An Eejit Abroad: Someone Needs to Put a Stop to the Madness
By Conor Makem
I think it’s high time this festering American wound was brought into the sunlight. To quote Popeye, I’ve had alls I can take, I canst take it no more.
No, I’m not referring to politics or religion, the national debt or competition between states. This particular problem affects just about everyone in the country and it is insidious: stickers on fruit.
Now, before I ruminate any further, I’ll throw you a little-known fact. There was a meat shortage in the United States in the 1940s, not surprisingly because of World War II, and all of the soldiers off fighting the good fight. The shortage led to rationing, and eventually to “Meatless Tuesdays,” where it was forbidden to hold any meat transactions on said day. So, when J. Wellington Wimpy (aka Wimpy) told Popeye, “I would gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” the skinflint was just swindling a free meal.
Of course, Popeye didn’t need to deal with stickers on his canned spinach. Since about 1990, people across this great planet began to see these wretched mini-patches on each piece of individual fruit purchased at the store. I understand the aim, which is to make checkout more seamless, but it’s getting the danged things off that raises my ire.
I’ll admit that the stickers with little tabs are a definite plus. My question is, why aren’t they all at least this sensible? We can put a man on the moon, but we’re still more often than not required to scrape away these stickers with our fingernails, striving for that perfect balance between removal of the sticker and removal of the skin.
Bananas and Apples and Peaches, Oh My
My number one fruit is the banana, a nearly perfect consumable, but past that I start to lean toward apples, and this is where the problem starts. I simply cannot pry the little things off without bruising or piercing the flesh. You see, I like to wash all my fruit when I get home from the supermarket so that it’s ready to go when I want a piece. So, any bruised or pierced flesh just gets unsightlier in the fridge over a few days.
Then, of course, we get to the worst of the worst, items like pears, peaches and plums. Holy cow, peeling a sticker off of a plum is darned near impossible. Word on the street is that the stickers are edible. I don’t know about you, but I will never knowingly eat a sticker. It’s just not my DNA.
The main catalyst behind this article was a dream I had earlier this week, where I returned from the store only to realize that I’d purchased a bunch of grapes, each one bedecked in its own sticker. I woke up in a cold sweat with an ironic craving for a glass of wine.
So, what can be done about this, other than constant complaining, to which I am quite prone? As luck would have it, I did some research on the old internets and discovered some very promising possibilities.
There is currently a process used only minimally—and mainly just for citrus fruits—wherein a laser is utilized to change the pigment color on a piece of fruit, thereby leaving the fruit wholly intact and the PLU number readily readable. The fruit maintains its shelf life and eating quality. Brilliant!
There’s a New York inventor who is working on an even more impressive feat. He is designing a sticker that dissolves in water and turns into an organic fruit wash. Can you imagine rinsing your new produce under the tap and coming away sticker and bacteria free? Oh my, what the future holds!
So, what’s in a sticker?
For those of you who have held on this long, through what could only be described as an incredibly interesting article, congratulations. You have more free time than most people. And that grit is about to pay off, because I am about to tell you what the numbers on these stickers actually tell us.
designate conventional fruit. A small Granny Smith apple is 4138. A producer of conventionally grown fruit and vegetables could use harmful synthetic pesticides and herbicides on this produce. Additionally, they can use sewage sludge to grow the crops (life is a giant circle, isn’t it?).
Five-number code starting with a 9
is organic. This limits the pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics the farmer can use on the fruit. It also means the fruit was not genetically modified, although it can still hybridized, which can alter its genetic and chemical makeup. An organic Granny Smith apple would be 94138.
Five-number code starting with an 8
has been genetically modified. Some folks aren’t bothered by genetic modification, and the fruit can be larger and juicier, for example. A genetically modified Granny Smith apple is 84060.
There are over 1400 unique PLUs just for produce and produce-related items. The International Federation of Produce standards assigns the numbers after detailed reviews are conducted both nationally and internationally.
As for the sailor
Popeye’s friend Wimpy is reputedly the origin for the term wimp, that being someone timid and cowardly. It’s been suggested that the Army’s “general purpose (GP)” vehicle, received its name from Popeye’s dog, Eugene the Jeep.
General purpose was abbreviated GP and Eugene was only able to mutter the word jeep. Furthermore the cartoon was often shown to soldiers to boost morale.
So, there you have it, more than you ever wanted to know about fruit stickers and Popeye, all in one convenient column. You never know what you’ll find in the Ohio Irish American News!
*Conor Makem spent 22 years traveling and honing petty gripes as an Irish musician, and enjoyed a further 13 years of people not returning his calls as a journalist. He is fluent in English, American and old Kerry farmer. More of his photos are on Instagram under cb.makem.