When Did Our Fruit Get Cute?

16 Dec

Just some recent ramblings of a suburban American Mom:

I noticed it a few years ago. My daughter asked me to buy “Cuties” at the grocery store. I corrected her: “That’s just a weird brand name. Those are tangerines. You need to call them tangerines.”

“No, they are Cuties,” she replied, with the maddening certainty of a bossy, nine-year-old girl.

A neighbor of mine has two large and very productive tangerine trees, visible from the street. “Cutie trees!” she said, soon after this conversation, while we were walking about the neighborhood.

I sighed.

The Battle of the Cuties appears to have been won, and I wasn’t on the winning side. In fact, I even started calling tangerines Cuties as well.

The next time I went grocery shopping, I looked carefully at the cardboard label on the red, plastic mesh bag that encased the Cuties. I discovered that the Cutie purveyors had basically decided to erase a commonly accepted English word and create a whole new word in its stead. I felt vaguely uncomfortable.

“They can’t just do that, can they?” I thought. “They can’t just change an established word for a fruit species just to make it sound more ‘fun’?”

Apparently, “they” could do just that, because then I started noticing that other fruits were getting the Cuties treatment, too.

Mandarin oranges, the close cousins of the tangerine, have become “Halos.” Red cherry tomatoes have become “Cherubs”; the yellow ones have been renamed “Glorys.” All nomenclature that is more reminiscent of the snack food aisle than of the produce section. I’m pretty sure that’s the intention of the whole campaign.

I’ve also noticed that the cute fruit trend has migrated to the dried fruit aisle. For example, the redoubtable Sunsweet Growers company, one of the largest purveyors of prunes in the world, has renamed their stolid, gerontologically appealing product “Plum Amazins.” (As in “Plum Amazing,” get it?)

To be fair, though, Sunsweet still uses the word “prune” on their packaging, albeit in miniscule typeface under the much-larger font of the Plum Amazin brand name.

We’re not really a prune-friendly family; I don’t think my daughter has ever eaten one in her life.  So, I don’t have to worry about what she ends up calling the plum trees in our neighborhood. I do wonder, however, if there are other kids walking around and pointing at plum trees exclaiming: “Plum Amazin tree!”

I can’t really blame the folks at Sunsweet for wanting to play down their association with prunes; they have been the butt of constipation jokes for decades. But that’s not the case with “tangerine.” I remember when a shade called “Tangerine” was the new black (in the late Sixties.) Of course, it’s also the name of a pretty popular standard pop song, recorded by Ol’ Blue Eyes himself.

So why was the word “tangerine” cuted up? I guess we Americans are so immature that we need to be enticed into eating our fresh fruits by making them sound as much as possible like Cheetos, Fritos, Bagel Bits, and Triskets.

Surely the purveyors of vegetables have been taking notes? It’s already happened to that quasi-vegetable—the tomato—so now it’s only a matter of time before we are subjected to cute veggies as well as cute fruits.

I can see it now: broccoli florets will become “Puffies;” their close cousin, cauliflower florets, will be renamed “White Puffies.” Radishes will become “Two-Tones”; carrots will be rechristened “Crunchies” and spinach leaves will get a new lease on life as “Leafies.”  And so on.

Let’s face it—we’re a nation of five-year-olds. Now everyone, sit down, and eat your Puffies.

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