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School of Hard Knocks, Department of Theology An existentialist exploration of the disparity between suggested servings, package sizes, and actual quantities consumed of components of the holy meal for Pastafarians: a randomised controlled study. Dr. Henry Brubaker, Institute of Studies. I hereby certify that all the work contained in this thesis is my own, apart from the bits I have cut-and-pasted from the internet, the stuff I wrote in Wikipedia under the screen name Johann Hari and then referenced as such, and that to the best of my knowledge all of it is true, apart from the bits The author would like to thank (in no particular order) Eli Lilly pharmaceuticals, Milo the Dog, Richard and Linda Thompson, Tetley Tea, Asda, Ikea, Greggs the Bakers, and my friendly No thanks are due to Argyll Community Housing Association, Carillion, The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, and the Department for Work and Pensions. All praises to the mighty Flying Spaghetti Monster! Hello. My name is Roy Hunter and I am a Pastafarian, a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I am forty three years old, I have my own hair and twenty five of my own teeth. I had three wisdom teeth and a molar removed so that the rest of my teeth had room to work properly, and the dental surgeon was relatively pleased with her work, leaving me with twenty eight teeth. Then I knocked another three of them out with a torque wrench. I was lying under a Volvo 340 saloon, tightening the bolts on a universal joint. I was showing a young lad how you work under a car with limited space, keeping yourself safe etc. I said to him “Now normally you would never pull a spanner towards yourself, you would go around to the other side and push it away from you, but seeing as you are under the car too, I don’t really have room to do that. You never pull a spanner towards you, because if it slips off the bolt you might…” *smack* Then I rolled out from under the car spitting blood and teeth everywhere. The positive aspect of this story is that the young lad went on to become a much better mechanic than me, and to the best of my knowledge has never pulled a spanner towards his face in his life. This, of course, begs the question: why would I do something quite that stupid? It is a very good question. The human race is, on the whole, quite good at asking questions. There are exceptions to this, of course: the author, on one memorable occasion, was working in a warehouse packing children’s toys into boxes for the Christmas market, and was summoned into his supervisor’s office one dismal “I’m not happy with you, Roy” he said, “I’m not happy with your carry on”. “Is there something wrong with my work?” I asked, “Am I working too slowly, perhaps?” “No, it’s the things you say. You keep talking to the boys about music and art and politics, and telling them things they don’t know, that they’ve never thought about before. Some of them are quite unhappy about it, they don’t like that sort of thing.” “So you’re saying that they, and you, don’t like my capacity for abstract thought, and my ability to think and talk about other things whilst I am doing this dull and repetitive work? You would rather I kept quiet and did not have conversations with my workmates?” “Aye, yes, that’s about right. So if you wouldn’t mind, just keep that stuff to yourself, or talk about what’s on the TV, or football, something like that.” Bearing in mind that the author is from Glasgow, where conversations about football can lead to minor civil wars, and that the only person in the house who watches TV is the dog, it was concluded that this job was not the right career move. He did not return to work the next day. Anyway, I digress. Digression is a theme that may emerge over the course of this piece: the author is quite thoroughly medicated, and as has already been alluded to has a short attention span and a low tolerance for boredom. I also slip from writing in the third person to writing in the first person without any good reason. Perhaps someone will stop him from doing this, but I, the author, doubt it. As should become apparent from the methods section of this study, digression is not necessarily a bad thing: many hard scientific discoveries have been… discovered through digression from the original topic at hand. Whilst this may not please the funders of said research, it is good for humanity in general, and it is exactly this sort of digression from the original questions that has allowed me to reach the bottom of the first page without mentioning the subject of this study. Pastafarians hold to the tenet of faith (insofar as that they hold to any tenet of faith, they have flimsy moral standards, after all) that eating spaghetti and meatballs is a holy meal. As such, one would expect there to be strict guidance on the preparation of such a meal. However, Pastafarians lack the financial resources of such religious organisations as the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scientology; and they tend to be easily distracted by new episodes of Doctor Who, Terry Pratchett books, and lolcats dressed as Star Wars characters; and as a result they usually just nip down to the supermarket to see what they can find at the last minute. This raises an interesting point: ultimately, the control of what goes into most Pastafarians’ holiest of meals lies with uninterested and unbelieving supermarkets. What can we learn from this? Well, quite a lot, it would appear. The question really is, how can we learn it? Conventional pedagogy may reveal some conventional wisdom, about the economics of durum wheat, canned tomatoes as a tradable commodity, and the dubious meat content of meatballs; but this is, after all, a theological treatise, not an economic one. Our methods must therefore approach the subject more obliquely. Let us consider the components of our holy meal: Spaghetti (made from durum wheat, water and eggs) Canned tomatoes (made from tomatoes and a can) Meatballs (made from the bits swept up from the slaughterhouse floor) Spaghetti is sold in packets of 500g. Yet tomatoes are sold in 400g (net) cans. Add in the weight of the can, and the gross weight is approximately 454g, or 1lb. Why this disparity? Garlic is sold per bulb, but the recipe invariably quantifies it per clove. Olive oil is a liquid, sold in 500ml, 750ml and 1l bottles, yet canned tomatoes (which are nearly as liquid as olive oil) are sold per 400g can? Meatballs are allegedly made of meat, which is sold by the kilogramme, yet meatballs are sold in What on earth is going on here? How is an honest Pastafarian supposed to make sense of all of that? It’s like, the tide goes in, the tide goes out, how can you explain that? You can’t. In order to explore the theological implications of this conundrum, one might almost consult a Dan Brown book. If one were really desperate. However, consulting books gave me an idea about how to introduce a randomising element into the method for this study. What if one were to take three books at random from the bookshelf, and to use those books to guide the methods and observations that made up this study? Would the study have any validity or reliability? Who cares? It’s theology, it’s not a real subject! And it’s got to be better than homeopathy, reiki or crystal healing. So with his chakras centred and his aura a very attractive shade of violet, the author approached the bookshelves and possible scientific immortality. In order to introduce a randomising element into this study, the author has decided on a method of choosing three books at random from the bookshelves to guide the rest of this study. Randomising, however, is not as easy as it looks. At first the author considered throwing darts at the bookshelves. This method has a certain merit: darts come in sets of three; the author is a rubbish darts player and could not deliberately hit a book he fancied the look of; however the author’s wife took issue with this method and it was vetoed on the author’s ethical objections to domestic violence. Eventually, it was decided that a third party should decide on the three books, and seeing as the author’s wife was in his bad books (pardon the pun) over the whole darts incident, and the author’s son was in Spain with his grandfather, this left Milo the Dog as the only available third party. This detracted from the random aspect to some extent, as Milo is incapable of reaching any shelf above the third one, displays a notable bias towards the bottom shelf, and has no opposable thumbs; however Milo cannot read and as such his random choice would be truly random in that regard. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Hunter S. Thompson. This was looking good: there were some definite emergent themes from this choice of books: all three are voyages of discovery; at least two were written under the influence of drugs; and at least two are allegories for the sort of self-indulgent soul-searching that will make a nice wordy doctoral thesis. Also, none of them is written by James Joyce or one of the Brontë sisters, which would just So what was this choice of books telling me about my method? Well, I was going to have to take some drugs. I was going to go on a road trip. And I may be accompanied by a Samoan attorney called What sort of materials do you need for a drug-fuelled road trip of discovery? You need a car: check. You need some drugs: well, it’s been a while, so I guess I’ll just have to improvise with what I’ve got. I’ve got some antidepressants, antihistamines, cod liver oil capsules, NSAIDs, and a tube of antiseptic cream for cuts and scrapes. Drugs? Check. A Samoan attorney named Doctor Gonzo? Not really. I have a dog named Milo, but he is not qualified to practise law in Scotland, and to the best of my knowledge he is not Samoan. Still, close enough for my purposes. I am not about to let a few minor technical irregularities get in my way: I am on a mission! Finally, you need something to discover. Well, I can go and check out a few supermarkets using my literary-theological methods and see what At this point, of course, there is a vitally important question to be addressed: what am I going to wear? A true Pastafarian would be dressed as a Pirate, obviously, so I repaired to the wardrobe to get my pirate costume. Unfortunately, I don’t have one, so a kilt will have to do. When one is in one’s forties, one’s spouse is less inclined to think that one is surreptitiously taking drugs in the bathroom; however they are more inclined to think one is having a mid-life crisis or an affair when one leaves the house in full Highland attire with one’s eyeballs on stalks. Therefore some discretion was advisable in the manner of launching this study. I waited till she had gone to Book Group to discuss the latest Khaled Hosseini, drink tea and eat carrot cake; and then I made my move. For the purposes of replicating this study (just in case anybody is daft enough), I took 20mg of Fluoxetine, 20mg of Cetirizine Hydrochloride, 2000mg of cod liver oil, 500mg of Ibuprofen, and smeared some antibiotic cream on my knees, just in case. Then I put the lead on my Samoan attorney, put some Samoan attorney treats in my sporran, and set off. It was a dark and stormy night as I berthed the good ship Vauxhall Astra 1.7CDTI in a ‘Pirate and Child’ parking space outside Asda in Dumbarton. My Samoan attorney licked my ear and growled at a passing West Highland Terrier. As we got out of the car, I noticed a child’s tricycle and an empty bottle of Highland Park lying next to the trolley return shelter. The kid was a sloppy driver, but had good taste in whisky. Things were looking up, apart from Milo, who was looking down at some Decisions are not always obvious when one is on a voyage of discovery: for an existential exploration of the supermarket aisles whilst under the influence of drugs and random literature, does one need a hand basket or a trolley? Well, I didn’t have a pound coin to get a trolley, so it would have to be a “Stop!” shouted a uniformed guard, “Stop right there!” An intervention this early in the proceedings? Had my cover been blown? Was the jig up? “You can’t bring that in here!” he said. “What?” I asked, “A spirit of scientific enquiry? A drugged-up Scotsman? A sporran?” “No, a dog. You can wear what you like, you must have seen, and at this time of night everyone in here is on drugs, but you are not allowed to bring in a dog.” “This is not just a dog, in fact it’s not even a dog. This is my Samoan attorney, Doctor Gonzo. He is vital to the integrity of my work: he is the Watson to my Holmes; he is the Lovely Debbie McGee to my Paul Daniels, he is the Tonic to my Gin.” The drugs were really kicking in by this point, “I cannot continue my work without him, can’t you see?” “You can’t see?” said the security guard, “He’s a guide dog? Oh, I’m sorry. They are usually Labradors or big dogs like that. That’s why I didn’t recognise him as a guide dog for the blind.” I decided to play along. “You mean… he’s not a Labrador? It’s an outrage, I tell you! I shall sue someone! Come, Doctor Gonzo, let us get to work.” We headed off towards the book aisle, hoping to lower our profile once again so that we could investigate pasta-related phenomena in a retail environment without “Hey you!” shouted the security guard, “What kind of work are you doing anyway? Employees don’t come in this way! Who do you work for?” Quick as a flash, I grabbed a book, which fortuitously turned out to be written by Professor Brian Cox, and had his big smiley mug on the cover. I brandished it in the security guard’s face. “Back off, man! We’re doing science!” “Science?” said the security guard, “What is it?” I said, “It is the systematic observation, identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena, but that’s not important right now.” We headed off in search of pasta, canned vegetables, fresh produce, and questionable meat products. The security guard started talking to someone else on his radio. My four-legged, hairy Samoan attorney became quite agitated as we passed the meat aisle, the chillers full of beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, rabbit and venison. I decided that it would be too much for him straight away, and perhaps a less stimulating product like spaghetti might be a good place to start. We headed to the rice, pasta, beans and pulses aisle. Bypassing the Arborio, the Basmati, the Carnaroli, the Pudding and the Uncle Ben’s, we pulled up at the pasta shelves. There was so much variety! Was it supposed to be so confusing? Did they do it on purpose to throw me off the scent? Or was it the drugs? The cheap spaghetti was stacked on the bottom shelf, so I let my attorney check that for me. I turned my attention to the more esoteric brands on the higher, more easily accessible shelves. What justified the higher price? What was so different? Surely spaghetti is spaghetti? Apparently some of this stuff was made with a bronze die. Bronze die? Why did bronze have to die? Surely bronze died of old age? Bronze age? I was becoming confused, and Doctor Gonzo had started licking the packets on the bottom shelf. If I knew anything about Doctor Gonzo, it was that licking leads to nibbling, nibbling leads to chewing, chewing leads to prancing up and down the aisle like a demented Lippizaner pony, tossing a packet of spaghetti in the air to make sure it is dead before eating it. It was time to move on to the tomatoes. One of the weaknesses of the canned goods format is that, although the cans are waterproof and impermeable to bacteria and other nastiness, the labels that identify the cans are not. So if the outside of the can becomes wet or damaged in any way, it may not be possible to determine what the contents of the can are without opening it. Cans that are damaged in such a way are sold ‘as seen’ to punters who fancy their chances, and might find that they have cat food, beans and pork sausages, or French onion soup for dinner that evening. This thought was at the forefront of my mind as I watched my Samoan attorney cocking his leg against a pallet of canned sweetcorn, and discreetly marking it as his territory. There goes another batch of mystery cans for the mark-down buyers. I checked for any signs of security guards or cameras, but fortunately they were all concentrating on trying to stop the local neds from stealing razors so they could appear clean and fresh-faced for their court appearances the following day. I wasn’t learning much from the tomatoes, to be honest with you. They were all sealed in cans. They might have been more informative had I opened the cans, but despite the availability of can openers, I decided against this course of action: a drugged-up man in full Highland dress with a Samoan guide dog, opening cans of tomatoes in the aisle of a supermarket might attract attention. Discretion is always preferable in these situations. Onwards to the garlic. The garlic situation was a little confusing. There was organic garlic, cheap nets of garlic, three-bulbs- for-a-pound Chinese garlic, a basket of garlic, and a jar of lazy garlic. The lazy garlic was already chopped and soaked in olive oil, but I did not see how that made that garlic any lazier than the other varieties. All it did was sit in a jar, but all the other garlic did was sit on a shelf. This made no sense. Then there was the organic garlic. Did that mean the rest of the garlic was inorganic? What was it made of? Was it some kind of polymer? If so, what was it doing in the produce section? Someone really did not want me to divine the truth about this garlic business, but with the help of my faithful companion I intended to uncover it. Maybe it was the Chinese garlic. Was that garlic for Chinese food? Was it a special Chinese varietal? Or was it ordinary garlic, but imported from China? I hear the Chinese can do amazing things with polymers these days. I found the olive oil in the same aisle as the vinegars, condiments and table sauces. Except that I could not get near the olive oil for the two shrink-wrapped pallets ‘conveniently’ placed right in front of the display! The plot thickens (especially if you use thickening granules or cornflour, available in aisle 22, but I digress. I did mention that I digress a bit)! My faithful companion seemed to really take exception to the pallets in the oil, vinegar, condiments and table sauces aisle, and started to worry the plastic wrapping of one of them. “What is it, boy?” I asked, “What have you got there?” He did not look up from his work, just responded with a growl and went back to pulling on the pallet wrap “Here, mate!” shouted a green-clad ‘colleague’ with facial piercings and blue hair, “’Zat your dug? ‘Cause he’s pure rippin’ the shite oot ma pallet, so he is!” I ignored the barely comprehensible and bizarrely-adorned teenage oaf, and exhorted my canine companion to continue his efforts to uncover the truth. “Listen, mate,” he continued, “Ye’re gonny huv tae screw the nut, calm yer jets, get that dug tae Falkirk, know whit ah mean? Or Ah’m pure gonnae huv tae call a manager, coz it’s aw getting’ a bit radge here” I could not help thinking that Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting might have been a more useful literary guide at this point, but alas it was not to be. Just then, as I was planning an escape for myself and my hirsute quadruped companion, Milo finally ripped through the last of the shrink wrap, tore open the bag that had attracted his attention, and began to gorge himself on the light green contents thereof. The Green Day colleague was not best pleased at this, but even through his displeasure he managed to ask a most pertinent question: “Here mate, why is your weird fuckin’ dug eatin’ cat litter?” An excellent question, I thought, and had we not attracted such attention I might have stayed to attempt to answer it; but escape now We high-tailed it to the clothing section, where by dint of purchasing a pair of hipster glasses and a cagoule, and disguising my faithful Samoan attorney as a handbag, we managed to evade the attentions of security and return in relative safety and comfort to our car. There I gave my companion some of the treats I had stowed in my sporran earlier, and, interrupted only by him throwing up undigested cat litter onto the back seat, we returned to our headquarters, to analyse the findings of our study and write up the results. Also, I needed to be home before the wife got back and discovered I’d been out without her permission. A less optimistic theologian than myself might have called this study a debacle, a travesty, a complete waste of time and money, but not this author. It was obvious to me that His noodly appendage was at work here, placing pallets and security guards where they could cause the most disruption, making it more difficult to discover the truth about the holy meal. Faith is belief in the absence of evidence. Gods and religions rely on faith. Well, OK, Gods rely on faith, religions rely on money and gullible people, but you know what I mean. If I had been able to prove something, to provide some previously undiscovered evidence about the holy meal, it might have provided evidence for the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which would have meant that we did not need to have faith in Him, as there was evidence that He existed. I posit that He used His noodly appendage to stop me finding any hard evidence of His existence through my investigations of the holy meal, and I regard this complete lack of evidence as conclusive evidence, as conclusive a piece of evidence as can be found anywhere in the annals of theology, for the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. My logic, I think you will find, is flawless. In summary: He exists. We know that He exists because of the extraordinary efforts He goes to stop us from proving He exists, and this complete lack of evidence for His existence is utterly compelling evidence for His existence. Quod erat demonstrandum.


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