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Five Lies You’ve Been Told About Fruit

Do fruit flies like a banana? Are avocados why you don’t own a house? Let’s find out the truth

The world is full of lies, and it’s hard to get through life without taking a few on board. Luckily, we’re here to sort the fact from the fiction, and find the plankton of truth in the ocean of bullshit. This week: Fruit! Why do artists find it so goddamned fascinating, and is it full of razor blades?

Lie #1: Fruit Is Boring!

Not if you’re an artist, it isn’t. Fruit is everywhere in the world of art, from the still-life studies of a high school art class to the faintly terrifying portraits of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, from Rene Magritte’s apple-faced gentleman to Andy Warhol’s big banana. So what’s the deal? Why is fruit so flippin’ fascinating to anyone in a smock?

“It’s often to do with the fact that fruit is perishable and therefore can be equated to life itself as something transient,” says art critic Tabish Khan.

Fruit is indeed used as a metaphor for existence by a lot of artists, with plump, ripe fruit suggesting youth and fecundity and rotten, decaying fruits serving as a reminder of mortality. But there are plenty of other reasons artists over the years have turned to the fruit bowl for inspiration. Ancient Egyptians painted fruit as offerings to the dead, while in Ancient Rome, mosaics of exotic fruits in wealthy households served as reminders of just how goddamned rich they were — “What, Claudius, that old thing? Oh, it’s called a pineapple. We eat loads.” Exotic, expensive fruit has been used to symbolize gluttony and excess, while fruit’s association with fertility also lets it serve as a visual metaphor for sin, as with Caravaggio’s penile gourds

There are also practical reasons for painting fruit. It’s cheap, recognizable, and it’ll stay where you put it, plus the varied textures of different fruits let artists practice (and show off) different skills. And because painting a bowl of fruit is such a thing, artists can put their own spin on it — someone like Cezanne or Van Gogh doing their version is like a band covering a song everyone knows. A bowl of fruit is the “Brown Eyed Girl” of art, you know?

Lie #2: “Time Flies Like An Arrow; Fruit Flies Like A Banana”

This line, attributed to Groucho Marx but probably erroneously, is obviously a lot of fun. It’s a go-to sentence in linguistics to demonstrate a few ideas. It’s used as a model of a garden-path sentence, one that takes the reader somewhere unexpected and forces a re-reading. It provides a good example of antanaclasis, in which one word is repeated but with different meanings each time. The first half on its own is often used to demonstrate syntactic ambiguity — the idea that due to words’ multiple meanings, a sentence can be interpreted in different ways. (Does the passage of time go quickly, in the manner of an arrow? Is there a type of fly called a time fly that just can’t get enough of pointy shapes? Or, if in charge of measuring how long flies take to do something, should we time them the same way we might time an arrow in flight?)

However, fruit flies don’t like a banana that much. Rotten bananas, sure, they can dig a rotten banana, but a fresh one holds less appeal for them. You’re more likely to attract fruit flies with a rotten potato or onion forgotten at the back of a cupboard, an overripe melon or damaged tomato, an unclean drain or garbage disposal or an abandoned beer.

A more accurate version devoid of any ambiguity: “Time goes by quickly. Fruit flies are drawn to fermented, rotting fruit and decaying produce. Females can lay up to 500 eggs in one go. Regularly monitoring food preparation areas, keeping on top of waste disposal and not allowing fruit to become over-ripe are all recommended. Death comes for us all.”

Lie #3: “Apple… Blackberry… Hur Hur, They’re Both Fruits, Hur Hur Hur”

That’s just the tip of the iceberg (lettuce, which, fine, is a vegetable). Between Apple, Blackberry, Raspberry Pi, telecoms giant Orange and unpopular social network Peach, there’s clearly something there. And on it goes. Vine (RIP) is a thing fruits grow on. The processors used in modern smartphones are directly descended from the RISC processors developed by the defunct British company Acorn, and an acorn is sort of a fruit if you’re reasonably chill about the definition. The first computer with an integrated floppy drive was made by Apricot Computers in 1983, while 1979 saw the first computer with a flicker-free display, sold by Tangerine Computer Systems. The world’s oldest keyboard manufacturer? Cherry Systems.

Why do we think tech equals fruit? 

Just as with art, fruit has connotations that can be useful to a company — freshness, growth and so on (lots of design agencies are also fans). Startups look for seed funding, using the company-as-plant metaphor, and there might be something subconscious at play there. (There is also the advantage of being translatable — a company named after a fruit expanding into China can be known as the Chinese word for that fruit, rather than presenting their new customer base with an unwieldy foreign name. Plus, name a company after a fruit and coming up with a logo gets a whole lot easier.)

But mainly, it’s because Apple did it. Acorn specifically liked coming before Apple in the phone book, while Tangerine’s name was directly inspired by Steve Jobs and pals. Raspberry Pi’s name is a specific reference by founder Eben Upton to how many other computers are named after fruits. Claiming to be innovative while sticking to a 40-year-old naming convention? That’s bananas!

Lie #4: The Only Thing Worse Than Finding a Worm in Your Apple Is Finding Half A Worm!

It’s a fine gag beloved of eight-year-olds everywhere, but how true is it? Earthworms aren’t bad food at all. They’re rich in calcium, iron, amino acids and protein, and a staple ingredient among the Ye’kuana people of southern Venezuela, feature in several Māori delicacies and pop up in the cuisines of numerous Chinese provinces. So if you’ve accidentally eaten half of one, good stuff, finish it. (Don’t eat them live, though, or you could end up with parasite infections, liver lesions and chronic fatigue.)

If you have irritable bowel syndrome, the apple itself could be doing you way more harm than a cheeky little worm, due to high amounts of fructose leading to bloating and discomfort. Some people suffer from apple allergies, while some worms (not the kind you’d find in an apple but whatevs) can actually be used to treat allergies

Then there’s the lethal poison thing. Apple pips contain amygdalin, which releases cyanide when it comes into contact with digestive enzymes. It’s in minuscule amounts, and you’d have to eat a completely insane amount of pips to get ill from it — 200 or so, or about 40 apples’ worth. If you ate the whole apple, you would absolutely, definitely shit yourself long before you felt any toxic effects from the cyanide. Still though, cyanide — woof!

In terms of foreign objects, a worm or a few maggots is likely to be as bad as it gets. The idea of apples distributed at Halloween containing razor blades is a total myth, which grew out of a pissed-off Long Island woman in the 1960s giving steel wool to kids she felt were too old to still be trick-or-treating. 

Lie #5: The Reason You Don’t Own a House Is All That Goddamned Avocado

At some point, the simple meal that is avocado on toast became a bogeyman, a symbol of millennial entitlement and irresponsibility, still beloved by people who think calling someone a snowflake is a cool new thing to do on the internet.

It’s a compelling argument: You stupid assholes don’t have anything because you’re such dicks! You’ve spent all your money on fancy coffees, exotic fruit and nice sneakers, so why don’t you shut up and fuck off back to your hovel.

It’s a big load of balls, of course — apt, given the testicular origins of the word avocado. The most expensive avocado toast in New York City, bought from The Garden at the Four Seasons, costs a completely buttdumb $31, which is ridiculous. But even if you were a total maniac who ate that every working day — which, obviously, nobody does, because it would be really boring and really stupid — cutting your habit entirely would only save you $7,750 per year. That’s not an insubstantial sum at all, but it would still take, oh, a hundred fucking years or so to buy a house there. 

Yes, a lot of people spend more on convenience foods than they should. Yes, if you’re spending as much at Starbucks as you do on rent, you should invest in a big-ass bag of beans, a grinder and a coffee pot. If you’ve never made your own lunch, fucking make your own lunch, you dumbass. But crippling student debt, a decline in real wages for mid-tier workers, skyrocketing house prices, higher interest rates, obscene rents, increased building costs and fewer entry-tier construction projects all have vastly more to do with millennials’ inability to purchase property than 2017’s hottest breakfast. 

It’s a stupid, bullshit, inaccurate, unhelpful, out-of-date reference. It’s like hearing about a school shooting and going “Oh, Marilyn Manson’s to blame for this.” 

Complete systemic change is what is needed, and trivializing it with this bullshit shorthand does nobody any favors. “It’s all about avocados”? Wholly guacamole!

Yeah? Please? Thanks.