The apple–and most particularly that tart green variety known as the Granny Smith (and there really was a Granny Smith, by the way)–is an especially beautiful fruit. With color, shape, healthfulness, and taste, the apple has it all.
Just ask Magritte, whose work “The Son of Man” I’ve quoted in my own portrait.
The apple is rich in subtext as well as health value. The Garden of Eden story may represent a mistranslation of the original (was it actually an orange? or fig?), but artists had a field day with the eminently paintable apple:
Yes, the carrot. Remember back when carrots were those lengthy things that a person peeled and then ate (originally, they even came with green tops), rather than small bite-sized precut modules?
When the bagged mini-carrot first came into vogue, I assumed they represented wastefulness–that part of an ordinary and otherwise usable carrot had to be discarded to make those neat little shapes. But it turns out I was wrong; mini-carrots actually reduce waste. Baby-cut carrots (which are not baby carrots at all, but large ones trimmed into small bits) originated with California farmer Mike Yurosek’s observation that a great many ugly carrots were being rejected:
It all began about 16 years ago when Mike Yurosek of Newhall, Calif, got tired of seeing 400 tons of carrots a day drop down the cull shoot at his packing plant in Bakersfield. Culls are carrots that are too twisted, knobby, bent or broken to sell. In some loads, as many as 70% of carrots were tossed. And there are only so many discarded carrots you can feed to a pig or a steer, says Yurosek, now 82 and retired. “After that, their fat turns orange,” he says.
Well, I guess we just can’t have ugly carrots or orange-fatted pork, can we? Thus the baby-cut carrot–which has come to represent a large portion of the carrot market and has led to a surge in carrot consumption–was born.
And now the same is being done for the apple, according to an article in the Feb. 12 New York Times Sunday Magazine.
It turns out that whole apples, despite their good rep as an especially healthful food–after all, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”–are now considered just too difficult for most people to even contemplate eating:
“You look at the number of meals being eaten in automobiles,” Steve Lutz says (research by John Nihoff, a Culinary Institute of America food historian, estimates that 19 percent of all meals or snacks in this country are eaten there), “and you’d think the apple is convenient already. But when you finish it, you have a core to deal with. You have waste. Plus, once you’ve started an apple, you’re sort of committed to eating the whole thing.”
“I don’t think consumers are very comfortable leaving a half-eaten apple lying around their car or their house,” Lutz adds.
In addition, people seem to have become more sensitive–actually, extraordinarily sensitive–to the disgust value of certain foods. It’s hard to believe that there could be anything offensive about an apple, but apparently that core-in-the-making has become a big turnoff:
Paul Rozin is a cultural psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania and, though he may not introduce himself this way at parties, an authority on disgust. “As the world gets more and more cleaned up of these things, and as you get highly sensitive to disgust, a bitten piece of food in your hand is not too nice,” he posited. An eater of the whole apple must, with each bite, readdress his mouth to “the unsavoriness of the bitten edge in front of you.” But eating apple slices means treating yourself to a clean, unspoiled, appealingly geometric shape every few seconds.
Enter Tony Freytag, the Mike Yurosek of the apple world. Freytag has found a way to meet the special challenge apples present to the snack-food industry–their tendency to turn to brown mush when cut into pieces:
Crunch Pak was one of the first companies that labored to bring the new apple on line. Each found early on that what can be done casually at home — slicing an apple and squeezing lemon juice on it — is maddeningly difficult to pull off in a factory. The anti-browning bath is only one movement in a grand symphony of technologies at work. For nearly two decades, teams of food scientists, engineers and can-do businessmen struggled to pin down the apple, while the apple skirted and ducked them at every turn. They zigged, the apple zagged. Clearing one hurdle only brought more into view, and even now the particulars of production must be reassessed and rejiggered daily. The apple, Freytag told me when we first met, “is a moving target.”
…NatureSeal is the product of a decade of U.S.D.A. and private research. It’s a flavorless white powder that, mixed with water, penetrates a few millimeters beneath the surface of a cut apple…The ascorbic acid in NatureSeal searches out and bonds to the loose phenols, blocking them off from the polyphenol oxidase enzyme and interrupting the browning reaction. The calcium salts work like cement to stiffen the fruit’s softening cell walls. All of this happens inside the apple, so the solution leaves no perceptible layer or shell on the surface.
Making apples into sanitized snack food bits seems–as with carrots–to increase their desirability as food. It may be paradoxical, but cutting a food into small pieces encourages people to eat more of it, not less:
Industry insiders now talk about elevating a food’s “snackability,” which, in short, means engineering it with enough convenience that picking up a piece and putting it in your mouth becomes an almost perfunctory transaction. A snackable food is crumbless and fussless. It is most likely broken into bite-size pieces, encouraging us to eat more. If the food’s form itself doesn’t imply a portion size — the way, say, one apple or one cupcake does — there’s no obvious signal to stop. This triggers what one marketer, Barb Stuckey, calls “mindless munching” — the hand’s almost hypnotic back and forth between bag and mouth.
“Mindless munching” is indeed a concept with which I’m all too familiar, although I didn’t know it had a name.
I’ll leave the last word to Freytag:
A bowl of apples is like a piece of art…It’s display. People won’t touch it. But you put out a tray of cut-up apples — that’s food.”