What Happened To The Apples?

By November 15, 2007

Day 14 of Daily Footprint Project. I was in a hurry, and needed to get some more apples for our fruit basket. I could have gone to the farmers’ market earlier, but did not get a chance. There is this local apple grower who sells

all kinds of unusual apples, each week. Too much to do. How come I am always rushing? Instead, I went to Whole Foods, and circled the produce section, in search of the perfect apple. I counted nine kinds of apples. Jonagold. Granny Smith. Honeycrisp. Gala. Braeburn. Pink Lady. Golden Delicious. Red Delicious. Fuji. I knew all of them, and none enthused me. Today, I wanted a real apple, like the ones from my childhood, all weird looking with spots on them, bugs inside sometimes even, not too crunchy, not too soft, and a full bodied sweetness I can’t bear to remember, so good it was. I seriously considered going home without my apples? Again I went around, trying to decide which ones I could settle for. Out of desperation, I picked some boring Golden Delicious, still too green in my opinion. At least, the kids would have apples to munch on.

This week, I have had the privilege to meet with two conservation specialists. Both told me similar stories, about the loss of diversity for some of our most common fruit and vegetables. Apples are at the forefront of a biodiversity war apparently, and a race to keep alive the thousands of varieties still existing. In the introduction to his 2005 report, Kanin Routson, from Northern Arizona University, provides a useful perspective on the magnitude of the problem:

‘The industrialization of agriculture has replaced the subsistence farms and their associated diversity with huge monocultural fields planted in a handful of high yielding crop varieties. Horticultural crops are no exception. In his book, ‘The Nomenclature of the Apple’, W. H. Ragan lists over 14,000 named apple varieties referenced in US literature between 1804 and 1904. Today the apple has been reduced to around 90 commercial varieties, with a handful of varieties, namely Granny Smith, Red Delicious, Gala and Fuji making up about 90% of commercial apple production. In the modern version of Ragan’s work, ‘The Fruit Berry and Nut Inventory’, Kent Whealy lists about 1500 apple varieties that are currently available through US nurseries, many of which have been developed through modern fruit breeding. That suggests as much as a 93% loss in apple variety availability in the U. S. over one to two centuries.’

I am mourning the loss of the apples. Even more so, I grieve the attitude from the general population. Most of my fellow Americans are perfectly happy with two, three at the most, varieties of apples. The red one, the green one, and the yellow one. Preferably well calibrated and shiny, to emulate the newness of industrial objects, straight out of an assembly line. Show them a real apple, and they will not touch it. The newer generations have been conditioned to eat with their eyes, according to an artificial aesthetic, that has nothing to do with the goodness of nature.

By La Margueritte,

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