Friday, July 29, 2011

Curse all seeds!

Dear Slate Explainer,

I’ve been enjoying my fair share of watermelon during this hot summer. Perhaps to the dismay of the watermelon seed spitting champs of Luling, Texas (as well as greenhorn porch-swingers and curb jockeys all over the South), I always buy seedless watermelon. However, it has always bothered me that there are all those little white seeds or “seedlets” in there, as well as the occasional “normal” black seed.

Why does so-called seedless watermelon have seeds? Seedless oranges and grapes generally have no seeds whatsoever. I buy seedless fruit because I don’t have the patience for the oral gymnastics of sifting through seeds. What gives?


Czardoz Contra World

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A few days ago, I emailed a version of the above to the Slate Explainer, a column that answers questions “about today’s news.” Not directly factual questions about specific events, which would be boring, but rather, thematically germane questions, the kinds of quandaries that particular events get you thinking about. So you would likely find a question about choreographing fireworks displays during the Fourth of July, or a question about lethal doses of radiation during the Fukushima nuclear tragedy in Japan, or even a question about the various spellings of Gadhafi (Qaddafi?) during the apex of Libyan revolution coverage.

I especially enjoy questions that address cultural touchstones, things that everyone has some experience with, for example: what happens if you eat the silica gel that’s packed in with your ramen packages and Blu-ray players? And I can’t help reveling in questions with some lurid fascination, like: would your dog eat your dead body? Or, what does whale taste like?

So, do you think they’ll answer my question on the website? I hope so, because I certainly think it has more entertainment value and intellectual breadth than, say, whether someone can really make you go to rehab, or how the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement compares to that in the other major sports.

Is it petty of me to say that I am terminally annoyed with the white seedlets in seedless watermelon, from both mouthfeel and nomenclatural standpoints? The former point is obvious; the latter, well, in a marketplace that has established the meaning of “seedless” to mean “without seeds” for other fruits, isn’t it somewhat fraudulent for the watermelon to gallivant through the produce section under the same banner? Wouldn’t it be more honest to call it a “white seed” watermelon as opposed to a “normal” or “black seed” watermelon? Actually, who’s to say what’s normal? I wasn’t aware until researching this issue that the familiar yellow Cavendish banana is actually a “seedless” fruit, produced through vegetative reproduction rather than sexual reproduction. They seem pretty normal to me!

In an era where the bioengineering of food is commonplace, where inaccurate and misleading labels are as old as Rhode Island and the Indians of Christopher Columbus, and where getting a raw deal is considered business as usual, perhaps we’ve lost our innocence on numerous fronts. It’s a loss I can bear, but in the absence of innocence, I should like very much to retain my sense of outrage.

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During the course of writing this post, I received an email response from Daniel Engber, Explainer editor, who told me that they “might answer some version of it tomorrow.” Cross your fingers!


Alexis said...

I might feel less outraged if this were classified as bioengineering instead of biology, but diction differences aside, I am annoyed at fortune cookies that try to tell me how to live me life and girl scout cookies that do not taste like girl scouts. What madness is wrought in mislabelling food products!

Czardoz said...

How would you know how girl scouts taste? Hey-o!