Duck Duck Book


59 – fruit hunters
02.5.2009, 12:01 am
Filed under: technology

The fruit hunters : a story of nature, adventure, commerce and obsession / Adam Leith Gollner.
New York : Scribner, c2008.
[MCL call number: 641.34 G626f 2008; 13 copies, no holds;
also in audiobook format at: CD- 641.34 G626f; five copies, no holds]

Probably all of you have encountered a mysterious fruit at some time in your lives.  Perhaps you met it in the produce section of an grocery store specializing in imports from afar, perhaps you ate it while traveling abroad or even just in another part of your own country.  Perhaps you’ve never eaten this fruit; you’ve only read about it and wondered what it might be like to actually taste it.

Adam Leith Gollner traveled widely, ate every new fruit he could find, and scouted out scientists and farmers and weirdos who are obsessed with fruit — and recorded his experiences in The Fruit Hunters.  It’s not really a book about fruit; it’s about people and fruit.  In talking about the people, he has to talk about the fruits, of course, so you get some of both; but it’s the fruit crazies, the obsessives, the true believers who are really the focus.  These people’s stories are so varied and bizarre that it’s hard to characterize them, but here’s a terse sampling of a few of the remarkable fruits and fruit-lovers you’ll find in Gollner’s text:

Fruitarians eat only fruit: for increased health, to build a closer communion with God, or to maintain a connection to primeval man.  Some vary the fruit-only rule by eating a “caveman diet;” fruits  and air-dried raw meat.  Others eat fruits and mineralized rock dust.  But all maintain that eating a diet overwhelmingly composed of fruit is the best, the purest, the most compelling.  Gollner visits several fruitarians and dines with them, while discussing spirituality, the practice of traveling around the world following the ripening cycle of durian fruit (see below), and other topics.

Gary Snyder, an apple grower in Wenatchee, Washington, has invented a fruit product called the Grapple.  This horrifying concoction begins as a Gala or Fuji apple, which is then permeated throughout with artificial grape flavoring.  It’s available in blister packs of four at big box stores, and in some places, pre-sliced in baggies.  Gollner visits Snyder and tours his facility, though the secret method for turning apples into Grapples is not revealed.

Eat a miracle fruit, a berry grows in the sub-tropics, and everything — seriously, everything — you put in your mouth for the next couple of hours will taste sweet.  Gollner meets fruit people around the world who grow the berries themselves and are willing to share a few with him, but in the U.S. they’re almost unknown.  The berries contain a protein called miraculin,  which acts as a short-term befuddler for taste buds, making sour things taste sweet.  Miraculin is banned by the FDA, very possibly due to secret pressure from sugar company lobbyists.

The durian is renowned as the foulest-smelling fruit on earth.  Durians are famously banned from the subway system in Singapore, and they are unwelcome in many refined public places, such as fancy hotels, throughout Asia.  And yet the durian is a beloved fruit in its home territory, and fruit tourists seek it out.  Durian-scented condoms, Gollner reports, are popular in Indonesia.

The Fruit Hunters acts a bit like a history of fruit, but Gollner is a journalist and it shows.  His writing style is informative while still a bit breezy, and the book is something like a very long lifestyle piece of the sort you might find in a highbrow magazine or newspaper.  The facts-and-figures addict in me was a little frustrated at times, but on the whole I found the book quite captivating.  And The Fruit Hunters easily passed one of the tests I use to see if I should review a book here in Duck Duck Book — while reading it, I often found myself wanting to read bits and pieces out loud to anyone who happened to be around, or sometimes, to a friend or colleague who I thought would enjoy a specific anecdote or factoid.

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