Stephen Wisniewski




Hüsker Dü:
Too Much Spice


In the 1600s, Europeans were in love with nutmeg.

It was believed to have beneficial medicinal properties, and it was also delicious. And exotic, and expensive, so wealthy Europeans displayed it prominently on their tables as a marker of status.

Lots of exotic spices were expensive at the time, and difficult to get — Europeans knew only one island in an Indonesian archipelago where nutmeg grew, and the indigenous islanders had developed their own system of trading and selling it. So the Dutch, who wanted a monopoly in the lucrative "Spice Islands" deported or murdered the indigenous people to gain control of the territory. They would run islanders off of cliffs to their death, or behead them. In the end, the Dutch murdered over 90% of the indigenous people. Every sprinkle of nutmeg has been soaked in blood and is screaming with ghosts.

Over time, nutmeg plants were smuggled out and came to be cultivated on other Indonesian and Caribbean islands. One of them was controlled by the British, and in the mid-1600s, the Dutch wanted that island, too. So they made a deal: the British would trade that nutmeg-growing island for Dutch-controlled New Amsterdam — what is today Manhattan.

Several years ago, I was in New York City helping a friend move out of his tiny apartment and back to Michigan. It was summer, and so everything in New York was sticky and smelled of garbage. We had reached the point in packing up a home where you begin making ruthless choices about what you are willing to put in a box; about what you REALLY want to take with you. In the kitchen, sacrifices were made in the spice rack: nutmeg, peppercorns, cloves.

"I haven't even used most of this stuff in three years." 

So we threw it all away. He'd buy everything new once we got back home.