Fruit, Farming, History, and Me

So, what happened to apples? The generic red apple? There’s a great, X Files-style conspiracy between the government, Monsanto, and aliens to rob red delicious apples of all flavor—”Red Delicious” is as meaningless and misleading a name as “The History Channel” or “Music Television” or “free-market bailout”: an Orwellian denial—refutation—of reality directly in the name, as if to project power directly against reality. Like so many other frontiers of American quality, you must search through new, hipster bespoke, heirloom apples—apples with names stranger and more pretentious than strains of marijuana: pink lady, fancy golden, blush of the tree nymph.

Fruit flesh now experiences the same dichotomy of all flesh, of all material goods, all services—all things that exist in today’s capitalist America—on one side is Walmart, ersatz and inferior, optimized to be optimized to be shipped, meeting minimum standards of quality and nothing more, dead and uninspired, the bleak Soviet-corporate-style-mass-manufactured things, all that versus the lovingly crafted, thoughtfully sourced, over-engineered and over-built—and overpriced—actually useful and engaging thing, the thing you’d imagine it to be except with the additional fetish of details: the aforementioned naming, the bullet-point-style description of quality and authenticity. By now, even for fruit the great middle class middle ground vanished. Sensible quality vanished. The illusion of an endless supply of the Platonic ideal—perfect yet free of idiosyncratic, local detail—vanished. John Oliver does segments on food waste at HBO when his political conspiracy topics reach the bottom of their entertainment barrels; even the outrage at the reality is just yet another tangible commoditized thing.

I have a different, personal relationship to fruit and farming, one I’ve written about before. My mother’s side of my family has lots of farmers in its history—I know about crops, about the arrays of abundance, about that first basic impulse of civilization. In East of Eden the land was a main character, the food, the seasons, the chance of growth or calamity. Farm science itself reflects the larger philosophical zeitgeist, from massive Modernist farms that till and bleach and bomb the land into submission, to postmodern fields managed through painstaking computer models and decay-mindful harvesting, to today’s dichotomy between the local empowered farmer—farmers markets are actually quite expensive, quite not quite middle class, quite not quite what people who have to shop at Walmart could afford—versus the giant corporate megafarm with its billions of tons of genetically manicured, Roundup-Ready crops.

I wonder how long we have until there are app-enabled GPS-fortified farming drones, ones that replace everything else. I thought the ideas in the movie Elysium—its “message”—all seemed so facile, pat. The reality may well be, though, that soon the only difference between American aid and American death from above will be which kinds of drones we send out.