century but at the same time you had Nixon showing Khrushchev an ideal American kitchen and the right and the left still talked to each other. No matter how strident the arguments were between right wing William F. Buckley Jr. and left-wing liberal Gore Vidal I have a sneaking suspicion that they admired their mutual talents for good English and declamation talents, not to mention the biting intelligence they shared.Because I lived for five formative years in Austin, Texas I consider part of me to be American and I have always been interested in American politics. Were I truly an American I would vote for the Democrats as I deplore the almost across-the-board stupidity of the Republicans who have long forgotten that they were (and certainly are not now) the Party of Lincoln.
In the 60s while already a leftie I had admiration for the Republican Minority Leader of the US Senate, Everett McKinley Dirksen. I loved his oratory and his sense of humour. In later years I admired Senator Barry Goldwater’s photographic expertise and his portraits of the natives of his state are very good. And to boot he could pilot a jet fighter.
When some years ago I had my chance to take portraits of William F. Buckley I was thrilled. I might not have agreed with his pragmatic (to be fair) conservative views but I loved his command of English.
When I spotted this article in my daily delivered (hard copy) NY Times I didn’t feel that “sharing” it in facebook was quite the right thing. It would probably be lost to many. Now here is the article in its entirety and I hope the NY Times Copyright Police and writer David Segaljan do not come after me.
|Credit Ginny Rose Stewart for The New York Times
Peanut Butter With Sticking Power
How Red Wing Became William F. Buckley Jr.'s Favorite Peanut ButterBy DAVID SEGALJAN. 12, 2015
FREDONIA, N.Y. — Throughout a life of erudite jousting and patrician bonhomie, William F. Buckley Jr. was known as a conservative, a writer, a publisher, a talk-show host, a novelist and an avid sailor. But friends and family would say this biographical summary is incomplete without three more words: peanut butter freak.Mr. Buckley didn’t just devour the stuff; he rhapsodized about it, telling readers in a 1981 column in National Review, the magazine he founded, that when he first married, he told his wife that he “expected peanut butter for breakfast every day of my life, including Ash Wednesday.”
This lifelong passion was nurtured during Mr. Buckley’s years in an English boarding school, when his father sent twice-a-month care packages that included grapefruits and a large jar of peanut butter. To his astonishment, British pals who shared in his bounty loved the grapefruit and spat out the peanut butter.
“No wonder,” he wrote in that same column, “they needed American help to win the war.”
For years, Mr. Buckley’s favorite brand was Red Wing, produced in this upstate village 45 miles southwest of Buffalo. A jar of the peanut butter had been sent to Mr. Buckley soon after that 1981 column by the executive who then ran the company, Douglas Manly.
“He wrote something about liking Skippy,” said Mr. Manly, now 87 years old and long retired. “And I asked a sales associate to send him a jar with a note that said, ‘We think you’ll like this better.’ ”Mr. Manly was right. Mr. Buckley’s son, the novelist Christopher Buckley, said in a phone interview: “My dad’s one true quest in life was for the Platonic ideal of peanut butter. And I remember one day he announced, with a look of utter transfiguration on his face, that he had found paradise on earth in a jar with a yellow cap. And it was called Red Wing.”
Mr. Buckley died in 2008, sparing him some heartbreaking news. ConAgra, the food titan that acquired Red Wing in 2013 when it bought its parent company, Ralcorp, announced early last year that it would shut down the Fredonia factory. The entire operation — which includes production lines of mayonnaise, barbecue sauce and jellies — will close in phases and the doors will be locked by February. Some 425 workers will lose their jobs.This doesn’t necessarily mean that the flavor of Red Wing will disappear. The peanut butter made here is what is known as private label, produced for supermarket chains catering to value shoppers. If you ever bought peanut butter sold under labels like Wegmans, Price Chopper, Our Family or Tops, you were eating Red Wing.
According to ConAgra, the company will continue selling to corporate customers through another factory, this one in Streator, Ill., with the same recipe as the one used in Fredonia.Mr. Manly sounded skeptical. “We can’t be sure,” he said, “because they won’t be using the same equipment or the same personnel.”
If you want to see the last of the Fredonia Red Wing being made, Mr. Manly suggested in November, you’d better come quick. Two weeks later, he provided a tour of the premises, a parting look at the facility and a firsthand account of how William Buckley became Red Wing’s patron saint.“It was a whim,” he said of that fateful jar sent to the offices of National Review, while we drove to the Fredonia factory in his Hyundai Elantra. “I didn’t really think that anything would come of it.”
A chatty guy with a puckish smile, Mr. Manly occasionally performs what he calls “stand-up Irish comedy” at assisted living facilities. But he kept the quips to a minimum as we toured the plant, pointing out parts of it that are more than 100 years old. Red Wing is produced amid a jumble of old red brick and modern aluminum-sided buildings on 42 acres of asphalt and lawn.Mr. Manly ticked the box for two cases of Red Wing, and when Peggy went to fill his order, he gestured toward the factory floor and said, “Let’s go.”
We walked past safety and warning signs, including one that read “Allergens in Use.” That seemed like a hopeful hint that the peanut butter operation was still churning, but when we reached that part of the plant, there was not a peanut in sight. The line had shut down in November, we were later told, though all the machinery was still in place.That included a peanut roaster once hailed as the world’s largest, built to process 10 tons an hour. Mr. Buckley was on hand for the 1982 ribbon-cutting for this industrial behemoth because soon after he discovered the joys of Red Wing, Mr. Manly invited him to speak at the ceremony.
“Without hesitation, my dad said, ‘I’ll be there,’ ” Christopher Buckley recalled with a chuckle. “I never saw him accept an invitation faster. And he’d been invited to palaces in his day and said, ‘I’ll have to think about it.’ ”There are articles of Mr. Buckley’s visit, which lacked only a brass band and bunting. When Mr. Buckley and his wife, Pat, reached the roaster, a few hundred employees were waiting to hear him speak. In a photo of the event, Mr. Buckley grins in a white lab coat over his jacket and tie.
“Thank you for letting me attend this historic occasion,” Mr. Buckley told the crowd, neatly finding the seam between the grandiose and the comic. He said that he wished Red Wing could be served at United States-Soviet disarmament talks, because once the Russians sampled it, “they would give up all their assets, communism and Karl Marx.”He took questions from reporters and confirmed that his friend Charlton Heston shared his devotion to peanut butter. Though the actor, Mr. Buckley added, is of the “chunky reform faith.”
As a thank-you for his service that day, Mr. Buckley was given a lifetime’s supply of Red Wing — a dozen 18-ounce jars of the smooth variety, mailed every six months. Each had a custom “Buckley’s Best” label, with a copy of Mr. Buckley’s autograph and his endorsement, “It is quite simply incomparable.”For years afterward, visitors to Mr. Buckley’s home in Connecticut who expressed any peanut butter enthusiasm were dared to resist Red Wing’s charms. He praised the brand so extravagantly during a radio interview on Manhattan’s WMCA that the show’s host, Barry Gray, said listeners cleaned out local stores.
“The supermarkets in my neighborhood had a run on the peanut butter,” Mr. Gray told Mr. Buckley when he next appeared on the show. “I don’t kid you. There were simply no Red Wing jars to be found for weeks.”In 1985, a New Yorker writer and fellow peanut butter aficionado, James Stevenson, wrote in the magazine about a pilgrimage to Fredonia and his own one-man taste test, conducted, he explained, because he was skeptical about Mr. Buckley’s judgment in international affairs, economics and virtually everything else. But the man was right about peanut butter.
“Red Wing is superb,” Mr. Stevenson concluded.Is it really worth all the fuss? Mr. Manly is hardly emphatic on the question. This may seem surprising, but he was around for Red Wing’s food-lab formulation, in 1965, and he says the idea was to knock off Jif, then the favorite in the Northeast.
“We worked on it until employees who were part of a taste panel could not tell the difference between Red Wing and Jif,” he said, after the tour, sitting at a table in the rear of his house.The company wanted a leading-brand impostor because its sales pitch to supermarket chains was essentially, “This is identical to the best seller, but less expensive.”
So if Red Wing was simply a Jif impersonation, why were Mr. Buckley and others so smitten? Mr. Manly has a guess. One way to keep down costs was to refuse to store much product. During Mr. Manly’s tenure, orders were accepted 10 days in advance, and no more, limiting the amount of time jars waited on shelves to be shipped.Red Wing may have bowled over Mr. Buckley because it was far fresher than anything he’d ever eaten. Or not. Brand devotion is often a mystery that flavor can only partly explain. Perhaps discovering an unbidden jar with an uncelebrated name helped hook Mr. Buckley back in 1981. Perhaps he’d never tried Jif.
Regardless, the closing of the Fredonia factory can be seen as the head-on collision of this ardent free marketeer’s two great loves: capitalism and peanut butter, or at least one production line of one brand of peanut butter. It’s unlikely that this would have presented a real quandary to Mr. Buckley, if only because at the time of his death, he had a stockpile of Red Wing that his son described as large enough “to see the most determined survivalist through the next Armageddon.”But the younger Buckley didn’t keep it all.
“The night before his funeral,” he said of his father, “into his coffin I slipped my mother’s ashes, his rosary, the TV remote control — and a jar of Red Wing peanut butter. I’d say no pharaoh went off to the next world better equipped.”