Episode 77: A Wizarding Thanksgiving…

Happy Thanksgiving folks! Aaron talks turkey then Shea tells us all about New Zealand’s grand wizard in this public patron-length episode!

Episode 77: A Wizarding thanksgiving…Welcome to Interesting If True, the podcast that has so many things to be thankful for, but most of all, it’s you, dear listener!

I’m your host this week, Aaron, this week I learned that Varsity Blues was the name of the movie with the whipped cream bikini lady… but let’s be honest, Captain America wore it better.

I’m Shea, and this week I learned that if you want to preserve your vaccine virginity all you need to do is not move when they stick you with the needle and it doesn’t count, it’s called vaccine soaking.

Round table

This week’s show airs just after American Thanksgiving. For those unfamiliar, it’s the special time of year where we gather friends and family over for a traditional meal of tortured birds, carbs, and Covid-19. The holiday commemorates the lies we tell school children about the peaceful nature of European pilgrims and what they actually did to the Wampanoag First Nation Peoples who helped them survive a particularly cold winter that, apparently, Christian god was not up to the task of sorting out.

Still, it’s not merely a display of food wealth designed to shove Euro-centric ideals of prosperity down the throats of the non-white Americans who, then as now, provide the food, means, and often recipes we enjoy. There’s also the bit where the privileged take a moment to thank themselves.

Hopefully, this is a slightly less gross display of thanks because we are, indeed, very thankful for you, our listeners, and all your support. And I don’t just mean financial! To everyone who listens, shares, likes, and yeah, supports us, we thank you! Your generosity over the years has meant a lot to us in the studio. It’s enabled fan equipment, meet-ups, our worldly beer knowledge, and most importantly, our continued ability to donate to WyoAIDS. Recently, at DQB 2021, we were able to straight-up donate a big, novelty, check’s worth of cash and it is entirely thanks to the generosity of our patrons and donors. Thank you!

On a personal note, I’d like to thank my co-hosts Jenn, Jim, Shea, and Steve for putting up with my nonsense for going on a decade — and indeed a few of you longer ;)

Speaking of Jim, I’d like to thank him for all the wonderful help over the years with everything from homework to officiating my wedding. Specifically, today I’d like to say thanks for managing our Insta and FB pages. If you’ve enjoyed the factoids, memes, and funnies we’ve been sharing, a great way to say thanks is to like and subscribe to us of course, but also to the WyoAIDS Facebook page, where every like and share makes a life-saving cause more visible. Thanks, Jim!

And now that we’ve gone around the table and said thanks, let’s go ahead and take the piss out of the holiday eh!?


I won’t dwell on the “true” meaning of Thanksgiving. Far more intelligent, insightful, and connected people than I have done far better jobs and shared the true history of the holiday, its terrible impact on the Wampanoag and other First Nations peoples, and the nearly vegan-inducing levels of Turkeycide.

If you want more info on those things there are some links in the show notes to great articles. Also, I can wholeheartedly recommend episode four of Taste The Nation: Season Two, wherein Padma Lakshmi does a fantastic job of talking with Wampanoag leaders and historians. She covers everything from the National Day of Mourning to what they ate. It’s a fantastic watch that tells the truth but doesn’t make you want to go play in-between the train tracks after.

Instead, I’m going to pick apart some of the usual nonsense like Tryptophan, if turkeys drown in the rain, and why cranberry sauce is better when it’s ribbed for your pleasure. Hint: the answer is sugar. So much sugar.

First, let’s start with an easy one. If you’re roasting a turkey (and if this managed to be released by Turkey Day) then you likely have a bird with one of those red, plastic, pop-up doneness indicators. These are not good tools. Like at all.

“If I had my way, the world would be rid of it,” J. Kenji López-Alt, James Beard-nominated columnist and chief culinary consultant of Serious Eats, said of pop-up timers in an interview with The Washington Post in 2015.

According to the USDA, the recommended safe cooking temperature for turkey is 165 degrees F. This is a bit high, but it won’t dry your turkey out too badly. For reference, the safely-cooked-but-still-tasty temp you’re shooting for is 144 for white meat (provided a long cooking time) and 155 for dark meat, again, takes a while. The little red plastic things, however, are set to “pop” to indicate doneness at 180 to 185, or as most people know it, leather-in-the-desert done.

So, briefly, if you use the doneness indicator on your turkey, you’re cooking it to a “please don’t sue us” temp, but way, way overdone for dinner and it’s gonna be wicked dry. You’re far better off using a real food thermometer or doing the temp, weight, time math yourself.

If you’re really unsure and want to be safe, the Kikkerland turkey timer is set between 160 and 165 degrees F respectively. Amazon links in the show notes – Currently sold out.

Of all the things you’ll buy for the holiday, a good meat thermometer is probably the best and longest-living investment you can make. Decent digital meters are about $15 and analog ones $5. Again, links to mine in the show notes.

So, I don’t know about you but I’m already Thanksgiving-sleepy… might be because of the midnight brine swaps and so on, but it’s definitely not because of Tryptophan. Of course, I haven’t yet eaten the bird, but that doesn’t matter, because, like MSG, misgivings and health effects attributed to Tryptophan are nonsense.

Tryptophan is an a-amino acid, one of twenty-ish, that makes up proteins. This particular amino acid is one that your body doesn’t produce on its own and therefore must come from protein-rich foods… like turkey. In a turkey, you’ll find about 410 milligrams per pound (raw weight) in light meat and roughly 303 milligrams per pound of dark meat (uncooked).

Of course, turkey isn’t the only source of tryptophan. Canned tuna has 472mg/ounce, not even per pound. Cheese, in this example standard American cheddar, has roughly 91 milligrams per ounce. And… now to the ones you might not expect. Nuts and Seeds, generally (numbers from peanuts) contain 65-ish mg per ounce. Chocolate, 18mg/ounce. Fruits: banana, 11mg; Apple, 2mg; a prune, 2mg all per ounce. Bread, whole wheat, has about 19mg per slice, with white bread having roughly 22mg per slice.

In the articles, I read all agree that because of its high levels in many common foods the average American ingests between 500 and 2000 milligrams of L-tryptophan daily. Thanksgiving might cause a spike, but it’s hardly a novel event.

Reserved for its own paragraph, let’s talk about milk. Whole milk is one of the largest sources of tryptophan at roughly 730mg per quart. 2% milk clocks in around 550mg/quart. Milk, in addition to being full of the stuff, is also where we first isolated and identified tryptophan. In the 1900s it was isolated from casein, a protein found in milk.

While we can’t make our own, tryptophan does a lot of stuff to humans. It’s a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin, the hormone melatonin (you know, the sleep thing we talked about last week), and vitamin B3. It does other stuff too, but that’s kind of what relates to our discussion.

So can it make you sleepy? I mean, maybe in a roundabout way but unless you’re also zonking out after every glass of milk, sandwich, or salad, you’re probably ok. Still, eating turkey does not translate to amplified serotonin production in the brain, says neuropharmacologist Richard Wurtman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in Cambridge, Mass.

Tryptophan, like other amino acids, needs to get into your bloodstream, not too hard, then cross the blood-brain barrier, getting harder, then beat out other proteins trying to do the same, very hard. Tryptophan from turkey just doesn’t have the concentration needed to beat out the other amino acids trying to get all up in your brain meat.

So why are you sleepy? Well, overeating aside, “paradoxically, what probably makes people sleepy after Thanksgiving dinner is…dessert,” he adds. “Eating carbohydrates increases brain serotonin in spite of the fact that there is no tryptophan in carbohydrates.”

Sugary, carby, foods will cause beta cells in the pancreas to secrete insulin which in turn allows for better uptake of glucose and some amino acids, but not tryptophan. The other side of this coin is that it reduces the number of things tryptophan has to compete with, but it would seem that’s all trivial.

“Studies have indicated that stretching of the small intestine induces sleepiness and a protein–fat loading of the stomach induces sleepiness,” says biologist H. Craig Heller at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., “and, more blood going to the gastrointestinal tract means less going elsewhere,”—for example, the brain or skeletal muscle.

So, like MSG and “Chinese food syndrome” it’s really all bad marketing surrounding eating too damn much.

Speaking of foods we eat on the regular, like tryptophan, carbs, and Chinese food, guess what wasn’t at the first Thanksgiving? If you guessed turkey, you’re correct. Odds are good that according to the Wampanoag peoples oral histories they ate venison.

There are, of course, conflicting stories of the first Thanksgiving, like that of San Elizario, a community near El Paso Texas that claims in 1598 — 23 years prior to our traditionally understood date — had a festival of sorts. It’s still recreated today with all the historical accuracy that Texas is known for.

In Virginia, at the Berkeley Plantation on the James River, they claim the first Thanksgiving was December 4th, 1619, two years before the Pilgrims. They’ve also been reenacting the event since 1958 with all the historical accuracy that the deep south is known for.

Of course, the historical evidence for these claims is as dubious as all the rest, even the commonly accepted to be the true version that the Native Peoples celebrated the Pilgrim’s arrival with a feast in 1621. There was also a thanks day in 1623 from which many historical “facts” and traditions have been derived. What we do know is that sometime between September 21 and November 9, 1621, there were three days of entertainment and feasts that the Wampanoag chief Massasoit and 90 of his tribe attended … probably at gunpoint.

Anyway, all of that is a very roundabout way of they probably didn’t have turkey, though birds, in general, were surely on the menu as people back in the day ate anything and everything that wasn’t known to be poison.

All of what we know of the event comes from the writings of pilgrim Edward Winslow. His single letter in Mourt’s Relation is as follows:

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that we might after a more special manner rejoice together, after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the Company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some 90 men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Edward Winslow

And he was right about that last bit, it was, never again, as good as that day. In fact, as time went on, we came to call Thanksgiving… Thanksgiving, whereas, the Native Peoples would come to call it the Day of Mourning.

I don’t want to leave it on such a downer, so here’s some Pilgrim trivia…

They didn’t at all land at Plymouth Rock. Historian George Willison (1896 – 1972), whose name is bloody everywhere on this topic, says that the story is essentially a public relations stunt for the area. The story comes entirely from the dubious testimony of then ninety-five-year-old Thomas Faunce, who told the story of the Mayflower landing at Plymouth. Of course, they landed in Provincetown but ya know…

Pilgrims and Puritans aren’t the same things apparently. Growing up in Canada, discussion of American Thanksgiving very much made it sound like Puritans evolved into Pilgrims… and, I guess, later they evolved into Evangelicals so… the worst evolution ever. I’m not alone, even American president Ronald Ragan confused the lot during a Thanksgiving day speech. Of course, he may well have been in the throes of Alzheimer’s and/or dementia at the time so that’s probably not a good baseline. I guess the pilgrims landed first with the Mayflower in “Plymouth” and about 10 years later the Puritans parked their car in Harvard Yard.

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The New Zealand Wizard

New Zealand fires their wizard. Yep, you heard that right, New Zealand’s only line of magical defense has been let go. The official Wizard of New Zealand, perhaps the only state-appointed wizard in the world, has been cast from the public payroll, spelling the end to a 23-year legacy. Ian Brackenbury Channell has been the official wizard for the entirety of the position and has been paid $16,000 annually in New Zealand dollars (about $11,290 U.S.) – about $368,000 ($260,000 in U.S. dollars) over 23 years – for “acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services,” the city’s assistant chief executive Lynn McClelland said in a statement.

“The Council is grateful for the valuable and special contribution The Wizard made to our city’s cultural life, and he will forever be a part of our history,” she said.

The council recently sent him a letter saying his services would no longer be needed and that his presence didn’t fit with its new tourism message, in a move first reported by The Guardian. The city’s “promotional landscape” is changing, McClelland said, and will reflect “a vibrant, diverse, modern city that is attractive to residents, domestic and international visitors, new businesses, and skilled migrant workers.”

The council hasn’t commented on another development: Channell’s recent TV appearance, during which he discussed his attitude toward women.

I love women, I forgive them all the time, I’ve never struck one yet,” The Guardian reported Channell said on the TV show New Zealand Today. “Never strike a woman because they bruise too easily is the first thing, and they’ll tell the neighbors and their friends … and then you’re in big trouble.

Oh… Maybe that’s why he lost his job? Maybe he just puts spells on women. I dunno, but what I want to know is who is Ian, how did he become a wizard, and what the hell did he do for New Zealand.

Well first off I really should stop misnaming him, during my research I found that he actually legally changed his name to Wizard of New Zealand. Yep, on his birth certificate and everything. Apparently Wizard, formally Ian, was not born into a wizarding family and didn’t even attend an accredited wizard school like Hogwarts or Durmstrang by all accounts he was just a normal person. Born in 1932 in London, England he was raised very traditionally and eventually joined the Royal Air Force in the ’20s. After his service, he went on to get degrees in psychology and sociology. I don’t know when he decided to start dabbling in magic but shortly after graduating, he moved to Australia to teach at many highly regarded colleges. While teaching he started the Imperial British Conservative Party to provide a counterbalance to international capitalism and the various forms of Nazism. I don’t know about you but it seems like this guy has a Burnie Sanders kind of feel but with more magic.

His career officially began as a wizard in 1969 when he was appointed Wizard of the University of New South Wales by the Vice-Chancellor and Students’ Union, enabling the continuation of experimental teaching and social reform techniques he started with his imperial British conservative party. The Wizard’s living body was also donated to the National Gallery of Victoria as a Living Work of Art because why not.

In 1974, he emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand, the Wizard reigned over Christchurch’s center, Cathedral Square, speaking on a ladder beside the gothic Christ Church Cathedral. The city council attempted to have him arrested, but he became so popular that they made the square a public speaking area. Wearing his costume as a false prophet of the Church of England, or his wizard’s pointy hat, he has spoken there at lunchtimes in the summer months. This is where the Wizard really comes into his own, during this time he even put together a Wizardmobile constructed from the front halves of two Volkswagen Beetles, apparently a welcome sight throughout Christchurch.

As Wizards are not humans the Wizard refrained from the New Zealand national census preferring to say: “I am not a real person and I don’t want to be counted by the Government.”

Turns out the government wanted him and in 1990, Prime Minister Mike Moore proclaimed him the Official Wizard of New Zealand, appointed to “protect the Government, cast out evil spirits and upset fanatics”.

I can’t find a ton of information about why New Zealand needed a wizard but PM Mike Moore was an old friend of the wizard so that makes sense. Also, the job came with a $16,000 a year paycheck, hard to say no to that, in addition to casting out evil spirits some of his other wizardly duties included:

  • Avoiding the filling out of census forms
  • Rain dances
  • Casting spells
  • The formation of Alf’s Imperial Army
  • He proposed an alternative cosmology – the Upside-Down World, with Antarctica and South at the top of the map, and the Inside-Out Universe, which inverts all dimensions and measurements
  • The Wizardmobile, constructed from the front halves of two Volkswagen Beetles
  • His beliefs on the roles of men and women

You may have picked out that the Wizard formed Alf’s Imperial Army; established in 1972 it is New Zealand’s longest-running and largest pacifist warfare organization. As a self-declared “army” it exists to do “battle” using strictly non-harmful weapons, following the rules and conventions of the pastime known as “pacifist warfare”. Alfs Army fights its battles using strictly non-harmful weapons, such as newspaper swords and cardboard shields for personal dueling. ‘Mass effect’ weapons such as water bombs, flour bombs, porridge bombs, funnelators (huge slingshots), and meths mortars armed with soft or rotten fruit are also used (though water or flour bombs are the most common). ‘Psychological Weapons’ such as the dreaded Can-Can charge, heavy-duty assault poetry, mass singing, and vicious taunting are also permissible.

Alf’s Imperial Army has battled against many different groups, including political parties, the NZ Police, student clubs and student hostels, The Outward Bound organization, community organizations, Sea Cadets, schools, TV stations, nudists, and other pacifist warfare groups. One of their major rivals was the McGillicuddy Highland Army. On 31 December 2007 Alf’s Imperial Army won a victory in a battle in Oamaru against the Clan McGillicuddy and their “Martian” allies.

Some other notable feats performed by the Wizard in his tenure as the Wizard of New Zealand;

During 1988, The Wizard took on the “tasteless tyrants of Telecom” by repainting their new blue telephone boxes back to their traditional red color. The battle raged for twelve days, and the Christchurch City Council even got involved – suggesting they might charge rent for the public land on which the phone boxes stood, and voting to supply red paint. Most of the red phone boxes were later sold off, but a few remain.

With the help of the mayor, Vicki Buck, the city of Christchurch hosted a wizards’ conclave in 1995 when visiting colleagues gathered to help build a wizard’s nest on top of the university library tower, to witness the New Zealand Wizard hatching from a giant egg in the city art gallery, sky diving whilst chanting a spell for a major rugby match and performing various rituals around the city. Soon afterward, accompanied by 42 assistant wizards, he came down by gondola from the Port Hills with tablets bearing the address of his new website.

Present at the official reopening of Oamaru Airport on 6 August 2006, where he claimed to have successfully cast a spell to disperse the fog that was preventing the first flight from landing.

The Wizard was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in the 2009 Queen’s Birthday Honours, for service to the community.

Without the Wizard of New Zealand, there is a chance that it will sink into the sea but we have hope that the Wizard will continue his work without the backing of New Zealand as his last words on being let go were; “It makes no difference,” he said. “I will still keep going. They will have to kill me to stop me.”

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I’m Aaron, and I’d like to thank all our listeners, supporters, and my co-hosts.

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Music for this episode was created by Wayne Jones and was used with permission.

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