City Paper is not for tourists
I’ve never tasted fruit the way Adam Leith Gollner does, and that’s a damn shame. Gollner treats fruit the way a sommelier does wine, and his first book is a multilayered magnum opus as well as a very personal love song to a food group. From the origins of the word “fruit” (from the Latin fruor, meaning “to delight in”) to various historical applications of fruit in literature, remedies, science experiments, and treacheries, Gollner doggedly hunts down seemingly every mention of fruit he can find. Some of his discoveries come from the library, but he’s done his legwork too: He travels to Hawaii, Seychelles, Cameroon, and California in search of exotic fruit, and surprisingly Gollner isn’t even close to being the biggest obsessive encountered in The Fruit Hunters. Indeed, there’s a large subculture of fruit lovers, some of whom are members of global fruit-appreciation organizations, and others whose fixation has led to utter isolation (such as the dying religious cult that grows its own dates in an Arizona desert). An entire fruit-tourism industry, Gollner learns, leads expeditions around the world to hunt down and taste rare fruit in their native habitat. Many fruitophiles are motivated by the thrill of discovery—wanting to taste the fruit that exist in a distant corner of the globe, or creating hybrids that might become the next pluout (a newly popular plum-apricot hybrid you might find in Whole Foods). Gollner also explains the trade and farming prohibitions that cause most Americans to consume fruit that has been frozen, covered in wax, and subjected to hundreds of other indignities. Most of what’s available to the public in the supermarket, he writes, tastes vastly different from fruit right off the tree, so most people will never taste a mango or apricot in its prime. Fruit can even be the catalyst for multimillion dollar conspiracies: Gollner writes about his encounter with the “miracle berry,” an unexceptional tasting bud with the strange side effect of making everything sour taste remarkably sweet. Gollner explains how, in the ’70s, the miracle berry was poised to become the all-natural replacement for Sweet’N Low until the FDA pulled the plug—in no small part because it was perceived as a threat to the sugar industry. Gollner, who’s contributed to Gourmet and the New York Times and is the former editor of Vice, can be a little too indulgent at times: His overlong exposé on Grapple production, or example after example of fruit smugglers, can be as tedious as eating a pomegranate. But Gollner clearly loves his subject, and that makes The Fruit Hunters a fantastic, even inspiring read. He describes tasting a jackfruit in Borneo: “Licking jackfruit goo off my fingers, I feel like I’ve triggered some pathways in hitherto cauterized memory banks…it’s not only a sense of hope, it’s an intimation of self-preservation, the knowledge that we’ll remain alive for another day. That hunting and finding these fruit can activate deep centers in our unconscious minds is another example of biophilia, the love of life.” The depth of his obsession can make his book feel like a batch of goji-berry-flavored Kool-Aid, but Gollner does a wonderful job convincing us to drink.