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The Buff Boys of the Peanut Butter Platoon

Peanut butter sushi. Peanut butter eggs. Peanut butter pizza. Is a schmear of nut spread the secret to big gains?

George Washington Carver may not have invented “nut butter” — now among America’s most popular food pastes, most often made from ground-up, dry-roasted peanuts — but his oft-reprinted 1916 article “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing It for Human Consumption” certainly went a long way toward expanding the reach of a cost-effective product. Yet even Carver, whose preparations included “peanut bisque” and “mock chicken peanut patty,” couldn’t have envisioned the uses to which the bros of the #PeanutButterPlatoon have put this versatile substance.

Loosely organized around the Butterfinger Twitter account and a pro wrestler named Victor Benjamin (“the Savage Gentleman”), the #PeanutButterPlatoon consists of primarily men sharing their peanut-butter concoctions with each other as well as the wider world. If you punch the hashtag into the Instagram or Twitter search bar, you’ll be treated to images of peanut butter sushi, peanut butter eggs, peanut butter pizza and other dishes in that vein. 

As with any other strange “food hack” or “food porn” meme, there’s plenty to unpack. On the hacking side of the ledger, there’s always been an obvious fitness angle. During the two years I participated in the CrossFit “box” at the University of Pittsburgh, many of the “Panther CrossFit” bros raved about almond butter, which constituted part of the “paleo diet” on account of almonds being a true nut rather than a legume like the peanut. After workouts, they would sit with jars of the stuff, some of which they were combining at home with coconut oil and grass-fed butter, and chow down. 

But peanut butter stood the test of time, even as CrossFit gyms have closed due to COVID, competing fitness regimens and issues with the founder’s politics. And it remains the cheapest way to get your calories from a nut paste, even if it’s technically a legume — placing it alongside other seeds or “pulses” like soybeans, tamarind, chickpeas and lentils rather than almonds and cashews. 

But why engage in such a fulsome treatment of one’s peanut butter dishes? Why showcase all of these heavy meals, many of which will certainly provide a huge caloric haul, such as eggs slathered in peanut butter?

“Part of this, perhaps the main part when a single food is involved, is that the consumer believes they’ve stumbled across the one true diet hack,” explains fitness journalist Anthony Roberts, who claims his “charlatan sense” begins to tingle whenever he hears of another popular “superfood” or “life hack.” “The fact that it’s a ‘hack’ or ‘exploit’ should tell you most of what you need to know. A few of these ‘hacks’ are time-tested, like drinking a gallon of whole milk a day to gain weight, but anyone touting a diet heavy in one specific item is probably pushing something that will cause nutritional deficiencies elsewhere.”

That said, calories are calories, in Roberts’ informed opinion. “Some powerlifting records have been set by guys eating nothing but many boxes’ worth of instant grits every day. It’s not some great mystery if you’re supplementing in other ways, such as with performance-enhancing drugs. Eat a bunch of calories, gain weight.”

Ron, a super heavyweight powerlifter and expert on hands-free orgasms, also reminds me that there’s much more to this than just consuming calories to reduce hunger and “hardgain” extra bulk. “For some folks, when it comes to oily, buttery or gooey foods, there’s very much an erotic or sexual element to it,” he explains. “That’s tied into size, gaining, whatever, especially in the gay male powerlifting community, which overlaps with other communities — bears, bulls, feeders, feedees, chubs, superchubs, whatever. There’s a lot going on there. Then there’s the basic desire, which anyone can have but which men seem to possess in spades, to show off, kind of like, ‘Hey, I ate that.’”

Now there was a sentiment I could understand — “Hey, I ate that.” This notion had informed my consumption during the four years I spent working at the Golden Corral, a smorgasbord of strangeness that ran the gamut from bizarre (“crisps” from the deep fryer) to the sublime (raw ribeye steak diced into a makeshift tartare). I arrived there as hungry as anyone in the world, and nothing filled me up.

And so, to truly understand the #PeanutButterPlatoon, I decided I’d begin eating like them by consuming a large cup of peanut butter with every meal. I’d also spend a week eating like raw egg nationalists by putting down four to six raw eggs, twice a day. Finally, I’d up my milk intake back from three quarters of a gallon of raw whole milk to a gallon of raw whole milk, a fairly easy feat given how closely I’d adhered to the dictates of the “GOMAD” diet for the past decade, in large part because I enjoyed drinking milk from my family’s farm and other local dairies.

There were, of course, social, cultural and political reasons for doing all of these things. For the #PeanutButterPlatoon, it meant roughly what it meant for the milk crew — lots of calories for the gym or other endeavors, without any time spent in the kitchen. But milk was a bit tricker, as the most devoted gym bros would demand to know if I were drinking raw milk, lest, in their minds anyway, the whole process would be null and void due to the fact that most milk is artificially supplemented with Vitamin D. And raw egg nationalism is a world unto itself, which MEL has covered previously, and I cannot hope to do justice to it in a sentence or three.

Backstory aside, I began eating like this in mid-November, when I weighed 235 pounds, and I continued eating like it right up until this weekend, when I weighed in at 228 pounds. The benefits were apparent: I ate less food overall, my wife cooked fewer meals and I could sit in front of the computer longer, skipping breakfast and lunch to file extra TPS reports and other such trivial work tasks. And because I ate less food, I almost certainly ended up eating much less wheat, which probably keeps my weight on the high side of the 220 to 240 pound range I’ve inhabited for the past half-decade. I’ve got a prodigious “wheat tooth,” the sort of craving for carbohydrate-laden calories that enables me to devour an entire sheet cake or two 16-inch pizzas in a single sitting. 

As far as strength gains go, it’s hard for me to say. Based on what I’ve seen from their posts, I’m stronger than The Savage Gentleman and many of the other #PeanutButterPlatoon members, but this is partly due to the fact that I’ve done powerlifting-style training for the past 20 years. Owing to decades in the “iron game,” I saw only the usual fluctuations of five or ten pounds in my training cycles related to the squat, deadlift, bench press and strict press — I’d need to either gain a ton of weight, as I have in years past, or carefully follow a steroid cycle to experience a significant increase in those numbers. 

But all things considered, subsisting primarily on peanut butter, raw eggs and whole milk isn’t that bad, actually. I’d recommend it much more than, say, a steady diet of kratom, which did little for me because I wasn’t experiencing the underlying opiate addictions it was intended to treat. It’s nice to eat such no-effort foods, in the same way it’s nice to go a few days without showering and shaving when working from home — you save a lot of time, more time you can allocate to the same chores you’d be doing anyway. 

In order to get in the spirit of showcasing my gluttony, I even posted a picture of one of these spreads on social media. The usual questions appeared in the replies: Was the milk raw (yes), were the eggs laid by free-range hens (yes), did you mix grass-fed butter into the peanut butter (no, even I have limits)? But was I missing something important about the #PeanutButterPlatoon hashtag? Had I failed, as it seems like I always do, to grasp the essential aspect, the sine qua non, of this ersatz community? 

Almost certainly, says JR Powell, a writer as well as my former college roommate who “lurks” on Twitter and follows odd hashtags like these. “Of course you don’t get it,” he explains. “You were always a lonely and private person. The gym, food… that was your own thing. Everything had to be your own thing. But most people just want something that’s communal, anything, to share with others. This hashtag seems lighthearted given that it’s mostly applied to these goofy desserts and unappetizing, gimmicky meals, but it’s still an attempt to assert belonging, in a time when physical proximity and genuine togetherness are against the best advice of the scientific establishment.”

Even that, though, might be overcomplicating things. “Peanut butter offers a great taste,” @scottyda78, who posts #PeanutButterPlatoon images of things like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and peanut butter schmears atop pizza, says tersely. “I just like it. I like sharing the flavor with other guys. There’s nothing else to it besides that.”