Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Spagetti* (for Spaghetti*)

There was once a time in America when "ethnic" food was pretty much only eaten by people of that particular ethnic group. Downtown Albany, New York, had boasted a thriving "Little Italy" neighborhood for many years until then-governor Nelson Rockefeller decided it might be a good idea to raze 1,500 homes and apartment buildings, 350 businesses, four churches, and 29 taverns—thereby displacing 9,000 residents—in order to make room for the grandiose Empire State Plaza, where thousands of civil servants now work. I recall my mother telling me one time about a school chum of hers in high school who used to invite her over for dinner. This was the first time, she said, she had ever had spaghetti. Pasta of all kinds, but perhaps especially spaghetti, is so ubiquitous nowadays it's hard to imagine a time when this wasn't the case. But on April Fools' Day in 1957, the "Spaghetti-tree hoax" confused and confounded many British citizens, who, as Wikipedia puts it, "were unaware that spaghetti is made from wheat flour and water." Afterwards, a "number of viewers" contacted the BBC for information on how to grow their own spaghetti tree. Years later, CNN called this three-minute broadcast "the biggest hoax that any reputable news establishment ever pulled." Well-known BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby spoke in stentorian tones of the traditional Swiss "harvest festival," the advanced breeding techniques required to produce spaghetti of uniform length, and the "virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil." There were two cases of Spagetti* (for spaghetti*) in OhioLINK today, and 161 in WorldCat.

(Screenshot from a broadcast of the spaghetti harvest BBC April Fool's Day joke, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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